What to expect from Facebook’s IPO filing

February 1, 2012

Eight years after it was launched from a Harvard dorm room, Facebook is expected to take its first major step to being a publicly traded company Wednesday. The filing is the first step toward what’s shaping up to be one of the highest-buzzed market debuts in history.

Facebook has made no secret about it plans to go public, and rumors have been circulating for months that the company would raise as much as $10 billion for the initial public offering — giving it a valuation of $75 billion to $100 billion — though reports Monday from the International Financing Review and the New York Times revised that number down to $5 billion. That number could continue to rise as Facebook measures demand for the stock, which is expected to have its market debut late this spring.

The company’s paperwork should reveal all kinds of things about the company, including who its major shareholders are, its revenue and risk factors it sees on the horizon.

The Associated Press reports that the filing may also include a twist, such as a personal letter from chief executive and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg or a provision that would share a small piece of the wealth with Facebook’s 800 million users.

Here’s what to look for if Facebook files today:

Company strategy: A big part of what comes out of the day’s expected paperwork will be Facebook’s revenue numbers and how it describes its plans for the future. The company is said to have doubled its revenue in the first half of 2011, according to Reuters, bringing it up to $1.6 billion with a net income of nearly $500 million. The S-1 filing will show whether Facebook has been able to keep up that momentum or not.

The filing likely will also address the company’s strategy going forward and detail how the company plans on retaining its users, working with its partners and shoring up ad revenue.

Another interesting figure to watch for in the S-1 will be the company’s record of hiring. Facebook has invested a lot in talent and is currently expanding, hiring for its new New York engineering office. But, as CNET’s Roger Cheng points out, Facebook also has to be wary of the employee turnover that can plague top tech companies. Smart tech talent can often be poached by other companies or feel the urge to strike out on their own ventures.

Risk Factors: The risk factors a company lists in its S-1 are often illuminating and can offer insight into a company’s thinking about policy issues or competitors.

Companies tend to be pretty exhaustive with their risk factors in this section. Zynga, for example, listed its reliance on Facebook as a possible risk factor in its IPO filing. It also listed that it’s located near an earthquake fault zone.

Pandora and Zynga both raised concerns about something that Facebook is also likely to have: privacy legislation.

There’s been a lot of talk about privacy on the Hill and a renewed crackdown on privacy from the Federal Trade Commission, something that Facebook itself knows all too well. Although its recent settlement with the FTC over privacy concerns probably will help the company in the long run, experts told The Washington Post, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also has been speaking publicly about the possibly limiting effects that privacy legislation could have on innovation.

It will also be interesting to see which companies Facebook lists as potential competitors in this section. There’s a high probability, of course, that Google will be mentioned in this filing because of its Google+ network. But there are myriad other social, media and competing advertising companies out there that could also be mentioned as potential threats, and it will be interesting to see where Facebook is casting its wary eyes.

Don’t expect:There are some things you shouldn’t expect to see in Facebook’s S-1 as well: executive compensation, for example, or the day and price that the company will start trading shares. The Wall Street Journal also reported that it’s unlikely that we’ll see Facebook reveal which exchange they’re planning on being a part of, the tech-focused NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange.

That also means we might not see a proposed ticker for the company, meaning we’ll have to wait to see if the company picks something pedestrian like FCBK or FB, or something more fun, like — as one person on Twitter suggested — POKE.

(Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook’s board of directors.)

Related stories:

Facebook’s IPO: Putting it in context

FTC settlement gives Facebook leverage over competitors

Facebook IPO would thrust COO Sheryl Sandberg into spotlight

More tech news from Post Business

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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