Facebook’s New Gift Service: Nice, But Not Yet An E-Commerce Game Changer

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Just in time for prime gift-giving holidays like Friday’s World Rabies Day (or if you prefer, Ask A Stupid Question Day), Facebook today launched a social gift service. It’s rolling out to only a select few for now.

I must be one of them, because I was able to send something to my wife to try it out. But in its current form, I doubt I’m going to use it much.

This isn’t the 2.0 version of the Facebook Gifts virtual-gift service that the company shut down two years ago, by the way. In fact, the new Gifts is built upon, and run by, the folks at Karma, the gift-giving service Facebook acquired in May.

It actually looks pretty good. And while I have ordered precisely one gift that obviously has not yet been delivered, so I can’t judge the entire gift-giving process, it worked quite smoothly. I clicked on my wife’s Timeline, clicked the gift button, and off I went to order her some caramels. She can even pick her own flavor–that’s pretty cool.

In this case, I obviously know her address, so one advantage of Facebook Gifts–not having to know or ask for someone’s address–is moot in my case. What’s more, I didn’t get an automatic reminder I might get if it were her birthday, so that bit of friction elimination wasn’t a factor for me either. But it’s fast and easy to send gifts to friends, and that’s great–not just for consumers, but for Facebook, which can use a service that brings in revenues not dependent upon its brand of advertising that many large marketers are still doubtful about.

So what isn’t great, at least for me?

* A lot of the most prominent gifts are pretty vanilla–teddy bears, spa appointments, flowers, cupcakes. Maybe they’re fine products. Maybe they’re the sort of thing most people give their friends. But for a service with a tagline “real friends, real gifts,” too many of these products seem just too impersonal. Products, especially gifts, are not necessarily fungible, and all the less so for close friends for whom you’re supposed to be getting something special. And if they’re not close friends–and let’s be honest, most people don’t have several hundred close friends–I probably won’t be sending them many gifts, from Facebook or anywhere else. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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Facebook To Start Charging Businesses To Run Offers

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After launching Offers several months ago, Facebook now is switching the retail and local merchant deals service into money-making mode.

The No. 1 social network, under pressure to prove that it can juice revenue growth to justify its $50 billion-plus valuation, said today that it will require merchants to buy at least $5 worth of ads in order for their offers to appear in  the newsfeeds of their target audiences and their friends. The amount businesses are required to pay for these ads, specifically Page Post ads, will vary depending on the size of their Facebook pages.

Facebook also has added several new features to Offers. For one, they’re available worldwide to all Pages with more than 400 fans. Also, merchants can add a bar code to an Offer so they can track results more easily, as well as potentially run Offers on their e-commerce sites.

Facebook says the changes, in particular the requirement that merchants spend money, should produce Offers that consumers view as higher-quality and more relevant because businesses will be incented to make those offers better if they’re paying for them. The changes also position Offers more squarely against incumbents Groupon and LivingSocial.

Facebook isn’t providing much in the way of numbers on how Offers are doing except for one example: It says the ARIA resort in Las Vegas booked more than 1,500 nights, producing a return of five times its investment from running Offers.

Although many of the new ad and commerce initiatives Facebook has been rolling out no doubt were planned well before its May initial public offering, the company has introduced a flurry of new ad formats lately. Facebook’s share price had fallen by half from the IPO, thanks to concerns by investors about whether its ads are catching on fast enough, especially on mobile devices.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: We Burned Two Years Betting On Mobile Web Vs. Apps

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Fac...

Photo: Wikipedia

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t said much, if anything, publicly since the No. 1 social network went public in May. But oh, how much has changed since that day. Not only did the IPO fall flat, but Facebook is now dogged by slower growth perhaps partly due to its late start on mobile advertising.

Today, Zuckerberg went public himself at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. Clearly the big “get” for the conference, Zuckerberg was in his element at the conference, which is aimed at tech startups and the software developers creating them. In a wide-ranging and surprisingly revealing interview with TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington, who has since become a venture capitalist, Zuckerberg said Facebook lost two years betting on mobile Web technology instead of native iPhone apps but said he thinks mobile will be even bigger than the Web for Facebook in terms of advertising.

Investors liked what they heard. Facebook shares rose 3.6% in after-hours trading, breaking $20 a share, on top of a 3.3% rise on Tuesday before his talk.

Here’s the interview, edited slightly for clarity and my inability to catch every single word the fast-talking Zuckerberg utters:

Q: You went public on May 18 and the stock has lost roughly half its value.

A: Just get right into it!

Q: Would you have done anything differently on the IPO?

A: The performance of the stock has obviously been disappointing. But the commitment we made was to fulfill this mission to make the world more open and connected.

The key will be how we do with mobile. A lot of stuff has changed in six months since we’ve been in the quiet period.

Literally six months ago, we didn’t run a single ad on mobile. So people can underestimate how good mobile can be for us. It’s the main thing that’s fundamentally misunderstood. For one, there’s just more mobile users–5 billion people have cellphones in the world. Second, they’re spending more time on it. We’re already seeing people more likely to be daily active users on mobile. And those stats are before the new iOS app. And third, we can have better advertising on mobile, make more money.

Q: You make money to build great services rather than build services to make money. Do you really mean that?

A: We are a mission-driven company. In order to do this, we have to build a great team. And in order to do that, you need people to know they can make a bunch of money. So we need a business model to make a lot of money.

Building a mission and building a business go hand in hand. The primary thing that excites me is the mission. But we have always had a healthy understanding that we need to do both.

Q: What about the stock causing morale problems?

A: Well, it doesn’t help. But first, Facebook has not been an uncontroversial company in the past. So people are fairly used to the press saying good things about us and bad things about us.

What really motivates people at Facebook is building something that’s worthwhile, that they’re going to be proud to show to friends and family.

We also haven’t done much on equity to incentivize people. The way we do compensation is we translate the amount of compensation we give you into shares. [So employees get more shares if the stock price is down, thus similar compensation, thus the stock price doesn’t mean as much as it might appear.]

Q: I’ve been rough on the company on mobile products.

A: We were very self-critical too.

Q: Is mobile a strength or weakness for Facebook?

A: There are more users, they spend more time on Facebook, and we’re going to make more money on mobile ads. There are huge things we can do to move the needle. Mobile is a lot closer to TV than [to] the desktop. We’ve had right-hand-column ads and it’s been great, a multi-billion-dollar business.

But on mobile, we can’t do that. It’s clearly going to have to be different. We’re seeing some great mobile ad products being developed. There’s a huge opportunity. The question is getting there.

Clearly we’ve had a bunch of missteps there. The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5, because it’s just not there yet. We went for this approach, an internal framework called Faceweb. We just couldn’t translate it to mobile with the quality we wanted.

We had to start over and rewrite everything to be native. We burned two years. It may turn out it was one of the biggest if not the biggest strategic mistake we made.

Two years ago, we decided to bet completely on HTML5. We believed that because it used the same technology as the desktop, we thought it could improve. But it wasn’t good enough. We realized the only way we could get there was to go native.

Q: Did you realize the previous Facebook mobile app sucked?

A: Yeah, it was not where we wanted it to be. We just decided to ship the same features as before, but faster. But in parallel, other teams have been building new features. Over the coming weeks and months, we can expect to see a lot of the cool stuff. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Benchmark VC Matt Cohler: Mobile Ads Will Be Even Better Than Web Ads

Image representing Matt Cohler as depicted in ...

Image by Facebook via CrunchBase

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Despite rising doubts about whether mobile advertising will ever amount to much, Benchmark Capital partner Matt Cohler says he’s more jazzed than ever about the prospects.

In an interview with TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this morning in San Francisco, the former vice president of product management at Facebook said he has made zero investments this year, though he wasn’t entirely clear why except to say he made more than the usual number last year. But he said he’s looking actively for opportunities in “mobile marketplaces,” as well as products and services that use the smartphone as a “remote control for your life.” Here’s what else he had to say, in edited form:

Q: You haven’t made any investments lately. Why?

A: I haven’t made any investments this year. Last year I made more than a typical venture investor would.

It wasn’t a single specific decision. We’re at an interesting moment in time where aspects of various platforms are starting to shift. But I’ll do it if the time is right.

Q: Do you regret not making some investments?

A: I’m sure I passed on some things that will probably be successful.

Q: You criticized Groupon awhile ago when it was hot. That looks pretty smart two years later. But you have invested in a deals site in Brazil.

A: I think daily deals are a good idea. Any ad people view as content is a good ad, and that’s true for daily-deal ads too. But I’m not sure it’s smart to build a company around that one thing. Groupon has some interesting assets. The question is what can it do with them? …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Reid Hoffman: Social Networking Isn’t Over Yet–And Neither Is Facebook

Reid Hoffman

Photo: Wikipedia

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Reid Hoffman is one of the most prolific angel investors in tech startups from Facebook and Zynga to Airbnb and Zipcar. It’s a talent he transferred to more traditional venture capital in 2009 when he joined Greylock Partners. He’s also a cofounder and executive chairman of LinkedIn.

In a “fireside chat” at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco today with TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington, who has since joined the VC world as well with his own CrunchFund, Hoffman proffered comments on everything from Facebook’s struggles to Twitter’s battles with developers. Here, paraphrased at times, is what he had to say:

Q: You are exceptionally wealthy. What changes?

A: There is a bunch of weird things. I had had a long-term plan to be affiliated with universities, like teaching. Overnight all those changed to donor relationships. Also, I would never have imagined I would fly in a private plane by myself, and now I have. It has its advantages.

Q: You wrote a book [The Startup of You]. How’s it doing?

A: It’s sold 120,000. In the consumer Internet space, we’re used to much higher numbers. I don’t think we’ve created a movement yet.

Q: You were one of the very first investors in Facebook.

A: $37,500 at a $5 million valuation. [That means he made 3,000 times his investment, or $111 million.)

Q: So you did very well. What do you think of Facebook’s stock now?

A: I’m a big believer in Facebook’s long-term position. The real question is how it plays out over the next year or so. People’s hand-wringing about not making money on mobile is an innovation problem that is not that hard to solve.

Q: Did Facebook screw up its IPO or was it inevitable it played out that way?

A: In some ways, it was inevitable. You had unprecedented demand, and you couldn’t know NASDAQ servers would go down. We at LinkedIn were criticized for leaving too much money on the table. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Lots Of Blame To Go Around For Facebook’s IPO ‘Debacle’–But It Doesn’t Mean A Thing

Facebook CFO David Ebersman. (Photo: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

When anything goes wrong, we just love a scapegoat, don’t we? Today’s scapegoat in the business world is David Ebersman, Facebook’s chief financial officer, who New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin says is completely, solely, and utterly at fault for the social network’s underwhelming initial public offering and subsequent swoon in its stock price to less than half its IPO level.

Sorkin, as well as others, say Ebersman’s insistence on a higher stock price and especially on issuing more shares shortly before the offering were the key reason Facebook’s post-IPO shares not only failed to rise but steadily fell–vaporizing some $50 billion in shareholder value in the past 90 days.

But Ebersman is hardly the only culprit in the IPO. There’s also:

* Facebook’s underwriters, including Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase. Not only did they go along with and even encourage the pre-IPO hype, but recently they cut their target prices for Facebook, contributing to today’s slide that knocked shares to under half the IPO level.

* Facebook investors. Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, who knows a little something about Internet stock dynamics, says investors willfully ignored both Facebook’s own warnings about advertising revenue uncertainties and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to, yes, investors, that he would focus on building Facebook’s services over maximizing its profits.

* Not least, CEO Mark Zuckerberg. After all, the buck (or in this case, 50 cents) stops here. While finances are probably at least third on the list of his concerns, behind Facebook’s services and its employees, a CEO ultimately is responsible for such a signature event in a company’s life.

Still, regardless of whom you might think is most culpable, in the end it probably will have little impact on Facebook’s prospects. That’s because there’s an even more fundamental reason to question the singling out of Ebersman: Perhaps Facebook’s IPO wasn’t really a debacle after all. …

Read the rest of the post at The New Persuaders.

Flashback to 2001: How Far Can Facebook Shares Fall Before They Can’t Fall Any Lower?

Facebook’s stock performance since May IPO

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

I’m having a flashback, and it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s fault. OK, not exactly the fault of Facebook’s cofounder and CEO, but his company’s stock.

The swoon in Facebook’s shares, culminating in a close today at less than half their IPO price, brought back memories of what feels like (but may or may not be) a similar situation I observed a decade or so ago in the wake of the dot-com bust. I was covering Amazon.com during its period of rapid expansion, when it was far from apparent to everyone that it would survive, let alone turn into a blockbuster business.

Amazon.com’s shares–which went public at $18, as it happens the price to which Facebook’s shares fell today–had dipped below $6 a share in late 2001. Amazon had huge costs from building out massive warehouses around the country well ahead of its level of revenues, prompting one analyst to predict that Amazon would go under unless it changed its expansionist ways.

It was the one time I remember wishing that I weren’t prohibited by BusinessWeek rules from buying stocks of companies I wrote about. Having reported on the company for several years and knowing how the economics of its business worked, I was pretty darn sure Amazon wasn’t going under and that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos knew exactly what he was doing.

And he did. Thanks to his vision coupled with a determination to stay the course while adjusting for market changes along the way, Amazon is now trading at $248 a share. A mere 100 shares bought then would have realized 40-fold return for a pre-commission, pretax profit of $24,200.

I don’t yet have the same feeling about Facebook’s stock that I had about Amazon’s back then. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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