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.

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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.

Poof! $1 Billion Vanishes From 2012 Facebook Revenue Forecast

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook’s revenues, particularly from advertising, won’t grow as fast as expected this year, according to a revised forecast from market researcher eMarketer.

EMarketer today said the No. 1 social network will just break $5 billion in revenues this year, with $4.2 billion coming from advertising and the rest from payments and other revenues. That’s down $1 billion from the research firm’s estimate from last February, several months before Facebook’s initial public offering in early May. Even so, Facebook’s ad revenues are still forecast to jump 34% this year from a year ago, and rise 29% next year.

The key reason for the change actually does not reflect a key concern of investors: mobile advertising. Although Facebook has been slow to roll out advertising on mobile devices, eMarketer had not factored that into previous forecasts either. Instead, the estimate cut reflects growing concerns about the effectiveness and measurability of Facebook ads.

The revenue estimate cut isn’t entirely a surprise. Facebook reported less-than-expected revenue growth in its first and second quarters this year. And eMarketer’s original forecast was higher than that of many other analysts, whose recent estimates came in at around $5 billion.

Still, the new forecast could add to investor worries that Facebook’s growth is stalling as its advertising sales, especially on mobile devices, come up short. In a market that was down about 1% today, Facebook’s shares fell a penny, to $19.09. That’s about half their IPO level. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Why Do Programmers Hate Internet Advertising So Much?

Facebook ad question (Photo credit: renaissancechambara)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Another week, another pontificating programmer slamming online advertising. What is it with these guys?

The latest example is a steaming heap of linkbait from software developer and entrepreneur Patrick Dobson entitled Facebook Should Fire Sheryl Sandberg. That would be the chief operating officer of Facebook, whose purported crime is that she steered Facebook toward being an ad-supported company.

In Dobson’s telling, while Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was off at an ashram in India, onetime Google ad exec Sandberg mandated that Facebook would henceforth be an advertising company. Proof of her folly? Facebook’s now worth half of what it was at its IPO three months ago as it “continues to flounder in advertising hell.”

This, despite the fact that Facebook will gross about $5 billion in ad revenues this year, despite the fact that its current market cap is still more than $40 billion less than eight years after the company’s founding in a Harvard dorm.

Thousands of Web developers would love to flounder this badly.

Dobson’s preferred alternative is that Facebook should gradually phase out advertising in favor of–and I have to get technical here, because the bigger picture he provides is fuzzy–selling access to its application programming interface. That way, developers can build businesses like Zynga did on top of the social network in the way personal computer software developers built applications atop Microsoft’s Windows. From his post:

… There is massive value in the social graph and the ability to build applications on top of it. I believe the value is greater than all of the advertising revenue generated on the web to date. … What is the best way to monetize the social graph? To sell access to the social graph! … Developers can then figure out if advertising, or micro transactions, or payed access is the best way to monetize the social graph.

I’m not really sure what “selling access to the social graph” would be, though it sounds like the result could make Facebook’s many privacy gaffes to date look tame.

But the bigger problem is the persistent implication by tech folks like Dobson that advertising is beneath them, and beneath any intelligent human being. Now, I’m no huge fan of most advertising, and all too often it is indeed lame. But there’s no doubt it can be useful at the right place and time, and even when it misses the mark, advertising is a small, remarkably frictionless price to pay for a whole lot of free Web services.

The notion that advertising is evil, to use a favorite term of Google critics, or at least useless is a longstanding meme in Silicon Valley. It goes at least as far back as Google’s founding, before it became–right–the biggest online ad company on the planet. Cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin famously wrote in their Stanford doctoral thesis describing Google that advertising could pollute search results.

Why this antipathy to advertising? A lot of tech folks seem to believe they’re immune to the influence of advertising. More than that, they assume that no one else is much influenced by it either (despite ample evidence over many decades that ads do influence people’s attitudes and behavior). Therefore, the reasoning goes, ads are nothing more than an annoyance, an inefficient allocation of capital. Dobson accuses Sandberg of a “rampant lack of business creativity” that has “no place in centers of innovation,” later saying she should start an ad agency in Miami. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

LIVE: Facebook Shares Plunge On Disappointing Q2 Earnings

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

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook managed to hit the second-quarter earnings numbers investors had expected, but that wasn’t nearly good enough as shares plunged in after-hours trading.

The social network earned a non-GAAP 12-cent profit, on target with expectations, on revenues of $1.18 billion, the latter up 32% and a tad above estimates.

Ad revenue was up 28%, to $992 million, well above analysts’ forecasts, though still below the first quarter’s growth rate. Facebook suffered a net loss of $157 million, or 8 cents a share, largely because of accounting for employee stock plans post-IPO.

Shares rose as much as 6% in extended trading initially, but then quickly fell back almost 11%. That’s probably at least partly because Facebook didn’t offer a forecast, at least ahead of the conference call. They fell more than 8% at the market close today. They now sit at an all-time low of just under $25. That’s 37% below the $38 IPO price.

A quick take from Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry: “Overhyped and underdelivered.”

Here’s what CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives had to say about the quarter in the company’s first earnings conference call: …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Don’t Pay Any Attention To Facebook’s Q2 Earnings Report

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

To hear almost everyone tell it, Facebook’s earnings results Thursday will be a huge test of whether it will become the blockbuster business success so many investors have bet on. “Facebook Efforts on Advertising Face a Day of Judgment,” intones the New York Times. “Big financial test for Facebook,” blares the dead-tree version of the hometown Mercury News. “There is a lot on the line,” writes the Wall Street Journal.

It’s all a crock. Manufactured journalistic drama. Not that any quarter for such a fast-growing, newly public, highly influential, and closely watched company is unimportant. Of course it’s important. Especially given the underwhelming IPO, investors have a right to information that might tell them if their shares will be heading up or down.

But this won’t be a bellwether for Facebook’s long-term future. Fact is, no one should look to this quarter, or even the next, to determine whether Facebook can fulfill expectations that it will become the next Google.

Why? Because it’s too early. Way too early. Nobody, probably including Facebook, yet knows for sure what kind of advertising and marketing works at large scale in social networking. Facebook is clearly experimenting with a variety of ad formats, such as its socially infused Sponsored Stories. Just as clearly, it’s not apparent that it has found its equivalent of Google’s search ad or television’s 30-second spot. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Is The Tech IPO Deep Freeze Finally Thawing?

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook’s initial public offering in May was supposed to be the bellwether for an expected pile of IPOs this year, but the subsequent dive in the social network’s shares appeared to put new offerings into a deep freeze. Now, it looks like the mini-Ice Age for IPOs is starting to thaw.

Today, two companies that were widely expected to file for an IPO before Facebook’s IPO faceplant, said they plan to go public this month. Internet security firm Palo Alto Networks aims to raise up to $175 million with an offering at $34 to $37 a share.  Kayak, which had put off an IPO expected late last year, also priced its offering, hoping to raise $87.5 million at $22 to $25 a share.

Given that Facebook’s IPO was supposed to be a sure thing–and most assuredly wasn’t–there’s certainly no guarantee that these two companies will help bring back the IPO market. Investors will be cautious about every new IPO, not only because of Facebook, but because of the poor subsequent performances of tech IPOs such as Groupon and Zynga. What’s more, the economy is simply too uncertain to bet on a momentum-driven market like IPOs.

Nonetheless, successful IPOs by Palo Alto Networks and Kayak–on top of another recent IPO success by ServiceNow in June–would inject new life into the technology investment cycle. Indeed, investors such as YCombinator’s Paul Graham have warned that Facebook’s face plant has already cooled early-stage tech investment. So any revival would be positive for the innovation and growth that comes out of that cycle. …

Read the complete post on The New Persuaders.

Reports: Facebook Ad Spending Growth Fades, Could Drop Even More

Image representing 33Across as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Despite recent signs of sunnier weather ahead, a cloud of doubt about the prospects for Facebook’s advertising business continues to hang above the company, putting a damper on shares still well below their initial offering price. Two new reports do little to dispel the gloom.

In a survey due out later this morning, social marketing analytics firm 33Across says client advertising agencies and brands are focusing less of their attention on Facebook compared with the rest of the Web. That doesn’t speak directly to their budgets, but sentiment is important too.

Of the 2,200 agencies and brands surveyed in June, 80% said the “rest of Web” gets more of their team’s attention now than Facebook, up 11% from March, well before Facebook’s May IPO. Some 71% of respondents said they’re now spending 80% of their attention on the rest of the Web vs. Facebook, up 23% from March.

Finally, when asked the money question, “Do you see your Facebook spend changing vis-a-vis the rest of the Web?” more than five times as many in June compared with March said they’re planning on reducing their Facebook budget. That’s vs. the rest of the Web, not on an absolute basis. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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