Facebook IPO: A Wave or a One-Off?

Portfolio Feb 01, 2012 Back to press

Will the Facebook IPO ripple throughout the entrepreneurial world and set off a round of new public companies? There's plenty of reason for doubt.

If anyone thinks the long-awaited, much-anticipated Facebook IPO is going to ease the nearly decade-long constipation of the initial public offering market, they can think again.

Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs gathered for the Xconomy Forum on New York’s venture capital emergence today said that the biggest tech Silicon Valley IPO ever would cause plenty of excitement. But while it might give entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists who fund them a burst of energy, it won’t make cashing out of other companies any easier.

“It’s the first big, exciting IPO since Google,” Barry Silbert, founder and chief executive of SecondMarket, about the only place you could buy a stake in Facebook for the past few years, told Portfolio.com. But, he said, “It’s not going to be a Netscape moment.”

By that, Silbert means that the public debut of Facebook—likely to occur before June according to market watchers—won’t usher in a conga line of tech companies looking to go public. These days, as opposed to the 1990s, the market will hardly tolerate a company with a valuation of less than $1 billion making such a leap.

“The unfortunate reality,” Silbert said, “is the IPO market has been dying a slow death for 10 years.” He points out that in the 1990s, 400-600 companies went public every year on average. Since then, the average has been 50-200.

Granted, Silbert, whose company is set up to allow for trades of private company stock, may have a dog in the fight over whether the public markets are healthy. About 30 percent of SecondMarket’s revenues in 2011 came from Facebook private stock trades, and the company will continue to broker Facebook shares until closer to the time the social media giant actually goes public.

But he’s not the only one saying Facebook’s IPO, while undeniably a big deal, is just one deal. And the market needs more.

“I think the press has blown this way out of proportion," said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association. "Will Facebook possibly have coattails? Yes.”

But, he added, they aren’t likely to be very long. And the opposite of Facebook filing to go public would have had perhaps a bigger impact than the company’s filing.

It has to do with psychology, Heesen said.

“Companies going public are extremely important in that you have that young entrepreneur getting up in the morning and thinking, ‘I’m going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg,’” he said."If Facebook had decided not to go public, I think that would have had a very chilling effect."

But as in any room full of smart money people and competing agendas, not everyone was ready to say Facebook’s IPO registration wouldn’t lead to good things in the future for internet entrepreneurs especially.

Eric Wiesen, a general partner at RRE Ventures, which was an early investor in Facebook and is invested in other social media properties like bit.ly, said he thought the IPO of the biggest Internet kid on the block was likely to have positive affects for the latest round of companies in the space, either through mergers and acquisitions or initial public offerings.

“The hope is that it kicks off a wave,” he said. And his prediction? Get ready to get wet.

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