Saturday, February 24, 2007

Who will win the next high-tech jackpot?

Who will win the next high-tech jackpot?

Saturday, 24 February , 2007, 01:58

Palo Alto: As's mastermind, Mark
Zuckerberg is sitting on a potential gold mine that
could make him the next Silicon Valley whiz kid to
strike it rich.

But the 22-year-old founder of the Internet's second
largest social-networking site also could turn into
the next poster boy for missed opportunities if he
waits too long to cash in on Facebook Inc., which is
expected to generate revenue of more than $100 million
this year. The bright outlook is one reason Zuckerberg
felt justified spurning several takeover bids last
year, including a $1 billion offer from Yahoo Inc.

"We clearly have a bias toward building than selling,"
Zuckerberg said in a recent interview. "We think there
is a lot more to unlock here."

The build-or-sell dilemma facing Zuckerberg is
becoming more common among the precocious
entrepreneurs immersed in the latest Internet craze, a
communal concept of content-sharing that has been
dubbed "Web 2.0."

Besides Facebook, other Web 2.0 startups frequently
mentioned as prime takeover targets include online
video site Metacafe Inc. and Photobucket Inc., which
has emerged as one of the Internet's busiest
destinations by hosting personal videos and photos
that are routinely linked to top social-networking
sites like MySpace and Facebook.

These sites find themselves at a critical juncture
reached several years ago by the Internet's first big
social-networking site,, which chose to
stay independent instead of selling. That decision is
now regarded as one of Silicon Valley's biggest

Web 2.0 startups have emerged as hot commodities
because they are drawing more people away from
television, newspapers and other media traditionally
used for advertising. Online video channels and social
networks, a catchall phrase attached to sites that
enable people with common interests to connect and
deepen their bonds, are particularly hot.

Deep-pocketed companies are now angling for a piece of
the Web 2.0 action ˜ a quest that already has yielded
a couple big jackpots, helping to propel the sales
prices of startups to their highest levels since the
dot-com boom.

News Corp. paid $580 million in 2005 to buy MySpace,
the largest social-networking site, and Google Inc.
snapped up video-sharing pioneer YouTube Inc. for
$1.76 billion late last year.

"I'm surprised a lot more companies haven't already
been bought," said Reid Hoffman, a veteran Silicon
Valley executive who has invested in many startups,
including Facebook. "My hunch is the deals are only
going to get more expensive in 2008 and 2009."

In 2006, the average price paid for a startup funded
by venture capitalists rose 19 percent to $114
million. That was the highest amount since the dot-com
frenzy of 2000 when the average price of
venture-backed startups peaked at $337 million,
according to data from Thomson Financial and the
National Venture Capital Association.

If the deal-making market continues to heat up,
Zuckerberg will end up looking smart for rebuffing
Yahoo and other suitors that included Microsoft Corp.
and Viacom Inc.

Assuming Facebook hits its financial targets, the Palo
Alto-based company should be able to command a sales
price well above $1 billion or pursue an even more
lucrative initial public offering of stock in the
tradition of Google, Yahoo Inc., eBay Inc. and Inc. ˜ a group of Internet icons now worth
a combined $250 billion.

A Facebook sale or IPO is bound to happen eventually
so the startup's early investors, consisting mostly of
venture capitalists, can realize some profits.
Facebook has raised about $38.5 million since
Zuckerberg started the site in 2004 while he was still
a sophomore at Harvard University.

Zuckerberg has some flexibility in deciding when to
cash out because Facebook already is profitable.

An IPO or sale will "make sense at some point for the
company, but I never think that's the goal," said
Zuckerberg, who is believed to control nearly
one-third of Facebook's stock. "The goal is to ...
continue introducing certain revolutionary products
that push us to the next level."

Marc Andreessen, who made a fortune during his 20s as
co-founder of Web browser pioneer Netscape
Communications, is among those who believe Facebook is
going to become even more valuable during the next
year or two.

"Facebook is doing the smart thing. If you are in a
big market like social networking, you are usually
better off waiting (to sell)," said Andreessen, who is
now chief technology officer for another
social-networking startup, Ning Inc. Had MySpace
remained independent, it would probably be worth $5
billion now, Andreessen estimated.

Should Facebook stumble, it may some day be suffering
the same pangs of regret tormenting Friendster Inc.,
which turned down a takeover bid from Google in 2003
when it reigned as Internet's hottest
social-networking site.

Had that offer been accepted, Friendster founder
Jonathan Abrams and a small group of early investors
reportedly would have received $30 million in Google
stock that would have been worth about $1 billion

Abrams left Friendster in 2004 after a falling out
with the company's venture capitalists. Now working on
its fourth chief executive since Abrams' departure,
Friendster so far hasn't been able to recapture the
buzz that once made it a prized commodity.

In January, Friendster attracted just under 1.3
million US visitors, leaving it far behind MySpace
(61.5 million visitors), Facebook (19 million
visitors) as well as several relative newcomers to
social networking like, and, according to data from comScore Media Metrix.

Other tales of woe are bound to emerge after the
latest deal-making cycle winds down, predicted Ken
Marlin, a technology investment banker in New York.

"The world is filled with companies that waited too
long to sell and missed their window of opportunity,"
he said. "We think this land grab (on the Internet)
probably will only last another year or two."

Palo Alto-based Metacafe fielded a takeover offer
shortly after Google and YouTube first got together in
October before deciding to remain independent, said
co-founder Arik Czerniak. "We are 100 percent
committed to building the business ourselves," he

Toward that end, Czerniak recently turned over the
chief executive reins to Erick Hachenburg, a former
executive for video game-maker Electronic Arts Inc.
Czerniak remains an executive and major shareholder at

Denver-based Photobucket also prefers to remain
independent as it strives to nearly double its
registered users to 60 million by the end of this
year, said Alex Welch, who has raised about $15
million in venture capital since co-founding the site
in 2003. Photobucket's 35 million members currently
upload about 7 million photos and 35,000 videos per
day ˜ second only to YouTube and MySpace.

Other trendy websites that could elicit takeover
interest include: Linden Research Inc., the maker of
the virtual world "Second Life"; Digg Inc., which
displays news stories based on the recommendations of
readers; and Slide Inc., a photo-sharing site launched
by Max Levchin, who already struck it rich as a
co-founder of PayPal Inc., an online payment service
bought by eBay Inc. for $1.5 billion in 2002.

But no startup is stirring more takeover chatter than
Facebook, which began as a site exclusively for
college students before opening up to high school
students in 2005 and finally accepting all comers last

The site now has nearly 17 million registered users,
most of whom fall into the under-35 demographic prized
by advertisers. And Facebook gives advertisers plenty
of marketing opportunities because its users churn
through about 1 billion Web pages per day.

Facebook struck its first major financial partnership
last summer with Microsoft, which reportedly
guaranteed to deliver about $200 million in ad revenue
through 2008. Zuckerberg said the advertising contract
with Microsoft recently had been extended through
2011. Terms of the extension haven't been disclosed.

Although he dropped out of Harvard in 2004 to move
Facebook to Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg still leads the
ascetic lifestyle of a college student even as he runs
a business with 200 employees.

Zuckerberg says he keeps little more than a mattress
in his apartment, which is located just a few blocks
away from Facebook's office. The proximity allows him
to walk to work every day, usually wearing Adidas
sandals ideally suited for lounging around a campus

Being comfortable is important to Zuckerberg because,
like so many of the Silicon Valley prodigies before
him, he tends to spend long hours at the office
plotting strategy.

"For now, I just think it's very important to have a
good sense of direction about where we are going," he
said. - social community watching global free tv

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