Genealogy of an Internet Company

Around and around it goes; where it stops, nobody knows. Shopping.com has been around, and not just the domain name; the company itself has changed hands several times. Former Navy Seal-turned-entrepreneur Robert J. McNulty fired up the e-commerce site in 1996, a bit ahead of its time. Many people weren't yet comfortable with making transactions over the Net, and surfing an image-dependent site was a tedious and frustrating experience on the slow servers and connection speeds available at that time. It first went public in 1997.

But it was trading over the counter when AltaVista bought it for $220 million, or $19 a share, way back in 1999. AltaVista was then owned by Compaq, which of course is now owned by Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) . And AltaVista is now owned by Overture, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) .

The ownership of these companies is a proxy for the Web itself. The same venture capital firm that incubated Shopping.com started up GoTo.com, which later became Overture. It's a tangled web, to say the least.

Anyway, Compaq and AltaVista had a change of focus in 2001, outsourced the shopping business to privately owned Dealtime, and gave up the domain name. Last year, Dealtime acquired the consumer product review site Epinions. Since then, it has relaunched Dealtime as Shopping.com, but kept the differentiated Epinions.com up and running.

Now Shopping.com is planning to go public once again. Both Dealtime and Epinions have been profitable for a couple of years, but Dealtime had been using Shopping.com as a testing ground. It became profitable for the first time last year with the Dealtime business with revenues of $67.2 million and net income of $6.9 million. Surprisingly, though, about one-third of its revenue comes not from product sales, but through displaying ads for Google. And a large portion of its traffic also comes from Google.

It's pricing 7.8 million shares at $14 to $16 per share, but hasn't yet announced a date for the IPO, from which it hopes to raise about $75 million. Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) , Credit Suisse First Boston (NYSE: CSR  ) , Deutsche Bank (NYSE: DB  ) , and Piper Jaffray (NYSE: PJC  ) are managing the deal. And it will trade on the Nasdaq with the ticker symbol SHOP.

We'll just have to wait and see how crazy this IPO gets, but it's important to keep in mind just how dependent on Google the company is. That's an added risk.

Talk about IPOs on ourInitial Public Offerings discussion board.

Fool contributor Mark Mahorney doesn't own shares of any companies mentioned.


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