Getting LinkedIn to the Next Hot IPO

Is the market ready for a dot-com stock offering with connections? LinkedIn, the social-networking site that has won over 12 million business professionals, seems to be inching toward a public lifestyle.

A recent Reuters article details many key executives who have been joining the company lately after stints at seasoned companies like TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) , Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , and AskJeeves.

Sure, ex-CFOs at TiVo seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but it's the kind of pedigree that investment bankers like to see in Wall Street debutantes.

The line starts here
LinkedIn should be a popular IPO. We're not talking about the chatty teens at News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace or the giddy coeds at Facebook. LinkedIn caters to the white-collar crowd, hungry for leads, recommendations, and job opportunities. Let's call it a networking social site instead of a social-networking site, because it's really all about corporate networking at LinkedIn.

With more than 11 million registered users in 150 different industries, LinkedIn is a paid-search marketer's dream of affluence. The site is free, though premium accounts are available. Job recruiters also pay in pursuit of qualified hires.

Subscriptions, online advertising, and headhunter fees give LinkedIn a well-rounded trifecta of revenue streams. This is the real deal. The more that one thinks on the possibilities, the more surprising it is to find that Yahoo! -- a company that's paddling hard in all three of those streams -- hasn't pounced on LinkedIn already.

The Reuters story has the company's CEO -- also a recent hire, and one who cut his teeth at Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU  ) and Advent Software (Nasdaq: ADVS  ) before joining LinkedIn earlier this year -- projecting $100 million in revenues next year. The four-year-old company supposedly turned profitable last year.

Avoiding another dot-com bubble
Growing revenues and what should be juicy, high-margin profitability are the kinds of things that will light up a prospectus like a pinball machine. Oh, there will be a prospectus. The company wouldn't have raised $30 million in venture-capital financing and started padding its management team with market vets to stay private forever.

All of the heavy-hitter hires have probably been wooed by the potential of lucrative stock options. That's a dinner bell that LinkedIn will be unlikely to ignore.

Obviously, it's not really up to the company. Companies like Facebook and LinkedIn seem like slam-dunk IPO candidates today, but a sharp bearish correction in the coming months would dry up demand for freshly minted shares.

Sure, one would think that LinkedIn would be immune to rocky markets. Like Monster Worldwide (Nasdaq: MNST  ) , turbulent and even recessionary times create workforce turnover. That's the kind of environment that would make LinkedIn a very busy destination when the economy takes a turn for the worse. That all-weather shine may not be enough to save the IPO if Wall Street is bleeding profusely, but it's something to keep in mind if investors are able to get in on the cheap.

An IPO may be moot, though
The biggest hurdle to going public for an Internet company isn't always investor apathy. All too often lately, the biggest stumbling blocks are the fat pockets of already-public companies that swallow them whole.

MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, and DoubleClick are all companies that were primed to be belles of the dot-com ball. Along came News Corp., Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , Yahoo!, and Google again, respectively. Whether the acquisitive urgency is the result of slowing organic growth or the desire to keep a cyberspace magnet away from a competitor, online juggernauts with billions in the bank can often outspend the fuzzy dreams of investment bankers who enforce lock-up periods over quick exit strategies or established connections.

Established connections? That's something that LinkedIn knows all too well. What are you waiting for, Yahoo!?

To network in other Foolish articles:

Yahoo! is a Stock Advisor recommendation, and TiVo is a former Stock Advisor pick. You don't need a LinkedIn connection to score a free 30-day trial subscription.  

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thinks it's better to be LinkedIn than LinkedOut. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story, save for TiVo. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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