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Starry-eyed tech investors have been dreaming of Facebook's IPO party for years. My Foolish colleague Anders Bylund and I, especially, dream of piles and mountains of cash. The kind that you swim in. The kind you get when Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) says you're worth $15 billion.
Mr. Softy had me convinced. But then Facebook executives began selling stock. (A selling plan for all employees is in the works and ready to go active on Nov. 1, according to The Wall Street Journal.) Key staffers left. More key staffers left. And then, last week, co-founder Dustin Moskovitz -- the guy CEO Mark Zuckerberg teamed with while still at Harvard -- decided to ditch Facebook to create a new Internet service, the Journal reports.
Holy Schnikies, Tommy Boy! Is this the end of Facebook? Hardly. Moskovitz's departure was probably motivated by one of three issues:
- Facebook is feeling growing pains. Hiring is a priority when you're growing as quickly as Facebook is; 100 million users can't just serve themselves. The downside? New blood can annoy the old blood, especially when the new blood isn't that new, but rather veterans of Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) , and other stars of earlier Web wars.
- Facebook's culture is changing. Somewhat like the new-blood/old-blood scenario, Silicon Valley has a history of established companies that give birth to start-ups. Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) executive Marc Benioff created salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) , for example. Moskovitz, like Benioff before him, may believe he has a better idea, and that Facebook's time has past.
- Facebook won't go public for at least another 24 months. This is the most likely scenario, in my view. Job hunting is like treasure hunting in Silicon Valley. You're looking for the Next Hot IPO -- a place where options are like gold, tickets to the rarefied realm of real estate in the San Francisco Bay area.
Put differently: If a payday really were looming, Moskovitz would be crazy to leave. Yet he did.
We don't know why. All we know is that Moskovitz is a co-founder, and that he attended Harvard with Zuckerberg, so he's probably a smart guy. And smart guys weigh risks before taking them. In Moskovitz's case, it's likely that he did the math and concluded that he had more to lose by staying at Facebook. Not good.
But not necessarily awful, either. A credit crunch has cut off capital, which just adds sand to an already-dry IPO well. Zuckerberg has no choice but to wait for the markets to get unstuck before filing for a stock offering. Now, if only he could figure out how to get his top talent to wait with him.
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