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At the end of last month, LinkedIn, the biggest online networking service for professionals, filed for an IPO seeking to raise up to $175 million. For experienced Fools, this may sound like just another day at the office for Wall Street bankers looking to raise cash for yet another startup-gone-public. But I see something potentially different in this deal. And it might have the foundations of something quite special.
In his latest book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, philosopher Alain de Botton talks about the importance of work to humankind. So important is working for us that in its absence, during times of recession when jobs are scarce, it isn't the reduced pay that causes the most depression, but that lingering sense of being adrift and unmoored from life's purpose.
Thus, in my eyes, it's not surprising to learn that LinkedIn -- a site that allows members to post their resumes and search for jobs and prospective employees -- has more than 90 million users in 200 countries and is rumored to be valued at around $2 billion. That's some pretty stunning data for just another job-search website, right? It makes sense, though. Work is at least that important to all of us -- perhaps a whole lot more.
The origins of LinkedIn
Founded in 2003 by former PayPal executive Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn has been surrounded by marquee names for its entire life. The company received its first round of funding in the same year from Sequoia, the same venture firm behind Google and Yahoo! Subequent investment has come from Tiger Global Management, which paid $20 million for a stake in the company in July 2010, giving us that rough present-day valuation of approximately $2 billion. No shortage of big names surround this company.
But the looming question du jour is what the company plans to do with all this capital. I have a few guesses. Already on the hunt with capital from prior offerings, LinkedIn recently acquired CardMunch, a startup that supplies technology allowing users to scan business cards and store the information digitally. Not one to settle with just a single bolt-on, the company also has purchased names that include mSpoke and ChoiceVendor. What does this all spell for the company?
A new way to work
It seems clear that LinkedIn is positioning itself to become the dominant player in the professional-networking social-media industry and, of course, in the employment- and staffing-services business as well. The next logical leap is that the company intends to merge the two together rather seamlessly.
Competition in this arena, however, is already quite fierce, with names such as Monster Worldwide (NYSE: MWW ) , CareerBuilder, the Ladders, and several others. But, LinkedIn seems to be the preferred operator of the moment, and with a massive infusion of capital headed its way, I'm curious to see what the company makes of it. I like LinkedIn's chances.
Financially speaking, this appears to be the right time as well for the company to make a move toward the public markets. According to the company's filings, LinkedIn finally became profitable in the nine months leading up to September 2010. Its sales more than tripled from 2007 to 2009, led by increased revenue from advertising, premium accounts, and job listings. The company posted a profit of $1.85 million during the period, with revenues of $161.4 million, compared with a loss of $3.4 million and revenues of $80.8 million in the previous year. It's no surprise (to me, at least) that profitability is coinciding with a strategic push toward the equity markets.
The bigger picture
Perhaps the more important aspect of this deal is to consider that the professional-networking site, which is widely tipped to draw strong demand from the U.S. markets because of its steadily increasing sales from advertising, subscriptions, and hiring services, is among the first of several marquee names expected to sell shares to the public in the near future.
Daily-deal site Groupon, recently infamous for its ill-fated dance with Google, is indeed in talks with banks regarding its public offering, whereas Facebook, valued at $56 billion, may wait until 2012 to go public. Other popular social-networking sites, such as Twitter, valued at $4 billion, are expected to follow suit. My suspicion is that LinkedIn's IPO won't quench the demand for IPOs from companies such as Facebook, Twitter, or Zynga. These properites are too valuable. And, on the contrary, it may just get the IPO engine warmed up.
LinkedIn has hired Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) , Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) to lead the offering, along with UBS (NYSE: UBS ) . Of course, it's the job of these companies to get as much money as possible for the company's offering.
The Foolish bottom line
Looking at the deal from a Foolish perspective, it's hard to interpret LinkedIn's decision to go public as anything other than a positive development. The company is growing rapidly, has multiple revenue streams, and enjoys global potential. The timing is favorable, too, as employment is picking up and LinkedIn generates 41% of its revenue from hiring solutions. But, as Fools, we should never forget that it's not just what we buy; it's how much we pay for it. Beware of investor euphoria during what seems like an impending IPO boom. Price definitely matters.
Alain de Botton's book doesn't touch upon just how full of possibilities professional-networking sites such as LinkedIn are. But investors don't need philosophers to tell them what to do. Right now, they seem certain that having networking sites go public will provide them with great opportunities. I cautiously agree.
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