Sweet fancy ketchup, Twitter (NOTYET: TWIT) just announced that it filed top-secret IPO paperwork. The clever little company tweeted yesterday saying: "We've confidentially submitted an S-1 to the SEC for a planned IPO. This Tweet does not constitute an offer of any securities for sale." Now let's all get in there and tear up that S-1 so that we can figure this puppy out.
Hold up... confidential? Why? How?
Twitter's SEC filings have been buried under the JOBS act. A provision for start-ups -- like little ol' Twitter -- allows companies with under $1 billion in annual revenue to file documents secretly. Then, a few weeks before the company kicks off its roadshow, the filings, and all the back and forth with the SEC, are brought to the public. The value for start-ups is that companies can avoid extended periods of bad press, and some of the hemming and hawing that has dragged on businesses like Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) .
Twitter is just the most recent brand to jump on the JOBS bandwagon. According to Ernst & Young, 63% of eligible companies used the confidential filing option in the first year of its availability. The act also allows "emerging growth" companies to avoid revealing additional information that investors have gotten used to seeing. Companies can choose to reveal just two years of financial information -- instead of the usual three -- and can opt to keep many details about executive compensation out of the public eye, as well.
Awesome -- we know nothing
That's not really true -- we do have some information to work off of. Based on its trading in the secondary market, it looks like Twitter is running with a valuation over $10 billion. Estimates from that market are subject to lots of caveats, but it's better than nothing -- which is what Twitter has offered up.
We also know that Twitter is pulling in less than $1 billion in annual revenue, and that it's not likely to break that barrier this year. Reports have put revenue growth at close to 100% every year, and estimated that 2014 will be the year that the company first breaks $1 billion.
It would be hard to think of a better time for a big social player to go public. Facebook has finally gotten back above its IPO price, and investors seem happy with its performance. That's not surprising, as the company announced a 53% increase in revenue last quarter. On top of Facebook's success, LinkedIn's (NYSE: LNKD ) shares hit a career high this week, valuing the company at $32 billion. The business continues to play an increasingly vital role in corporate hiring, and it put up a 59% increase in quarterly revenue last quarter.
So we're all buying Twitter?
No. The news is big and fun and exciting and not at all surprising, but the black box is still pretty dense. Right now, we don't know enough to make a real decision on Twitter. The business is fundamentally similar to Facebook in that it sells advertising for most of its revenue. Actually, in that way, it's much like almost every content provider, digital or not.
But Twitter is much smaller than Facebook, right now. Facebook has well over 1-billion users, while Twitter is sitting around 200 million. Investors and analysts are excited about the company's future because of the potential for Twitter to integrate with other media. Tweets while you watch TV, tweets running alongside other online commentary, and -- thanks to Twitter's recent acquisition of MoPub -- tweeted ads targeted directly to your phone.
That might all end up being an unassailable model, but it seems like some core piece is missing. Maybe that piece will become clear when we finally see the S-1, but I have a feeling it's just not in place yet. Until I see it, I'll be happy to watch the circus from the sidelines, where I don't have to worry about getting my head bitten off by a lion.
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