It's been one heck of a run for professional networking platform LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD.DL). With an IPO pricing at about $45 per share, the stock took off and hasn't looked back since. And when we consider its market opportunity of 600 million-plus professionals within the 3.3 billion in the global workforce, I'd say there's plenty of room to run.
Two sides to every coin
On the flip side of the coin, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has had a pretty tough go of it since going public. Facebook is very relevant to the competitive landscape for LinkedIn thanks to BranchOut, the application designed to offer professional networking and recruiting tools for the more than 1 billion registered users of Facebook. Facebook's IPO will go down as one of the greater bungles in history and it's still trying to recover. The chart below shows the kind of year the two companies are having. It's day versus night:
The bet on Facebook at the time of the IPO was that the company had everything already figured out and the price was reflective of robust future results that were more or less a lock. In hindsight, we know that Facebook was extremely overvalued at the IPO and it still has a lot to prove. Now, it doesn't mean that Facebook can't or won't be successful in the longer-term. But LinkedIn is eating Facebook's lunch today, and I think it has to do with leadership and its strategic vision.
LinkedIn recently offered a presentation at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Technology Conference where investors got a glimpse of management's four priorities and how they're guiding the business to the success it's witnessing today:
Priority No. 1: Talent. LinkedIn's primary product is the talent they funnel to companies. Without a focus on the talent, they might as well just pack it up and go home.
Priority No. 2: Technology. LinkedIn is a great example of a business with classic network effects; as such, the platform must scale to accommodate its exploding membership base. Management will continue to focus on this as the number of connections multiplies.
Priority No. 3: Product. The overarching products for LinkedIn offer three main value propositions: professional identity, insights, and working where their members work. Management focuses on developing their products with these targets in mind.
Priority No .4: Monetization. The bull's-eye here for management is in the talent (also known as hiring) solutions segment which is the largest and fastest growing. The other two drivers are marketing solutions and premium solutions.
Investors should take note of where monetization falls here as I believe this is crucial to LinkedIn's success. Management is smart to note that monetization only happens if the other three priorities work first. In other words, the first three priorities help guide the fourth, not the other way around. This is why LinkedIn is killing it today: Management has its priorities in the right order.
Money and jobs are cool
It's also worth noting that LinkedIn's fastest-growing demographic is students. Given the news we've been hearing lately about how Facebook is losing its "cool factor" with teens, it's certainly worth remembering that at the end of the day, LinkedIn's value proposition for generations to come is that it can and will affect their paycheck. Further, their behavior on Facebook can and does also affect their paycheck. I can't help but wonder at what point a young student sees the trade-off there and devotes more time to LinkedIn and developing their professional identity, as it serves a purpose well beyond just social interaction.
For me, it all boils down to this: If you gave me shares of Facebook today, I'd sell them immediately and plow all the proceeds into LinkedIn. The differences between these companies grow starker every day and investors would be wise to take note. No, it's not the cheapest stock on the block. But I also believe that LinkedIn is going to be one of the most relevant companies in the world over the coming decade and beyond. It's not too late to join the party.