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Article from SFGate.

It’s suddenly a lot harder for venture capitalists and startups to raise funds, as investors fed up with low returns turn their backs on the sector.

Most industry observers agree that lots of young firms will simply not be able to raise their next round of funding, commencing a period of belt tightening, consolidation and closures. At a minimum, it seems to mark the beginning of a more level-headed investment climate in Silicon Valley, after years of insatiable lust for all things mobile and social.

But if the drop-off is too sudden and steep, this new austerity could spill over into an economy highly dependent on the tech sector. Indeed, as The Chronicle reported last week, the industry has an enormous impact, with each tech job creating 4.3 indirect jobs in the community, according to a Bay Area Council Economic Institute report.

The investors and venture capitalists I spoke to insisted that we’re not on the verge of anything like the dot-com meltdown, characterizing the shift as a minor and healthy correction, or a “rationalization.” One suggested it was little more than the usual process of separating good and bad ideas in the marketplace.

But the numbers suggest something new is afoot. In the third quarter, the amount that U.S. companies raised in venture capital dropped 32 percent from the prior year, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Venture capital funds themselves raised 17 percent fewer dollars from the second to third quarter, even as the number of funds grew, according to a joint report from Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association.

Economic uncertainty

Some partially blame the economic uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the election and the “fiscal cliff.” But the main problem seems to be that many of the “limited partners” that fund venture capital are pulling back after years of frustration.

Ever since a brief period in the late 1990s when venture capital burned bright, the industry has been delivering consistently weak returns on the whole.

In fact, despite requiring greater risks and larger capital outlays, venture capital has been underperforming the stock market over the past decade, according to a report this year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Joe Dear, chief investment officer for CalPERS, told Reuters this summer that venture capital “has been the most disappointing asset class over the past 10 years as far as returns.” The huge pension fund for California’s public employees didn’t return repeated calls from The Chronicle.

Investment horizons have steadily spread out, from five to 10 to sometimes 15 years, as exit opportunities like acquisitions and initial public offerings fail to materialize. This has sometimes forced investors to put in more money to protect their initial funds.

‘Pretty grumpy’

“The industry definitely, for the last decade, has been a tough place to be,” said Ray Rothrock of Palo Alto venture capital firm Venrock. “We’re all pretty grumpy right now.”

Some of this is due to macroeconomic conditions outside the control of venture capitalists, notably the housing and banking crises. But at least some of it has to do with poor picks and herd mentality, funding companies with few real prospects and driving up the entry price for legitimately promising companies beyond what they could pay off.

“The market overfunded the number of companies in the system,” said Hans Swildens, founder of Industry Ventures in San Francisco. “There’s a glut.”

Even the grand promise of Web 2.0 companies that lured so much recent money hasn’t generated the hoped-for returns. The ones that managed to go public were often disappointments, including Facebook, Zynga and Groupon, in some cases leaving late-stage investors underwater on their holdings.

That was a final straw for some.

Last week, Forbes dug up figures from CB Insights that highlighted a wide and growing gap between the number of companies that raised initial funding and companies securing the follow-on investments, known as a Series A, generally necessary to keep going. This year, there have been 1,747 seed or angel rounds but only 688 Series A deals, underscoring the coming crunch.

Bad businesses

Based on as scientific a survey as the PR pitches in my inbox, there’s a tremendous number of silly, redundant and poorly executed companies out there that don’t warrant additional funding. The real problem isn’t that many of these companies won’t raise more money; it’s that they raised money in the first place.

For the venture capital industry to get back on track, it needs to embrace a renewed sense of discipline – on company picks, deal terms and total spending.

But hope springs eternal in Silicon Valley.

Rothrock stresses that the industry’s trend-line averages mask very strong results and ongoing investment at top firms, as well as growing venture capital activity among corporations like Google. Companies are just being more selective and looking beyond consumer Internet opportunities.

“We’re steady as she goes in terms of funding enterprise,” he said.

Secondary opportunity

Swildens oversees a secondary fund that buys shares from limited partners and venture firms looking to liquidate part of their holdings. He sees this period as a ripe opportunity for bold investors to get into promising companies at suddenly reasonable rates.

“Ours is one of the few firms aggressively putting money into these funds,” he said.

Mark Heesen, president of National Venture Capital Association, is similarly optimistic. He says the industry could be primed for a strong comeback in 2013, as long as the broader economy strengthens.

Above all, what the industry needs are some wins – acquisitions or initial public offerings that put investors clearly in the black and start to restore some lost confidence.

“If we see these exit markets start to generate good returns, I think you’ll see limited partners look at this asset class again,” he said.

James Temple is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: jtemple@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jtemple

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Article from NYTimes.

MENLO PARK, Calif. — New York, London and Hong Kong are common addresses for blue-chip multinationals. Now Silicon Valley is, too.

From downtown San Francisco to Palo Alto, companies like American Express and Ford are opening offices and investing millions of dollars in local start-ups. This year, American Express opened a venture capital office in Facebook’s old headquarters in downtown Palo Alto. Less than three miles away, General Motors’ research lab houses full-time investment professionals, recent transplants from Detroit.

“American Express is a 162-year-old company, and this is a moment of transformation,” said Harshul Sanghi, a managing partner at American Express Ventures, the venture capital arm of the financial company. “We’re here to be a part of the fabric of innovation.”

The companies are raising their profiles in Silicon Valley at a shaky time for the broader venture capital industry. While top players like Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Partners have grown bigger, most venture capital firms are struggling with anemic returns.

The market for start-ups has also dimmed, in the wake of the sharp stock declines of Facebook, Zynga and Groupon, the once high-flying threesome that was supposed to lead the next Internet boom.

But unlike traditional venture capitalists, multinationals are less interested in profits. They are here to buy innovation — or at least get a peek at the next wave of emerging technologies.

In August, Starbucks invested $25 million in Square, the mobile payments company based in San Francisco, which will be used in the coffee chain’s stores. This year, Citi Ventures, a unit of Citigroup, invested in Plastic Jungle, an online exchange for gift cards, and Jumio, an online credit card scanner.

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, the large Spanish banking group, opened an office in San Francisco last year. The team, which has about $100 million to fund local start-ups, is looking for consumer applications that will help the bank create new businesses and better understand its customers.

“We are in one of the most regulated and risk-averse industries in the world, so innovation doesn’t come naturally to us,” said Jay Reinemann, the head of the BBVA office. “We want to avoid the video-rental model. We want to evolve alongside our consumers.”

The companies are hoping to tap into the entrepreneurial mind-set. Multinationals, with their huge payrolls and sprawling operations, are not as nimble as the younger upstarts. While they are rich in resources, big companies tend to be more gun-shy and usually require more time to bring a product to market.

“Companies cannot innovate as fast as start-ups; increasingly they realize they have to look outside,” said Gerald Brady, a managing director at Silicon Valley Bank, who previously led the early-stage venture arm of Siemens. “We think it’s happening a lot more than people recognize or acknowledge.”

Of the 750 corporate venture units, roughly 200 were established in the last two years, according to Global Corporate Venturing, a publication that tracks the market. In the last year, corporations participated in more than $20 billion of start-up investments.

Big business has played the role of venture capitalist before, with limited success. During the waning days of the dot-com boom, financial, media and telecommunications companies sank billions of dollars into start-ups.

The collapse was devastating. Although some managed to make money, far more burned through their cash. In 2002, Accenture, the consulting firm, scrapped its venture capital unit after taking more than $200 million in write-downs. The previous year, Wells Fargo reported $1.6 billion in losses on its venture capital investments. Dell, the computer maker, closed its venture arm in 2004 and sold its portfolio to an investment firm. (It resurrected the unit last year).

Companies say they are taking a different approach this time. Rather than making big bets across the Internet sector, investments are smaller and more selective.

“We invest with the idea that we’re a potential customer for a company,” Jon Lauckner, G.M.’s chief technology officer said. “We’re not looking to make several $5 million investments and make $10 million on each. That would be nice, but it’s not important.”

As they try to find the right start-ups, some are forging tight bonds with local firms. BBVA, for example, is an investor in 500 Startups, a venture firm that specializes in early-stage start-ups and is run by Dave McClure, a former PayPal executive.

Unilever and PepsiCo are limited partners in Physic Ventures, a venture capital firm designed to help corporate investors build commercial partnerships with portfolio companies. Both Unilever and PepsiCo have installed full-time employees in Physic’s downtown San Francisco offices.

American Express has stacked its investment team with technology veterans. Mr. Sanghi, the head of the office, has spent roughly three decades in Silicon Valley and formerly led Motorola Mobility’s venture arm. Through its network of relationships, the office has met with roughly 300 start-ups in the last six months.

The connections have started to pay off. Vinod Khosla, the head of Khosla Ventures and a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, introduced the American Express team to the executives at Ness Computing, a mobile start-up. In August, American Express partnered with Singtel, the Singapore wireless company, to invest $15 million in Ness.

Mr. Sanghi says Ness is a logical investment and a potential partner. The start-up’s application connects users to local businesses through customized search results.

“It’s trying to bring consumers and merchants together in meaningful ways,” he said. “And we’re always trying to find new ways to build value for our merchant and consumer network.”

For start-ups, a big corporate benefactor can bring resources and an established platform to promote and distribute products. Envia Systems, an electric car battery maker, picked General Motors to lead its last financing round because it wanted to have a close relationship with a major automaker, its “absolute end customer,” said Atul Kapadia, Envia’s chief executive.

Although the company received higher offers from other potential corporate investors, Envia wanted G.M.’s advice on how to build the battery so that one day it could be a standard in the company’s electric cars. After the investment, G.M. offered the start-up access to its experts and facilities in Detroit, which Envia is using.

“You want to listen to your end customer because they will help you figure out what specifications you need to get into the final product,” said Mr. Kapadia.

A marriage with corporate investors can be complicated. Besides G.M., Asahi Kasei and Asahi Glass, the Japanese auto-part makers, are also investors in Envia. They both build rival battery products for Japanese car companies.

Mr. Kapadia, who prizes their insights into Japan’s market, says his company is careful about what intellectual property information it shares with its investors. At board meetings, confidential data about Envia’s customers is discussed only at the end, so that conflicted corporate investors can easily excuse themselves.

“In our marriage, there has not been a single ethics concern, because all the expectations were hashed out in the beginning,” Mr. Kapadia said. “But I can see how this could be a land mine.”

For the big corporations, start-up investing is fraught with the same risk as traditional venture investing. Their bets might be modest, but blowups can be embarrassing and can rankle shareholders, who may see venture investing as a distraction from the core business.

OnLive, an online gaming service, offers a recent reminder.

The company was once a darling of corporate investors, with financing from the likes of Time Warner, AutoDesk, HTC and AT&T. At one point, it was valued north of $1 billion.

Despite its early promise, the start-up crashed in August, taking many in Silicon Valley by surprise. The company laid off its employees, announced a reorganization and in the process slashed the value of the shares to zero.

“It can be painful when a deal goes sour,” James Mawson, the founder of Global Corporate Venturing, said.

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Article from NYTimes.

Few investors have ridden the recent Internet boomlet like the GSV Capital Corporation.

After GSV announced in June 2011 that it was buying a stake in the privately held Facebook, the closed-end mutual fund surged 42 percent that day. Capitalizing on the euphoria, GSV sold another $247 million of its shares, using the money to expand its portfolio of hot start-ups like Groupon and Zynga.

Now, GSV is feeling the Facebook blues.

When the public offering of the social network flopped, GSV fell hard, and it still has not recovered. Shares of GSV, which were sold for an average of $15.35, are trading at $8.54.

“We probably benefited from our stake in Facebook more than we deserved on the way up,” said GSV’s chief executive, Michael T. Moe, “and were certainly punished more than we deserved on the way down.”

GSV, short for Global Silicon Valley, is the largest of several closed-end mutual funds that offer ordinary investors a chance to own stakes in privately held companies, at least indirectly. Closed-end funds like GSV typically sell a set number of shares, and their managers invest the proceeds. In essence, such portfolios operate like small venture capital funds, taking stakes in start-ups and betting they will turn a profit if the companies are sold or go public.

“I think GSV was really innovative in creating a kind of publicly traded venture capital fund,” said Jason Jones, founder of HighStep Capital, which also invests in private companies.

But the shares of closed-end funds trade on investor demand – and can go significantly higher or lower than the value of the underlying portfolios. The entire category has been hit by Facebook’s troubles, with GSV trading at a 38 percent discount to its so-called net asset value.

Mr. Moe, 49, has previously experienced the wild ups and downs of popular stocks.

A backup quarterback at the University of Minnesota, he started out as a stockbroker at the Minneapolis-based Dain Bosworth, where he wrote a stock-market newsletter called “Mike Moe’s Market Minutes.” He met the chief executive of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, on a visit to Seattle in 1992, and he began covering the coffee chain after its initial public offering.

“I left believing I had just met the next Ray Kroc,” Mr. Moe wrote in his 2006 book, “Finding the Next Starbucks,” referring to the executive who built the McDonald’s empire.

After stints at two other brokerage firms, Mr. Moe became the director of global growth research in San Francisco at Merrill Lynch in 1998. There he ran a group of a dozen analysts at a time when mere business models “were going public at billion-dollar valuations,” he said.

Shortly after the dot-com bubble burst, he founded a banking boutique now called ThinkEquity. At the time, he expected the I.P.O. market to shrug off the weakness and recover in a couple of years. Instead, it went into a decade-long slump.

“Market timing is not my best skill,” Mr. Moe said. In 2007, he sold ThinkEquity.

The next year, he started a new firm to provide research on private companies, NeXt Up Research. He later expanded into asset management, eventually changing the name to GSV. Within two months of starting his own fund, he bought the shares in Facebook through SecondMarket, a marketplace for private shares.

GSV soon raised additional funds from investors and put the money into start-ups in education, cloud computing, Internet commerce, social media and clean technology. Along with Groupon and Zynga, he bought Twitter, Gilt Groupe and Spotify Technology. The goal is finding “the fastest-growing companies in the world,” he said.

But Mr. Moe has paid a high price, picking up several start-ups at high valuations on the private market. He bought Facebook at $29.92 a share. That stock is now trading at $19.10. He purchased Groupon in August 2011 for $26.61 a share, well above its eventual public offering price of $20. It currently sells at $4.31.

Max Wolff, who tracks pre-I.P.O. stocks at GreenCrest Capital Management, said GSV sometimes bought “popular names to please investors.”

“This is such a sentiment-sensitive space, the stocks don’t trade on fundamentals,” Mr. Wolff said, adding, “If there’s a loss of faith, they fall without a net.”

GSV’s peers have also struggled. Firsthand Technology Value Fund, which owns stakes in Facebook and solar power businesses like SolarCity and Intevac, is off 65 percent from its peak in April. “We paid too much” for Facebook, said Firsthand’s chief executive, Kevin Landis.

Two other funds with similar strategies have sidestepped the bulk of the pain. Harris & Harris Group owns 32 companies in microscale technology. Keating Capital, with $75 million in assets, owns pieces of 20 venture-backed companies. But neither Harris nor Keating owns Facebook, Groupon or Zynga, so shares in those companies have not fallen as steeply.

GSV is now dealing with the fallout.

In a conference call in August, Mr. Moe was confronted by one investor who said, “the recent public positions have been a disaster,” according to a transcript on Seeking Alpha, a stock market news Web site. While Mr. Moe expressed similar disappointment, he emphasized the companies’ fundamentals. Collectively, he said, their revenue was growing by more than 100 percent.

“We have been around this for quite some time, and we are going to be wrong from time to time,” Mr. Moe said in the call. “But we are focused on the batting average.”

In the same call, Mr. Moe remained enthusiastic – if not hyperbolic – about the group’s prospects. Many of GSV’s 40 holdings are in “game-changing companies” with the potential to drive outsize growth, he told the investors.

Twitter, the largest, “continues to just be a rocket ship in terms of growth, and we think value creation,” he said. The data analysis provider Palantir Technologies helps the Central Intelligence Agency “track terrorists and bad guys all over the world.” The flash memory maker Violin Memory “is experiencing hyper-growth,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But Mr. Moe was a bit more muted in recent interviews. While he says he still believes in giving public investors access to private company stocks, he recognizes the cloud over GSV. “We unfortunately have a social media segment that got tainted. I completely get why our stock is where it is. It’s going to be a show-me situation for a while.”

Acknowledging some regrets, Mr. Moe said he was angriest about overpaying for Groupon, saying, “Yeah, I blew Groupon.” He said that he also did not anticipate what he called a deceleration in Facebook’s growth rate, and that it was “kind of infuriating” that some of its early investors were allowed to exit before others. GSV often must hold its shares until six months after a public offering.

But the downturn in pre-I.P.O. shares has a silver lining, Mr. Moe said. Since the Facebook public offering, he has been able to put money to work “at better prices.” He recently bought shares of Spotify at a valuation of about $3 billion, roughly 25 percent below the target in its latest round of financing.

The I.P.O. market is also showing signs of life, he said, with the strong debuts of Palo Alto Networks and Kayak Software. And he still has faith in Facebook.

Whatever its current stock price, at least it is a “real company” with revenue and profit, Mr. Moe said, adding, “It’s not being valued off eyeballs and fairy dust.”

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Article from NYTimes.

 

Institutional Venture Partners has another billion to play with.

The venture capital firm, an investor in Twitter, Zynga and LivingSocial, has raised $1 billion for I.V.P. XIV, its 14th and largest fund to date.

According to a partner, Sandy Miller, the firm initially set a $750 million target but increased it on robust demand. The fund, which was raised over four months, relied mainly on capital from previous investors.

Unlike some of its peers, Institutional Venture Partners does not write a lot of checks, usually not more than a dozen a year. As a later-stage investment firm, it invests $10 million to $100 million in seasoned start-ups in three main buckets: Internet, enterprise technology and mobile.

“I hate to sound dull but we’re doing the same strategy,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller, a longtime technology investor and co-founder of Thomas Weisel Partners, is optimistic despite recent setbacks in the technology sector.

Skepticism in the public markets, most recently highlighted by Facebook‘s underwhelming initial public offering, has damped enthusiasm for some late-stage start-ups. Zynga, for instance, an Institutional Venture Partners portfolio company, has tumbled more than 44 percent since its debut last year. And plenty of experts question whether another start-up it has backed, LivingSocial, is worth such a high valuation after Groupon, its far bigger rival, has fallen about 50 percent since its I.P.O.

Mr. Miller acknowledges that some valuations may pull back, but he says he invests for the long term.

“I’ve watched the technology market over a 30-year period,” he said. “There’s more interesting, high quality companies today than there has ever been and by a very wide margin.”

He added, “In every market, most deals don’t make sense, and that’s true now, but that’s always been true.”

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Article from NYTimes.

Facebook shares will be tempting to buy when they start trading on Friday. The company has hefty profit margins, a household name and a shot at becoming the primary gateway to the Internet for much of the planet.

But if history offers any lesson, average investors face steep odds if they hope to make big money in a much-hyped stock like Facebook.

Sure, Facebook could be the next Google, whose shares now trade at more than six times their offering price. But it could also suffer the fate of Zynga, Groupon, Pandora and a host of other start-ups that came out of the gate strong, then quickly fell back.

Even after Facebook supersized its offering with plans to dole out more shares to the public, most retail investors will have a hard time getting shares in the social networking company at a reasonable price in its first days of trading.

Facebook’s I.P.O. values the company at more than $104 billion. And the mania surrounding the offering means Facebook shares will almost certainly rise on the first day of trading on Friday, the so-called one-day pop that is common for Internet offerings. At either level, Facebook’s price is likely to assume a growth rate that few companies have managed to sustain.

New investors, in part, are buying their shares from current owners who are taking some of their money off the table, a sign that the easy profits may have been made. Goldman Sachs, the PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and the venture capital firms DST Global and Accel Partners are all selling shares in the offering.

“It is a popular company, but it is still a highly speculative stock,” said Paul Brigandi, a senior vice president with the fund manager Direxion. “Outside investors should be cautious. It doesn’t fit into everyone’s risk profile.”

For the farsighted and deep-pocketed investors who got in early, Facebook is turning out to be a blockbuster. But by the time the first shares are publicly traded, new investors will be starting at a significant disadvantage.

Following the traditional Wall Street model, Facebook shares were parceled out to a select group of investors at an offering run by the company’s bankers on Thursday evening, priced at $38 a share. But public trading will begin with an auction on the Nasdaq exchange on Friday morning that is likely to push the stock far above beyond the initial offering price.

That is what happened to Groupon last fall. Shares of the daily deals site started trading at $28, above its offering price of $20. It eventually closed the day at $26.11.

The one-day pop is common phenomenon. Over the last year, newly public technology stocks, on average, have jumped 26 percent in their first day of trading, according to data collected by Jay R. Ritter, a professor of finance and an I.P.O. expert at the University of Florida.

In many of the hottest technology stocks, the rise has been more dramatic. LinkedIn, another social networking site, surged 109 percent on its first day in May 2011, and analysts say it is not hard to imagine a similar outcome with Facebook, given the enormous interest.

Unfortunately for investors, the first-day frenzy is not often sustained. In the technology bubble of the late 1990s, dozens of companies, Pets.com and Webvan among them, soared before crashing down.

At the height of the bubble in 2000, the average technology stock rose 87 percent on its first day. Three years later, those stocks were down 59 percent from their first-day closing prices and 38 percent from their offering prices, according to Professor Ritter’s data.

The more recent crop of technology start-ups has not been much more successful in maintaining the early excitement. A Morningstar analysis of the seven most prominent technology I.P.O.’s of the last year showed that after their stock prices jumped an average of 47 percent on the first day of trading, they were down 11 percent from their offering prices a month later. Groupon is now down about 40 percent from its I.P.O. price.

“It’s usually best to wait a few weeks to let the excitement wear off,” said James Krapfel, an I.P.O. analyst at Morningstar who conducted the analysis. “Buying in the first day is not generally a good strategy for making money.”

There are, of course, a number of major exceptions to this larger trend that would seem to provide hope for Facebook. Google, for instance, started rising on its first day and almost never looked back.

Even among the success stories, though, investors often have had to go through roller coaster rides on their way up. Amazon, for instance, surged when it went public in 1997 at $18 a share. But the stock soon sputtered, and it did not reach its early highs again until over a decade later. The shares now trade near $225.

More recently, LinkedIn has been trading about 140 percent above its offering price of $45, enough to provide positive returns even for investors who bought in the initial euphoria. But those investors had to sweat out months when LinkedIn stock was significantly down.

Apple is perhaps the clearest example of the patience that can be required to cash in on technology stocks. Nearly two decades after its I.P.O. in 1980, it was still occasionally trading below its first-day closing price, and it was only in the middle of the last decade — when the company began revolutionizing the music business — that it began its swift climb toward $600.

Facebook’s prospects will ultimately depend on the company’s ability to fulfill its early promise. It has a leg up on the start-ups of the late 1990s, which had no profits and dubious business models. Last year, in the seventh year since its founding, Facebook posted $3.7 billion in revenue and $1 billion in profit.

But investors buying the stock even at the offering price are assuming enormous future growth. While stock investors are generally willing to pay about $14 for every dollar of profit from the average company in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, people buying Facebook at the estimate I.P.O. price are paying about $100 for each dollar of profit it made in the past year.

When Google went public in 2004, investors paid a bigger premium, about $120 for each dollar of earnings. But the search company at the time was growing both its sales and profits at a faster pace than Facebook is currently.

Facebook may be able to justify those valuations if it can keep expanding its profit at the pace it did last year, a feat some analysts have said is possible. But especially after the company recently revealed that its growth rate had slowed significantly in the first quarter, the number of doubters is growing.

“Facebook, by just about any measure, is a great company,” Professor Ritter said. “That doesn’t mean that Facebook will be a great investment.”

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Article from SFGate.

Facebook investors Accel Partners and Goldman Sachs plan to sell as much as $1.8 billion in shares of the top social network, becoming two of the biggest sellers in the planned initial public offering.

Goldman Sachs is selling 13.2 million shares, worth as much as $461.6 million at the high end of the range outlined Thursday by Menlo Park’s Facebook. Accel Partners, an early investor in Facebook, intends to sell as much as $1.3 billion of shares.

Facebook unveiled plans Thursday to raise as much as $11.8 billion in the largest-ever Internet IPO. Executives including Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and backers such as Digital Sky Technologies will sell a total of 157.4 million shares for as much as $35 apiece, according to a regulatory filing. None will unload their entire holding.

On Friday, Facebook received a buy recommendation from Wedbush Securities and a target price of $44, its first rating since announcing plans to sell shares in an initial public offering.

Facebook should benefit from its large, growing user base that will help it attract more spending by advertisers and boost revenue and earnings, Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush in Los Angeles, said Friday in a note to investors. Mobile advertising could play an especially important part of the growth in advertising, Pachter said.

“More users should drive more usage, which in turn should drive increased advertising revenue share,” wrote Pachter. “Facebook will capture an increasing percentage of spending on offline advertising, while growing share of online advertising as well, as usage continues to increase and advertisers become more comfortable with the cost-effectiveness of online advertising.”

Facebook would be valued at more than $90 billion, and executive and investor sales would yield $5.5 billion. Existing shareholders paid an average of $1.11 a share for Facebook, the filing shows.

Facebook is offering 180 million shares to raise funds for general corporate purposes.

While Goldman Sachs is one of the IPO underwriters, it failed to win the lead role after scuttling a private sale of Facebook’s stock to U.S. investors last year. Facebook said in January 2011 that it raised $1.5 billion from Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies, valuing the company at $50 billion. Goldman Sachs, affiliated funds and Digital Sky invested $500 million, while non-U.S. investors in a Goldman Sachs fund bought $1 billion of shares.

Michael DuVally, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs, declined to comment on the plans to sell Facebook shares. Richard Wong, a partner at Accel Partners, declined to comment.

Zuckerberg will offer 30.2 million of his 533.8 million shares in the sale, bringing him as much as $1.1 billion. The majority of his net proceeds will be used to pay taxes associated with exercising a stock option.

Accel, the biggest outside holder, invested $12.2 million in Facebook in 2005 and owns 11.3 percent of Facebook’s Class B shares. At the high end of the proposed IPO price range, Accel’s remaining stake would be valued at about $5.7 billion.

Digital Sky is selling 26.3 million shares to yield as much as $919 million.

Selling may be smart for holders with large stakes who haven’t had a chance to diversify their assets, said Erik Gordon, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Other selling stockholders include Elevation Partners, Greylock Partners, Microsoft, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus and LinkedIn Chairman Reid Hoffman. The investors are selling only parts of their Facebook stakes.

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Article from AboveTheCrowd.com  by Bill Gurly

A few relevant scenes from the recent blockbuster Moneyball:

Peter Brand: Billy, Pena is an All Star. Okay? And if you dump him and this Hatteberg thing doesn’t work out the way that we want it to, you know, this is…this is the kind of decision that gets you fired. It is!
Billy Beane: Yes, you’re right. I may lose my job, in which case I’m a forty four year old guy with a high school diploma and a daughter I’d like to be able to send to college. You’re twenty five years old with a degree from Yale and a pretty impressive apprenticeship. I don’t think we’re asking the right question. I think the question we should be asking is, do you believe in this thing or not?
Peter Brand: I do.
Billy Beane: It’s a problem you think we need to explain ourselves. Don’t. To anyone.
Peter Brand: Okay.

———————————

Grady Fuson: No. Baseball isn’t just numbers, it’s not science. If it was then anybody could do what we’re doing, but they can’t because they don’t know what we know. They don’t have our experience and they don’t have our intuition.
Billy Beane: Okay.
Grady Fuson: Billy, you got a kid in there that’s got a degree in Economics from Yale. You got a scout here with twenty nine years of baseball experience. You’re listening to the wrong one. Now there are intangibles that only baseball people understand. You’re discounting what scouts have done for a hundred and fifty years, even yourself!

These two scenes from Moneyball illustrate something that may be essential to modern business: the incredible value of youth and innovative thinking relative to traditional experience. It turns out that the Moneyball character Peter Brand’s real name is not Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), but rather Paul DePodesta. And he didn’t go to Yale, but instead Harvard. He was indeed young – twenty-seven when he went to work for Billy Beane – and he did have an actual degree in Economics. What’s more, as you can see in the interaction above, Billy valued Paul’s (Peter Brand’s) opinions and decisions – despite the fact that he was a complete novice with respect to baseball operations.

A month or two ago, I had the unique opportunity to share the stage with Billy Beane at a management offsite for one of the leading companies in the Fortune 500. We were both fielding questions about innovation, and what one can do to keep their organization innovative. I talked about how many of the partners that have joined Benchmark Capital have been extremely young when they joined, including our most recent partner Matt Cohler who joined us at the age of 31. At Benchmark, we believe that young partners have many compelling differentiators. First, they will ideally have strong connections and compatibility with young entrepreneurs, who are frequently the founders of the largest breakout companies. They are also likely to be frequent users of the latest and greatest technologies (all the more important with today’s consumer Internet market). Like the “Moneyball” situation described herein, young VCs are open to new ways of doing things. This form of “rule-breaking,” or intentionally ignoring yesterday’s doctrine, may in fact be a requirement for successful venture capital investing.

When I mentioned this intentional bias towards youth, Billy Beane abruptly concurred. He noted that injecting youth into the A’s organization is also a key philosophy of his. Paul DePodesta may have been the first young gun that Billy hired, but he was far from the last. Billy continues to recruit young, bright, talented people right out of college to help shake up the closed-minded thinking that can develop with an “experience only” staff. Also noted was the fact that if a certain “experience” is shared by all teams in the league, then it is no longer a strategic weapon. You can only win with a unique advantage.

The impact of youth on the technology scene is undeniable. The included table lists the founding age of some of the most prominent founders of our time. The facts are humbling and intimidating, especially for someone who is no longer in their twenties or early thirties. Can someone in their forties be innovative? Or, do the same things that produce “experience” constrain you from the creativity and perspective needed to innovate?

Lets look at some of the specific advantages of youth. First, as mentioned before, without the blinders of past experience, you don’t know what not to try, and therefore, you are willing to attempt things that experienced executives will not consider. Second, you are quick to leverage new technologies and tools way before the incumbent will see an opportunity or a need to pay attention. For me this may be the bigger issue. The rate of change on the Internet is extremely high. If the weapon du jour is constantly changing, being nimble and open-minded far outweighs being experienced. Blink and you are behind. Youth is a competitive weapon.

The point Billy raised regarding the fleeting value of experience is also important to consider. As the world becomes more and more aware of a trick or a skill, the value of that experience begins to decay. If word travels fast, the value of the skill diminishes quickly. Best practice becomes table stakes to stay-afloat, but not to get ahead. We see examples of this every day with Facebook application user acquisition techniques. Companies find a seam or arbitrage that creates a small window of opportunity in the market, but quickly others mimic the same technique and the advantage proves fleeting.

Back before the Yahoo BOD hired Carol Bartz, there was much speculation about the important traits for Yahoo’s next CEO. Most of the analysis honed in on two key traits for the company’s next leader – the ability to lead and the ability to innovate. I remember trying to think about leaders that I thought would have a chance at having a measurable impact. On one hand, you could put a very young innovative executive into the role, but it is hard to imagine handing a $15B public company over to someone remarkably inexperienced. The other side of the coin is equally difficult – thinking of a seasoned executive who has the ability to dramatically innovate Yahoo’s products and business model.

There were only a handful of people (as few as three) that I could think of at the time that fit this second profile. Thinking back now, they all shared the following characteristic: despite being experienced CEOs, these individuals all “thought young” i.e. they were open-minded and curious. And they did not believe that experience gave them all the answers. These type of executives love diving head-first into the latest and greatest technologies as soon as they become available.

If you want to stay “young” and innovative, you have no choice but to immerse yourself in the emerging tools of the current and next generation. You MUST stay current, as it is illusionary to imagine being innovative without being current. Also realize that the generational shifts are much shorter than they were in the past. If you were an innovative Internet company five short years ago, you might have learned about SEM and SEO. Most of the newly disruptive companies are no longer using these tools as paths to success – they have moved on to social/viral techniques. The game keeps changing, and if you are not “all-in” in terms of learning what’s new, than you may be falling rapidly behind.

Consider these questions:

  1. When a new device or operating system comes out do you rush out to get it as soon as possible – just because you want to play with the new features? Or do you wait for the dust to settle so that you don’t make a mistaken purchase. Or because you don’t want to waste your time.
  2. Do you use LinkedIn for all of your recruiting, or do you mistakenly think that LinkedIn is only for job seekers? How many connections do you have? Is your profile up to date? (When Yahoo announced Carol Bartz as CEO, I did a quick search on LinkedIn.  She was not a registered user.)
  3. When you heard that Zynga’s Farmville had over 80MM monthly users, did you immediately launch the game to see what it was all about, or do you make comments about how mindless it is to play such a game? Have you ever launched a single Facebook game?
  4. Do you have an Android phone or do you still use a Blackberry because your Chief Security Officer says you have to? I know many “innovators” who carry an iPhone and an Android, simply because they know these are the smartphones that customers use. And they want exposure to both platforms – at a tactile level.
  5. Do you use the internal camera app on your iPhone because it’s easy, or have you downloaded Instgram to find out why 27mm other people use that instead?
  6. Do you leverage Twitter to improve your influence and position in your industry or is it more comfortable for you to declare, “why would I tweet?,” before you even fully understand the product or why people in similar roles are leveraging the medium? Do you follow the industry leaders in your field on Twitter? Do you follow your competitors and customers? Do you track your company’s products and reputation?
  7. How many apps are on your smart phone? Do you have well over 50, or even 100, because you are routinely downloading each and every app from each peer and competitor you can to see how others are exploiting the environment? Do you know how WhatsApp, Voxer, and Path leveraged the iphone contact list for viral distribution?
  8. Do you know what Github is and why most startups rely on it as the key center of their engineering effort?
  9. Have you ever mounted an AWS server at Amazon? Do you know how AWS pricing works?
  10. Does it make sense to you to use HTML5 as your mobile solution so that you don’t have to code for multiple platforms? Does it bother you that none of the leading smartphone app vendors take this approach?
  11. When you are on the road on business, do you let your assistant book the same old car service, or do you tell them, “I want to use Uber just to see how it works?”
  12. When Facebook launched the new timeline feature did you immediately build one to see what the company was up to, or did you dismiss this as something you shouldn’t waste your time on?
  13. Have you been to Glassdoor.com to see what employees are saying about your company? Or have you rationalized why it’s not important, the way the way the old-school small business owner formerly dismissed his/her Yelp review.

The really great news is that being a “learn-it-all” has never been easier. With the Internet, high-speed broadband, SAAS, Cloud-services, 4G, and smart-phones, you can learn about new things, 24 hours a day, no matter where you are or what you do. All you need is the internal drive and insatiable curiosity to understand why the world is evolving the way it is. It is all out there for you to touch and feel. None of it is hidden.

There are in fact many “over 30” executives who can go toe-to-toe with these young entrepreneurs, precisely because they keep themselves youthful by leaning-in and understanding the constantly evolving frontier. My favorite “youthful” CEOs are people like Marc Benioff and Michael Dell, who frequently can be found signing up for brand new social networking tools and applications. Reed Hastings has more than once answered Netflix questions directly in Quora.  Jason Kilar frequently communicates directly with his customers through Hulu’s blog. Rich Barton, the co-founder of Expedia and Zillow is one of those people carrying both an Iphone and an Android, and is constant learning mode. I would also include Mark Cuban, whose curiosity is voracious. The other NBA owners never saw him coming. And lastly, there is Jeff Bezos, who seems to live beyond the edge, imagining the future as it unfolds. Watch the launch of Kindle Fire in NYC, and you will have no doubt that Jeff plays with these products directly and frequently.

Our last table highlights the stats from the Twitter account of some of these “youthful,” learn-it-all executives (sans Mr. Bezos – we all wish he tweeted). If you don’t find this list interesting, think about the thousands and thousands of executives out there who are nowhere to be found with respect to social media. They take the easy way out, likely blaming their legal department. They intentionally choose not to learn and not to be innovative. And they refuse to indoctrinate themselves to the very tools that the disrupters will use to attack their incumbency. That may in fact be the most dangerous path of all.”

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