Facebook: Facing the Future or Failing?

Since Facebook's rocky IPO, it's been all doom and gloom in the social media sector - but is that really the story?

It’s been all videos, all the time on the NEXT blog for the last few weeks, as we bring you the best content from NEXT Berlin a few weeks ago. It’s time to start leavening that a little with some glimpses into the future, as we start the long build-up to NEXT 2013.

And if there’s been one tech story over the last couple of weeks, it has been the Facebook IPO. A difficult start to trading, and a rapid plunge below the initial price is not what many people expected, and is certainly not our experience of tech IPOs past. I had the opportunity to chat with some bankers from the City in London in the immediate aftermath of the IPO, and they universally expressed scepticism about the company’s prospects. For all its media attention, they were looking at the financial fundamentals of the company – and won’t blown away by what they saw.

The fallout? Lukewarm interest in the stock, doom, gloom and navel-searching in the tech press and quite possibly  other IPOs being postponed.

This is all immediate reaction, the shock of things not going as so many initially predicted. But is there an argument for looking beyond this?

Let’s look at two key facts:

  • Facebook has just raised $16bn for future investment
  • Mark Zuckerberg has 22% of the ownership of Facebook, but 57% of the voting shares.

So, Zuckerberg hasn’t given up control of his company, and there’s been no sign of “adult supervision” of the kind that Eric Schmidt gave the Google founders for years after their IPO.

Investors might be hurting, as the share price slumps. The underwriters of the IPO probably aren’t happy. But Facebook has a big warchest for acquisitions and development. And Zuckerberg is staying in control of the company he has founded. The real question then, is can Facebook maintain its momentum in the medium and long term? In the short term, it has to manage the shift to mobile, and acquisitions, like Instagram, seem to be a step in that direction.

It may have been a co-incidence that Facebook’s leader got married the weekend after the IPO, but I think the message it sends is a good one. Zuckerberg is in this for the long-term. He’s committed to this. The company’s ability to endure where so many other social networks have faded into obscurity will depend on his vision and commitment. We’re entering perhaps the third chapter in the story of Facebook – and it’s a rocky one. But I think we’re a long way from its end.

And, perhaps the staggering Facebook IPO has actually done the social web a favour – it may have deflated a bubble that was building – and that’s got to be a good thing.