Is Twitter ready for an IPO?

This week, Twitter filed made its public offering documents public, giving us the first real glimpse into the company’s revenues and user base. Since users are often mentioned as a significant number in evaluating company, I’ve looked in the past at how they compared to revenue and market valuation. So with Twitter’s public revenue and user base numbers, along with the valuation of $15-20 billion that has been floated as their upcoming market capitalization, we can start drawing some parallels to some of its publicly competitors in the social network space: Facebook and LinkedIn.

What we find is that while the company has a higher number of users than LinkedIn (and a lower one than Facebook), it does not do as good a job as its competitors did at IPO time to monetize its user base.

Average Revenue Per User

In businesses where most of the revenue are derived from being able to sell something related to a user, it is not uncommon to calculate Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). Today, companies in the wireless, entertainment, and digital businesses look at those values as an indicator of how much a user is currently worth to a business. Breaking things down to that level allows for an apple to apple comparison without having to worry about one company having more users than another. According to filings, the values for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter looked as follows:

FacebookLinkedInTwitter
Number of users (millions)1150202218
Revenue (millions)$4300$972$317
ARPU$3.74$4.81$1.45

One thing that is apparent here is that Twitter is not being as successful as its competitors in terms of turning individual users into high dollars. This may be because Twitter’s ad business is still relatively new or it could be that it is still figuring out how to improve its own efficiency but at the current time, Twitter is making 39 cents for ever dollar Facebook gets out a user and 30 cents compared to a similar dollar LinkedIn would get. This could either mean room for substantial growth or represent a warning sign about the company’s ability to run a solid business.

To get a sense of the difference, if Twitter had the same numbers of users as Facebook (and assuming its ARPU didn’t grow), it would have made $1.7 billion (compared to the $4.3 billion Facebook made).

One may point out that Facebook and LinkedIn are more mature businesses. So let’s look at how they were doing, relatively, when they went public:

FacebookLinkedInTwitter
IPO Year201220102013
Number of users (millions)84590218
Revenue (millions)$3711$162$317
ARPU$4.4$1.8$1.45

What’s interesting here is that Facebook looked like it was doing substantially better on all fronts (revenue, users, ARPUs) but Twitter actually comes in much closer to where LinkedIn was at in terms of ARPUs (still trailing it by 20%), which may point to the potential for explosive growth down the line, as Twitter has demonstrated. Another interesting sidenote here is that Facebook may be growing its user base but its revenue base is no longer growing at the same speed.

Average Valuation Per User

Since there is a lot of focus on user numbers, one can assume that the number of users may give us a sense of how investors value a company. So I’d like to advance the concept of Average Valuation Per User (AVPU), which take the market capitalization of a company and divides it by the number of users. This can provide a useful lens to compare user population to the valuation of a company:

FacebookLinkedInTwitter
1st day closeCurrent1st day closeCurrentAssumed at IPO
Number of users (millions)845115090845218
Valuation (billions)104124.3927.461520
AVPU$123$108$100$136$69$92

Current market assumptions are that Twitter will be priced at $15 to $20 billion on its offering, which would mean each user is priced at between $69 and $92 a piece. When compare to the current value of a user at other companies (Facebook: $108; LinkedIn: $136), this does not seem terribly out of line. And when company to the AVPU those companies had at IPO time ($123 for Facebook and $100 for Twitter), it seems reasonable to expect that Twitter would end up closing north of the $20 billion valuation that has been floated about as the high end of the price range.

Conclusion

While Twitter’s revenue and user base appear smaller that its competitors, its IPO offering seems to point to a business that is roughly the same size as LinkedIn’s business at the time of IPO. The currently valuation range of $15-20 billion that has been floated about seem to be in line with what one might expect from a social media business of that size in revenue and user base and points to substantial opportunities for growth down the line. Once public the company will have to work hard on increasing both number of users and average revenue per user if it wants to be considered as a successful public company.

Methodology

To calculate the values, I’ve take the user and revenue numbers provided by each company in their 2012 filings. In terms of valuation, I’ve taken the valuation given to Facebook and LinkedIn at the close of market on Friday and for their first day of public close on the stock market; For Twitter, I took the bottom and top of the $15-20 range rumored in many reports about the offering. I then divided those market caps and revenue numbers by the number of users to get at calculated values.

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