Professional networking site LinkedIn just filed for its initial public offering, and that filing includes an interesting overview of the company’s “risk factors”, i.e., “What might go wrong.”
The company is obligated to emphasize the negative here, so it covers some obvious stuff like, “We have a short operating history in a new and unproven market,” and, “We process, store and use personal information and other data, which subjects us to governmental regulation and other legal obligations related to privacy, and our actual or perceived failure to comply with such obligations could harm our business.”
But what really struck me was this statement: “The number of our registered members is higher than the number of actual members, and a substantial majority of our page views are generated by a minority of our members.” Now, LinkedIn isn’t admitting anything particularly damning here, since almost any site will have more registered users than actual members (due to users having multiple accounts,dying, or other causes), but the statement echoes a common criticism of LinkedIn, that you basically create an account and then forget about it unless you’re looking for a job.
LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner has admitted that this was the perception of LinkedIn in the past, but he argued that the company is trying to become more of a professional dashboard that you visit every day. Hence the addition of features like an article-sharing button and the acquisition of business-card reading startup CardMunch (which could bring more contact data into the site).
But LinkedIn is dominated by a small subset of devoted users, why is that a bad thing? Well, let’s go back to the filing: “If our members’ profiles are out-of-date, inaccurate or lack the information that users and customers want to see, we may not be able to realize the full potential of our network, which could adversely impact the growth of our business.”
Another challenge that LinkedIn acknowledges is attracting and retaining employees. The company says that as of December 31, 57 percent of its 990-person workforce had been with the company for less than one year and 74 percent had been with the company for less than two years. Again, that’s not hugely damning since LinkedIn is a fast-growing company, but it does suggest that it’s fighting in the same war for talent as Google and Facebook.
None of that should take away from the growth that the site has seen, going from net revenue of $32.5 million in 2007 to $120.1 million in 2009 (and then $161.4 million in the first nine months of 2010 alone), or the basic excitement of “Wow, LinkedIn is having an IPO!”