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It was a long time coming, but social networking starlet
Snapchat Snap finally filed its S-1 paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday, formally triggering the process of becoming a public company.
Building up to yesterday’s events, Snap has been laying the groundwork for over the past year, including raising a whopping $1.8 billion in May, which sent the company’s total funding since 2011 past the $2.5 billion mark. It also doubled down on its acquisitions by acquiring five companies, changed the company name when it rebranded as Snap, and launched a $130 pair of connected glasses — the company’s first foray into hardware.
Snap originally filed its IPO plans confidentially back in October, something that companies are allowed to do if their revenue is less than $1 billion. And in the months since, speculation has mounted that Snap was gearing up for what could be the biggest U.S. tech IPO since Facebook’s.
Until yesterday, much of what has been written about the company’s figures and plans has been little more than rumors and hearsay — Snap likes to keep its cards close to its chest. But with the SEC filing now in the public domain, we learned a lot about how the company is doing, along with what factors could stymie its growth as a public company.
Here’s a quick recap of what we now know, covering notable tidbits from Snap’s pre-IPO stage through to identified post-IPO risks.
Pre-IPO: By the numbers
Snap’s SEC filing reveals that the company racked up a $514.6 million net loss in 2016, up from $372.9 million the year before. However, revenue for the year was up by around 500 percent from 2015 — hitting $404 million — up from a measly $58.7 million in 2015. We also now know that Snap employed 1,859 people as of year-end December 31.
While we knew that Snap was bolstering its in-house talent and smarts through acquisitions, we had no way of knowing how much Snap had paid for them — we now have some idea. Snap revealed that it paid $150.6 million for Looksery in 2015, while the following year it dished out $64.2 million for Bitmoji maker Bitstrips, and $114.5 million for Vurb.
The company has made other acquisitions that seemingly didn’t merit being singled out. However, Snap did reveal that it paid $47 million in 2016 for other companies not mentioned specifically in the filing, which likely include its June acquisition, Obvious Engineering. It also reportedly acqui-hired San Francisco-based adtech startup Flite.
Interestingly, the filing shows that Snapchat cofounders Evan Spiegel (CEO) and Bobby Murphy (CTO) controlled nearly 90 percent of the company’s voting power, though this is something that will change after the IPO.
Finally: Snap revealed that it agreed to pay ousted “cofounder” Reggie Brown $158 million following a lawsuit brought by him in 2014. Brown had claimed Spiegel and Murphy ripped off his idea and denied him equity in the company. The lawsuit was settled, but until now the value of the settlement had not been known.
The IPO: No vote
We now know that Snap plans to raise $3 billion in its IPO and will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “SNAP.” However, in a first for an IPO, Snap’s Class A public shares will come with no voting rights, a move that some of the biggest U.S. pensions raised public objections to.
It’s not unusual for technology companies to afford founders significant control through using a different class of stock, but to offer the public no votes whatsoever is thought to be unprecedented. According to the Financial Times, one investment industry leader suggested that Snap’s IPO could “open the floodgates” to similar arrangements at companies globally.
From the filing, Snap said:
We are not aware of any other company that has completed an initial public offering of non-voting stock on a U.S. stock exchange. We therefore cannot predict the impact our capital structure and the concentrated control by our founders may have on our stock price or our business.
Additionally, Snap has set up a foundation that will endow up to 13 million Class A shares to help “youth, education, and the arts,” though we won’t know how much that will be worth until the company starts trading.
One interesting tidbit to emerge from the SEC filing was that Snap is committed to using Google’s cloud infrastructure for five years in a deal that stipulates Snap must spend $400 million a year. This could also stymie Snap’s attempts to infiltrate China, given that Google doesn’t play nice with the country. Snap acknowledged this in its filing, saying “…we do not know if we will be able to enter the market in a manner acceptable to the Chinese government.”
China, in general, poses a big challenge for Snap, which has yet to set up an official presence anywhere in the country. The filing noted:
Access to Google, which currently powers our infrastructure, is restricted in China. Additionally, certain products like Spectacles may not be available in all locations due to local laws and regulations.
Snap also revealed that in 2017 it plans to significantly broaden the distribution of Spectacles, the funky futuristic camera-infused glasses it launched late last year. The specs were hard to get ahold of in Q4 2016, but Snap has made them easier to buy through pop-up stores. And though they haven’t proved to be big moneymakers so far, making them easier to buy moving forward should help.
Spectacles represented a big part of the filing, with a total of 45 mentions. However, they were typically referred to as a risk factor — Snap can’t guarantee that it can make a success of what is ultimately an expensive hardware project.
Another key risk factor identified by Snap in its filing is Brexit — the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union. London, if you remember, is the city Snap has chosen for its main overseas hub. The filing said:
The political and economic instability created by Brexit has caused and may continue to cause significant volatility in global financial markets and uncertainty regarding the regulation of data protection in the United Kingdom.
Other risks noted by Snap include malware, hacking, phishing, spammers, terror and criminal groups, and local regulatory obstacles around the world.
Some reports indicate that Snap could be valued at up to $25 billion, but with a $515 million net loss in 2016, it’s hard to fathom how that valuation figure can be taken seriously. That said, Snap’s 500 percent year-on-year revenue growth is impressive when taken on its own, with “substantially” all of it coming from advertising, according to the SEC filing. Therefore, Snap’s prosperity relies on the company growing its users, which will, in turn, help drive advertising revenues — this is why the average revenue per user (ARPU) figure is key.
Snap said that its global ARPU tripled from $0.31 in Q4 2015 to $1.05 in Q4 a year later, which represents 300 percent growth. It still lags Facebook’s latest ARPU of $4.83, but Snap’s ARPU growth should go some way toward pleasing Wall Street.
But until the company officially goes public, which is expected to happen in March, we can only guess.
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