Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Murdoch’

Facebook’s $100 Million Deal: Responding to Henry Blodget

May 10, 2008

I am not sure if Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider is playing devil’s advocate or if he really believes that Facebook opted for debt financing because it “couldn’t raise the rest of that $500 million round at that $15 billion valuation.” But his question is certainly legitimate and provocative.

Here’s what I think:

1. This was a smart business decision: Even if Facebook could raise more money at a $15 billion valuation, it makes economic sense to use some minimal form of debt financing to pay for capex. It’s reflects the company’s maturation process. As my story shows, more and more startups are beginning to take advantage of debt financing. Moreover, as Lee points out, even at a discounted $5 billion valuation, $100 million in debt would give Facebook a paltry 2% debt-to-equity ratio. That hardly puts the company in risky territory even if the economy gets worse.

2. As crazy as this sounds, I think Facebook would have a decent shot at raising more money at a valuation at or close to $15 billion. Does that mean I believe Facebook is worth that much? No. But Facebook’s valuation doesn’t depend on my opinion. It’s based on the marketplace’s opinion. And already, two of the most successful business enterprises in the world (Microsoft and Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing) have ponied up large slugs of capital at a $15 billion valuation.

There’s dumb money, smart money and strategic money. And Facebook was shrewd enough and successful enough to take the strategic capital. Microsoft has helped Facebook generate advertising revenue while it gets its own ad business going, while Li Ka-Shing will open many doors for the company in Asia.

Both of these players invested in the company at a valuation that most people couldn’t stomach because they believe they can generate more value on the asset compared to other entities that don’t bring as much strategic value to the table (and because they can afford to lose $100 million or more). This is exactly why News Corp paid a massive premium for Dow Jones. Is Dow Jones worth $5 billion? Probably not to anyone except Rupert Murdoch. Only time will tell if these moves were brilliant or boneheaded. But there is perverse logic at work here.

So bottom line: I would venture that Facebook has a good chance at raising more money from another strategic-type investor at that seemingly irrational valuation–especially if it keeps growing its business and starts to figure out how to monetize social networks.

Micro-Hoo: The End of Tech’s Soap Opera? Or the Beginning of the End?

May 10, 2008

In this week’s broadcast of the Digital Dish, BusinessWeek reporters Spencer Ante, Heather Green, Arik Hesseldahl and Catherine Holahan wonder if the Microsoft/Yahoo dance is really over, and then size up Microsoft vs. Google and News Corp.’s slumping Internet revenues.

Not to trumpet our horn too loudly, but we warned you about MySpace twice over the last six months. In fact, last November we first raised red flags about MySpace and how the pressure was on Rupert Murdoch to turn his prize quarry into a profit machine.

Digital Dish on the Microsoft-Yahoo Melodrama

April 12, 2008

The Microsoft-Yahoo merger melodrama makes “As the World Turns” look like a PBS documentary.

Will AOL sneak in the back door and steal Yahoo? Why did Rupert Murdoch get back onto the dance floor? And what in the world is going on with Jerry Yang? BusinessWeek reporters Spencer Ante, Heather Green, Arik Hesseldahl and Catherine Holahan discuss the latest moves in this soap opera. Check out the video by clicking here.

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Battle of Letters: Bill Miller Trumps Jerry Yang

February 14, 2008

Last night, SearchEngineWatch posted the full text of a letter Yahoo! chief exec Jerry Yang sent to its shareholders. The letter follows up on Yahoo!’s rejection letter to Microsoft, explaining why Yahoo!’s board believes Microsoft’s proposal significantly undervalues Yahoo and isn’t in the best interests of Yahoo stockholders. In the missive Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang emphasizes its strong brand, financial strength, strategic investments, technology, relationships with marketers and the huge opportunity in online advertising.

It’s not very convincing. “We are executing our strategy – and making headway,” claims Yang. Not.

A far more important letter was sent on Feb. 12 by the respected money manager Bill Miller. Legg Mason’s Value Trust fund, which Miller runs, is Yahoo!’s second largest shareholder. In his letter, Miller told investors that Microsoft will probably need to raise its $31-per-share offer if it wants to seal the deal. In the end, though, he said that Yahoo is in a “tough spot if it wishes to remain independent” and added that it will be “hard for Yahoo to come up with alternatives.”

What Miller’s letter shows is that most shareholders believe doing a deal with Microsoft is the best way to create more value for shareholders in the short term. It’s easy money up front, with no risk. To get the deal done, all Microsoft needs to do is sweeten that offer. Give Yang credit for restarting deal talks with News Corp. Forming some sort of combination with Fox Interactive Media may be just enough of a real threat to get Steve Ballmer to up its offer.

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Micro-Hoo: Is Microsoft following the HP Playbook or the News Corp. Playbook?

February 12, 2008

Yesterday, I appeared on Fox Business News to talk about the latest and greatest soap opera in the tech industry–Microsoft’s courtship (or bear hug) of Yahoo!.

On the show with my former colleague from TheStreet.com, Dagen McDowell, I said that Microsoft may be inclined to sweeten its offer to Yahoo! A new offer would never come close to the $40 a share that some insiders say Yahoo!’s board is seeking but I thought it was possible that Microsoft could come up a few dollars–especially since reports have said that Micrsoft was willing to pay around $35 for Yahoo! before its latest disappointing quarter.

Now I’m not so sure about that. The reason is late yesterday Microsoft released a statement calling its bid “full and fair.” The remarks came in response to Yahoo’s earlier statement that Microsoft’s bid “substantially undervalues” the company. While Microsoft did not say $31 is its final offer, it is clearly playing hard ball.

The question now is this: Is Microsoft following the HP playbook or the News Corp. playbook? (Microsoft has said that it studied the HP-Compaq merger as part of its due diligence for putting together a Yahoo1 bid.) HP applied a massive charm offensive and grueling lobbying campaign to win over Compaq shareholders.

Rupert Murdoch, on the other hand, took over Dow Jones by giving the confused Bancroft clan a very sweet offer and then putting on the vice grips. Many analysts thought Murdoch would sweeten his offer to close the deal, especially since the Bancrofts held preferred shares in the company. But Murdoch held firm and quickly carried the day.

I don’t know the answer to this question. But after yesterday, it looks like Microsoft is leaning more and more towards the Murdoch playbook.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Yahoo! is no Dow Jones. The Silicon Valley superstar has fallen on hard times but it is not in a mature and declining business. And Yahoo! did not drive its business into the ground. It’s just competing against a superior competitor. The problem for Jerry Yang is that he has yet to convince shareholders that he has come up with a better vision to combining these behemoths. If he doesn’t, it’s hard to see how he can hold off Microsoft–or hit them up for more money.

We’ll probably get another major clue in the next few weeks if Steve Ballmer & Co. wage a proxy fight. Microsoft could ratchet up pressure on Yahoo’s board by taking its offer directly to shareholders and waging a proxy fight to oust Yahoo’s directors; it has until March 13 to nominate a new slate of directors. Today, though, the New York Post reported that “Microsoft has hired proxy solicitation firm Innisfree in anticipation of a proxy battle to replace Yahoo!’s board.”

Let the games continue…

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Valley Boy: Part 1 of an Interview with VC Pioneer Thomas J. Perkins

January 17, 2008

Thomas J. Perkins is a Silicon Valley legend. In 1972, Perkins, a former Hewlett-Packard executive, and Eugene Kleiner, a founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, created one of America’s landmark venture capital firms, Kleiner, Perkins. The partnership made its mark with two blockbuster investments: Tandem Computers and Genentech, the first successful biotechnology company. As chairman of both companies, Perkins played a huge rule in developing each of these groundbreaking, multi-billion dollar businesses.

Today, Perkins is more well-known for his role in helping to expose the spying scandal at Hewlett-Packard, where he was a director of the company. I got to know Perkins when I interviewed him several times for my book. In November, Perkins dropped by the BusinessWeek office to plug his new memoir, Valley Boy. Although he is not actively investing today, Perkins was as forthright and insightful as ever, looking trim and dapper in a blue, peak-lapel suit.

In the first part of this two-part interview, Perkins discusses the state of venture capital, his views on various technologies, why Microsoft doesn’t scare him as much, and the future of Silicon Valley. (Yes, he think we’re seeing some signs of a bubble.) In the second part of our interview, which we’ll publish on Monday, Perkins offers his candid comments on Hewlett-Packard and how he helped to turn around the company.

Is Kleiner Perkins not funding Web 2.0 companies anymore? There was some discussion of that in the blogosphere recently, with valuations for Facebook and other Web 2.0 companies getting really, really high.
I’m not aware of that. A lot has been done but we haven’t made it an official policy. I love bubbles. We made a lot of money in bubbles.

Every time Google passes one of the century marks, 100 to 200 to 300, everybody said, “My god.” If you bought Google on the offering you would have made about 10 to 1. Is the market always right? No. Is it always wrong? No. You don’t get rich by betting against the market.

Is there too much venture capital floating around?
There’s always been too much money in venture capital. It doesn’t mean you can’t make too much money in venture capital.

What’s the worst investment you ever made?
There are so many. Hundreds of them. In all of these things if you put the risk up-front and use your initial money to try to reduce the risk, you won’t lose that much money. But one Google covers an awful lot of early stage losses. That’s just the way the business works. When you write the check you think it’s going to be a home run. You’d never knowingly say this one isn’t quite as good. If you think that, don’t write the check.

Speaking of Google, what do you make of all this talk about platforms?
I am on the board of News Corp. so I am delighted to see MySpace participate in this war. The growth is just incredible and the involvement everyone has with these platforms. Five years ago I never heard of Google. Now I use it constantly

Did Rupert Murdoch bring the MySpace acquisition to the News Corp board?
Yes. And he discussed it with me a little bit ahead of that. I was very enthusiastic about. He discussed another one with me, which I won’t mention, that I was unenthusiastic about. It was acquired by somebody else and it has fizzled. For a long time I was Rupert’s listening post in Silicon Valley.

Why were you enthusiastic about it? A lot of people thought he was kind of crazy.
Because of Google. And because these things can take off. I thought it was a good bet. The people were impressive.

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What do you think about this whole movement to open the wireless world?
The phone companies scare me. The size, the power, the investment. They have the customers. They’ve got everything except for the last quarter mile. So they’re tough but they don’t move very quickly. An agile group like Google can do pretty well.

Does Microsoft scare you?
Not as much as it used to. They are a great company. We’ve always used them as a partner and as a target. I think that will continue.

Will Kleiner Perkins be around another 30 years? Succession has always been a challenge.
We are in our 35th year. We are on the threshold of another fund next year, which I think will be number 13. So we’re doing pretty well. We’ve lost some partners, but never in an angry or competitive way. We’ve had more retirements than the competition. We have a very good management structure: Ray Lane, John Doerr and Brook Byers are the three managing general partners. They are all pretty comfortable in the saddle. None of them want to quit. And we’ve got some pretty interesting folks coming up behind them. I think it depends on the bets we make, rather than who is in the pipeline.

Are you still bullish on green technology?
Yeah, there’s so much momentum. There’s fresh technologies and new things to be done.

It’s not trendy?
Sure, it’s trendy but you can’t ignore trends.

Will the credit crunch affect Silicon Valley earnings? Anything to worry about there?
No. There’s far more than adequate capital, as we’ve said earlier. It’s always a good time to be in venture capital. If the markets come off a bit, the prices come down. You can’t look at the stock market and decide whether or not to invest in a startup venture. You have to totally ignore that. You have to assume sooner or later there will be a market for liquidity. After all, the growth of technology has been just about the only constant in our economy for a very long time.

Do all these proposed tax increases on venture capital concern you?
Yes. I would hope that there’s an adequate distinction between a venture capital fund, which has a very long time scale, and something that’s measured in months, as in the hedge fund world. And maybe the tax code has to recognize that.

Historically, Congress has been pretty good in understanding what venture capital has been all about. When I was chairman of the National Venture Capital Association I lobbied to reduce the capital gains to 20% from 28%. President Carter vetoed that. But [Congress] overrode the veto. So Congress understood the importance of venture capital. I used to say venture capital was like a pilot light. But now it’s like a roaring glass furnace.

Do you worry about liquidity, in terms of how companies can sell out
If you have a good business there is always liquidity. The value has to be there. It has to be a decent business. It used to be in earnings per share, and now it’s in market share or growth rate. It can’t be smoke and mirrors.

Doesn’t that sound a little bit like the thinking of the bust?
Yeah but we can’t ignore that. It’s value. If you’re like us and get in on the ground floor, it’s always OK.

Where would you be if you were just getting into the Valley today?
Always as an entrepreneur. Never as a venture capitalist. My advice: You can go to Wall Street and get in on the ground floor of the next scandal. And there will be one. You can become a venture capitalist, and you might do alright. But if you really want to have some fun, make an contribution, and maybe make money, you become an entrepreneur. It’s a buyer’s market for entrepreneurs. There is so much venture capital out there. As I said in my book, money is the least differentiated of all commodities. And venture capitalists are in the business of selling money.

Do you sense that Silicon Valley is doing well today?
It’s better. The Valley is a meritocracy. It’s taken for granted. But it is a true meritocracy But it’s tough, too. An entrepreneur can fail and still get backing for the next deal, if we think he failed for the right reasons. We have primarily invested around the Valley and now we are branching out into China and far afield.

Now that you are going overseas, how will globalization impact America as money starts going overseas?
It’s not our primary focus. It’s still experimental. We don’t know how it’s going to play out. We are moving carefully and deliberately. I am very optimistic about the Chinese-American relationship. Always have been. I’m not concerned about co-habiting with the enemy or anything like that.

Do you think about investments differently there?
Oh yes. Historically, we never went very far from Silicon Valley because we couldn’t drive there and check on [the investments]. China is quite far away but we have a partner who commutes to China every couple weeks. We don’t know the [Chinese] as well but they come to us as well. There’s a lot of interaction. We think we’re doing it in a cautious careful way.

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