Facebook: eyeballs, China and deja vu

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Is it possible to have two deja vus at the same time? Or is that simply schizophrenia?

According to Venturebeat, Facebook is raising money to buy back stock from its employees. It hopes to borrow $150 million to buy back 15 million shares at $10 each. These shares have been given to employees of the private company xiaonei-blueover the past few years, and those employees have the right to sell up to 20% of their holdings, according to the article.

And now that the market for IPOs is so rotten, this is apparently the only way the company can help them cash in anytime soon.

That’s where the first case of deja vu comes in. Just 10 years ago, during the first Internet boom, people couldn’t cash in quickly enough on their foundation-free stock. Yes, Facebook has an astounding number of users, but I’m not so sure about its business plan. The company will undoubtedly go public some day, but I simply don’t believe it’s monetizable to the same extent as Amazon, eBay and Google.

Facebook really has only one asset: a bigazillion eyeballs. Which is impressive in itself, and there ought to be a way to make money from it. But with ad markets drying up and Facebook’s genuine incompetence when it comes to figuring out how to let businesses participate in a way justifies their spending money,  I don’t know what the company is going to do to pay back this next $150 million that it borrows — let alone the previous $460 million it’s raised, according to

Facebook is undoubtedly an 800-pound gorilla in the white-hot social networking arena. But there were  scores of 800-pound gorillas a decade ago, whose names I can no longer recall, that went bust because they couldn’t figure out how to turn eyeballs into cash.

I’m not predicting Facebook is going to go under anytime soon. In fact, I’m sure it will be around to cash in on an improved IPO market sometime next year. But if I were an employee and could get $10 a share for stock that I hadn’t paid for, I would sell as much as I was allowed at the first possible moment.

Here’s another deja vu-inducing part of the story: Facebook can’t get the money from its usual investors, so according to the reports already cited above, some portion of the money is coming from Asia. I remember when Japanese investors bought (and overpaid for) Rockefeller Center in the late ’80s. At the time, it was assumed to be a disheartening sign that U.S. economic dominance was ending.

It’s clear to me that, no matter how strong and innovative the U.S. may be, the world is becoming a more competitive place; any perception that we are falling probably has more to do with the fact that others are rising. Still, do we need to make it easy for them?

It’s always bothered me when people complain that we’re losing our mojo as a world power, but they don’t seem to make a conneciton between that observation and our willingness to let Asia — China in particular — lend us the money to finance our foreign wars and deficit spending.

If China comes to own a third or more of Facebook, do you think these people will notice? Do you think they’ll care?


About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

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