Twitter announced today — on Twitter, of course — that it has filed with the SEC to go public. The move marks a significant milestone in the history of the 7-year-old company, which began as a side project at a failed podcasting startup and has since become a premier global source of news and entertainment. Twitter, which is valued at more than $10 billion dollars, can use the cash generated from its initial public offering to build products, ramp up its advertising efforts, and acquire the talent needed to keep pushing its growing social network into the mainstream.
Twitter said this will be a "confidential" filing, or what some have called a "secret" IPO. When President Obama signed the JOBS Act into law, companies with less than $1 billion in revenue gained the ability to go public without releasing the financial documents that normally accompany this move. So while we probably won't get a deeper peek into Twitter's business right away, we can deduce that their revenue is shy of the $1 billion mark.
Twitter is the first big name web company to file for a "secret" IPO
Eventually, Twitter will still have to release its financials — but not until three weeks before they start marketing the public offering in what is known as a road show. The new legal framework from the JOBS Act was intended to make the IPO process easier for small companies. Twitter reportedly had $350 million in revenue last year, so even if it comes in below a billion this year, its growth may still be impressive. Bloomberg News is reporting that Goldman Sachs will be the underwriter for the public offering, and that the stock will be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
We’ve confidentially submitted an S-1 to the SEC for a planned IPO. This Tweet does not constitute an offer of any securities for sale.— Twitter (@twitter) September 12, 2013
Twitter's IPO will be the most closely watched stock offering since Facebook's rocky debut a year ago. Facebook's IPO was marred by trading glitches and investor doubts that the social network could continue to grow its revenues, particularly on mobile devices.
Twitter, which was born to take advantage of mobile devices, could be subject to less skepticism on that front. GigaOm reports that Twitter has recently been trading on secondary markets at a valuation closer to $14 billion, with hedge funds offering to buy shares in the company for $26 to $28. At the same time, it has been slower to penetrate the public consciousness than Facebook, which now counts more than 1.1 billion monthly users. By contrast, Twitter's last announced number of active users was 200 million, back in February.
To be sure, that's a big number. But as it looks to grow its revenues past $1 billion, Twitter has to make the case that ad dollars spent on Twitter can match or exceed the effectiveness of ad dollars spent on Facebook and other sites around the web. "There's still work to be done if Twitter wants to become a viable business," said Nate Elliott, an analyst at Forrester Research, in an email. "Marketers aren't yet fully satisfied with the results they're achieving on Twitter, and the company still has to improve its ad targeting and find additional ad formats to sell."
Twitter is building a next-generation advertising platform
That's why Twitter has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in building a next-generation advertising platform that executives argue is better at targeting users than Facebook. On Monday, Twitter acquired MoPub, which helps publishers manage their digital advertising inventory, for the most money it has spent on a company to date: $350 million. The bull case for Twitter's stock leads directly through MoPub.
In a post on Medium this week, former Facebook executive Antonio Garcia argued that MoPub is the linchpin to Twitter's advertising plans. Garcia, who built Facebook's real-time bidding exchange, says Twitter is in a privileged position to know its users' identities, their demographic information, and their interests. Who you follow, what you tweet, what you search for — Twitter knows it all, and can make that data available to advertisers to send promoted tweets your way.
When it comes knowing to that level of detail about its customers, Twitter doesn't have much company. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon — and that's about it. "There are all sorts of clever technical ways an identity layer can be superimposed on the fairly chaotic world of real-time exchange buying," Garcia wrote. "I've personally worked out lots of them. It was (obviously) discussed more than once at Facebook, but never implemented, and the reasons why could fill a library. But here, I'd find it very hard to believe that Twitter would not now make the bold move in that direction, given they evidently possess the nerve (and the checkbook) that Facebook lacked."
Already, 60 percent of US marketers are using Twitter, Elliott said. The IPO could give them the fuel needed to grow that number, along with its revenues.
Casey Newton contributed to this report.