Facebook Employees Go Nuts As Zuckerberg Tells Them The IPO Is Coming

A source close to Facebook employees emailed us yesterday to say that the rumor flitting from employee to employee is that “a Facebook S1 filing is coming really soon.  Possibly as soon as next month.”
“The IPO talk inside Facebook has ramped up the past 6 weeks and Zuckerberg repeatedly has said that it is ‘coming,’ which he *never* said in the history of Facebook.”
The truth is that Facebook is going to go public, and relatively soon. Because it’s surpassed the SEC’s 500 shareholder limit, the company has to disclose its financials in April. That doesn’t mean it has to IPO, but we understand the company plans to bite the bullet and go for it around then anyway.
As for whether or not Facebook will file its S-1 very soon, we’re skeptical. A source close to the IPO process tells us Facebook has not yet decided which banks will underwrite the offering. That’s a step that has to happen before the S-1 gets written and published.
Facebook employees who joined the company three or four or more years ago have endured a lovely, teasing kind of torture.
Back then, they joined a startup that was already the hottest in Silicon Valley – worth a couple billion dollars.
They all got a bunch of stock options or, later, restricted stock units, that would someday turn into real equity. The payout looked good based on where Facebook was then.
chart of the day, facebook valuation, jan 2011
But then Facebook’s valuation exploded in a way that few dared to predict. In 2007, it got a $15 billion valuation. In 2009, a Russian billionaire invested $100 million at a $10 billion valuation. At the end of 2011, Goldman Sachs invested at a $50 billion valuation. The company currently has an ~$80 billion implied valuation on the secondary markets.
The torture part of the equation was this: even as the theoretical value of their vested RSUs and options exploded, there wasn’t much employees could do about it.
Employees who joined before fall 2007 got real options that, when vested, turned into real stock. But they weren’t allowed to sell it on secondary markets unless they quit the company. Employees who joined after Fall 2007 had it even worse. They didn’t get real options. They got RSUs that wouldn’t become liquid until after Facebook held an intial public offering.
This was, and is, a particularly brutal restriction because over the past five years, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly and privately abhorred the idea of rushing the company into an IPO.  Some, including Zuckerberg’s biographer, suggested that Facebook might never IPO.
Now, obviously, this torture is one that most of the rest of us would happily endure – with a big smile on our faces. Also, there were a few occaisions where Facebook employees were able trade in some of their vested options (never RSUs) for cash.
But still, sitting there and watching your theoretical net worth shoot to the moon and not being able to do much about it has created an atmosphere of taut suspense among Facebook employees. It’s been like the pressure that builds inside a kettle.