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Think Big. Move Fast.

People are asking what a widget is worth, and in particular what a Facebook app is worth. Lance Tokuda, CEO of Rockyou (a Lightspeed company), received a lot of coverage when he told the NY Times that the Superwall app was worth more than $10m.

Despite my previous attempts at building a framework to value a facebook app, I now think it makes little sense to talk in the abstract about what “an app” is worth. It’s better to apply the same principles to think about what a company is worth. A company will have various distribution channels through which it reaches its users; this can include its own website, a Facebook App, a Myspace widget, a distribution deal with AOL, SEM on Google, email virality, and others. Viewed this way, open platforms, and distribution, are opposite sides of the same coin.

In the late 90s, some companies pinned their futures to a single distribution deal with a single portal, and paid up for the privilege. Others, wisely, diversified their dependency on any single channel. A company that defines itself solely as a Facebook app runs the risk of relying on a single distribution channel.

Companies like iLike and Flixster (a Lightspeed company) have built their systems as a single database; their users can access the same data regardless of if they come in from their Facebook app or from their website. As the other social networks open up their platforms, these too will become alternative channels to reach users with the same system. It’s like one kitchen serving multiple restaurants.

On this basis then, we can apply standard mechanisms for valuing a media company, but adding the virality factor that is peculiar to social media:

    Value of a social media company
    = # of users x value of a user

    = # of users x RPM x lifetime “pageviews” generated by user and subsequent invitees

    = # of users x RPM x lifetime “pageviews” generated by user x virality factor

    = # of users x RPM x “pageviews” per user per month / monthly churn rate x virality factor

(Note that I use the term pageviews loosely – these can include canvas views or any area that the company can put an ad.)

So value goes up as RPM goes up. RPM goes up depending on how targeted your traffic is; whether you’ve got endemic advertisers, demographically targeted users or just broad reach.

Similarly, value goes up as PV/user/month goes up. This argues that companies with high ongoing engagement (ie some aspect of ongoing utility) will be more valuable. Higher engagement often comes with access to the social graph through an API.

Value goes down as monthly churn goes up
. One of the factors that reduces churn and increases “stickiness” of a social media site is how much “archive” value is built on top of the site. The more you commit to adding information to an site, the stickier that site will become.

Finally, value goes up as virality goes up. Virality will be different in each distribution channel, so this will need to be evaluated separately, depending on what viral growth modes are open in each social network.

As Myspace, iGoogle/Orkut, Hi5, LinkedIn, Bebo, Tagged and others open up APIs to their platforms, I think the companies that treat each social network as a distribution channel, rather than defining themselves as an application on a single platform, will create the most value.

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