By Joseph Calhoun of Alhambra
Snapchat, a company that describes itself as a camera company yet makes no cameras, went public last week at a valuation of $24 billion. The company is growing fast, revenue up from $58 million to $405 million in just the last year. And as one publication put it, the company “earned” a loss of $514.6 million in the process. The company, in its SEC filing added:
We have incurred operating losses in the past, expect to incur operating losses in the future, and may never achieve or maintain profitability.
Now, that’s boilerplate, butt covering language to warn anyone who might read the prospectus that they are buying into a speculative venture. Not that anyone actually reads prospectuses but they were certainly given the opportunity. Maybe it means something, maybe not. But nobody can claim in the future that they weren’t warned. Caveat emptor.
I don’t know if Snapchat will ever make any money. I’m not sure why they insist on calling themselves a camera company when their main business appears to be hosting short videos (or photos) that people send back and forth to each other. These videos are generally short (seconds not minutes) and disappear after a short time. The company does sell glasses – which it cutely calls spectacles – that allow you to record videos, sync and upload them to Snapchat. No, I don’t know why anyone would want to wear these ugly glasses. And no, I have no idea why anyone would want to record short videos that disappear. Well, actually I do. Snapchat was founded by three frat brothers as a sexting app. Which explains the disappearing act.
I won’t be buying Snapchat stock for our clients. Not because I don’t understand it or “get it” but rather because the idea of paying 60 times (80 times after day one of trading) revenue for a money losing company makes me more than a little nauseous. It is a pure speculation as the prospectus warns and you need to understand that if you are going to buy the stock. The chances of you ever collecting a dividend from profits is darn slim in my estimation so you will have to find a greater foo….um…investor to take it off your hands at a higher price if you are to profit from your speculation. Probably not a hard find in a market as hot as this one. Another useless, time wasting social media stock might offer a template. Twitter came public at $26 and peaked at nearly $75 a couple of months later. Now trading less than its IPO price, Twitter is still out there trying to make a buck. It hasn’t pulled that off in 10 years of trying but with a current market cap of $11 billion, hope obviously springs eternal. With the cash banked from the IPO, Snap, like Twitter, isn’t in any danger of running out of money anytime soon so the stock will be around but at what price? At some point they are going to have to figure out how to make money. And I see no evidence they have a clue how to do so.
Unlike another “camera” company that recently went public – GoPro (which I derided at the time of its IPO as a “camera on a stick”) – Snapchat has filed numerous patents – 46 in all I believe. But filing patents isn’t the same thing as enforcing them and we are talking about Silicon Valley here; patents are often nothing more than a coding problem. Instagram has already copied Snap pretty blatantly and Snap hasn’t lifted a finger to sue. Probably because they know they won’t win. Snap itself is the subject of a handful of patent and trademark infringement suits. And a Silicon Valley IPO wouldn’t be complete without the founders suing each other. One of the frat brothers sued the other two when they tried to cut him out of the deal. The settlement cost the company about $150 million. Chump change when you come public at $25 billion but probably says something about the maturity of the boys running the company.
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