What To Watch: Will Zuckerberg's IPO Letter Be As Awesome As Larry Page's?
The same media frenzy of interest that we see today in the Facebook IPO we saw with Google in 2004...
I remember vividly the day Google filed its "red herring" with the SEC in preparation for its IPO. I was out at lunch when our bureau chief Richard Waters, called me, "They've filed."
We were expecting it any day and this was the day, finally an end to what seemed an endless cacophony of speculation in the media and Wall Street about how much money Google was making, its capital costs, etc.
We would finally see the audited financial reports -- and that document would immediately establish a new benchmark representing the business model to beat for this next generation of Internet companies.
My colleague Scott Morrison ran back to the Financial Times' office by Union Square, where our hard working laser printers were churning and spitting page after page, hundreds of pages were piling up.
We had just 90 minutes to pour through the massive filing, and write the lead story for all the editions of the Financial Times, US, Asia, UK, Europe. Just 90 minutes to try and find and write the best news stories, looking at the same information that thousands of journalists were looking at. Our job was made tougher because our US competition had far more time, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times faced relatively leisurely deadlines six hours away.
This kind of situation is exhilarating and it's why I love journalism -- there's no time for procrastination, or anything else, you have to perform at your peak abilities with no margin for error.
As we combed through the numbers and page after page of dense text, looking for clues to a much larger story, we would call out anything interesting.
But it wasn't the financial numbers that stood out the most it was the Founder's IPO Letter written by Larry Page.
It was an extraordinary document. I remember thinking that here was a company that I could see myself working for, it was in no way typical of any Silicon Valley company that I knew.
The letter explained that Google existed to make the world a better place. Don't be evil.
About 1% of revenues, plus other resources, would be used to establish the Google Foundation, designed to "eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world's problems."
Wow. And Google was clearly no friend to Wall Street. The way Google intended to handle the IPO was to make sure the Wall Street brokerages didn't run off with massive fees, or cut their top clients in on the sweetest deals. The pricing of shares would be handled as an auction using the same technologies Google used for its automated ad buying -- ensuring that small and large investors shared a level playing field.
It's a damn fine Founder's Letter the best I've ever seen. I wonder what Mark Zuckerberg will come up with?
Take a lo0k at these extracts from: 2004 Founders' IPO Letter - Google Investor Relations
Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one. Throughout Google's evolution as a privately held company, we have managed Google differently. We have also emphasized an atmosphere of creativity and challenge, which has helped us provide unbiased, accurate and free access to information for those who rely on us around the world.
Sergey and I founded Google because we believed we could provide an important service to the world-instantly delivering relevant information on virtually any topic. Serving our end users is at the heart of what we do and remains our number one priority.
Our goal is to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible. In pursuing this goal, we may do things that we believe have a positive impact on the world, even if the near term financial returns are not obvious.
We are proud of the products we have built, and we hope that those we create in the future will have an even greater positive impact on the world.
LONG TERM FOCUS
As a private company, we have concentrated on the long term, and this has served us well. As a public company, we will do the same. In our opinion, outside pressures too often tempt companies to sacrifice long term opportunities to meet quarterly market expectations. Sometimes this pressure has caused companies to manipulate financial results in order to "make their quarter."
In Warren Buffett's words, "We won't 'smooth' quarterly or annual results: If earnings figures are lumpy when they reach headquarters, they will be lumpy when they reach you."
If opportunities arise that might cause us to sacrifice short term results but are in the best long term interest of our shareholders, we will take those opportunities. We will have the fortitude to do this.
We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative.
We believe a well functioning society should have abundant, free and unbiased access to high quality information. Google therefore has a responsibility to the world.
IPO PRICING AND ALLOCATION
Many companies going public have suffered from unreasonable speculation, small initial share float, and stock price volatility that hurt them and their investors in the long run.
We seek to achieve a relatively stable price in the days following the IPO and that buyers and sellers receive an efficient market price at the IPO.
... Our goal of achieving a relatively stable market price may result in Google determining with our underwriters to set the initial public offering price below the auction clearing price.
We are working to create a sufficient supply of shares to meet investor demand at IPO time and after. We are encouraging current shareholders to consider selling some of their shares as part of the offering.
These shares will supplement the shares the company sells to provide more supply for investors and hopefully provide a more stable price.
We provide many unusual benefits for our employees, including meals free of charge, doctors and washing machines. We are careful to consider the long term advantages to the company of these benefits. Expect us to add benefits rather than pare them down over time. We believe it is easy to be penny wise and pound foolish with respect to benefits that can save employees considerable time and improve their health and productivity.
...We are focused on providing an environment where talented, hard working people are rewarded for their contributions to Google and for making the world a better place.
DON'T BE EVIL
Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.
Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating.
We also display advertising, which we work hard to make relevant, and we label it clearly.
This is similar to a well-run newspaper, where the advertisements are clear and the articles are not influenced by the advertisers' payments.
We believe it is important for everyone to have access to the best information and research, not only to the information people pay for you to see.
MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. In pursuing this goal, we will always be mindful of our responsibilities to our shareholders, employees, customers and business partners.
With our products, Google connects people and information all around the world for free.
Last year we created Google Grants-a growing program in which hundreds of non-profits addressing issues, including the environment, poverty and human rights, receive free advertising.
And now, we are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google's equity and profits in some form.
We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world's problems.
It's a powerful message, and it's worth re-reading every few years for a reminder that corporations can be created with a vision for a greater good, setting a bar higher than their mandated legal duties to shareholders.
The Founder's Letter bears re-reading by its author. Larry Page and his team have slipped quite a bit on a few key things in the letter, such as making sure search results are the best they can possibly be, and that they won't be corrupted with paid inclusions, and that all advertising is clearly labelled, (which should include Google's own services). Plus, what's up with Google Foundation and the promise to fund it with significant resources and money?
Let's see what inspirational ideas Mr Zuckerberg comes up with in his Founder's Letter, and let's see how he and his management team fare in sticking with their version of Don't Be Evil over the coming years.