We are entering an era of unparalleled tech dominance. Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple control more and more of our everyday lives, owning our data and everything around it. The inherent network effects and flywheels these companies built are unprecedented both in their scope and ability to stave off competition.
This is the 3rd in a series of in-depth articles on the future of the tech giants — including a breakdown of their business models, biggest threats, future plans and probable acquisitions. Today’s topic is of course Facebook.
(In case you are interested, here is what you NEED to know about the future of Amazon and Google, and who ultimately wins…)
Gods of the Valley Series Part 1: Amazon Eats the World Part 2: The Future of Google Part 3: Facebook: The King of Communication Part 4: Apple's Greatness Is Fading
Focusing on Facebook
You probably know the story of Facebook, we have all seen the Social Network. In case you haven’t, Facebook launched at Harvard University in the beginning of 2004 to bring the experience of college (and dating/sex) online. And while its origins are innocent enough, the company quickly become embroiled in controversy as the network spread.
Court cases and hurt feelings aside, Facebook found what the world was waiting for — an easy way to stay connected with those around you while also increasing your influence and circle of friends. And with a ridiculous NPS (net promoter score) and viral referral loop/network effect, it spread like wildfire (or a disease :). (For more on the 5 types of network effects and how to hack them, see this post).
But that is just the basics. To really understand the behemoth and see where it is headed, we need to dive deeper. Let the games begin.
The business of Facebook
While there are several divisions within Facebook (thanks to a few successful acquisitions), Facebook is at its core a social media and communications company. Their business model is predicated on eyeballs and attention — and they have optimized the hell out of it.
Today the implications are starting to affect individuals and governments today (more on this later). But first, the business…
1. Facebook — #1 social media platform
As we said before, Facebook has over 2B monthly active users. Take a second to let that number sink in. Yet despite the massive market penetration, they are still growing 16% year-over-year. How is that possible?
That’s the logical question behind such dominance, and it gets even better (or worse). There are 1.15B DAUs (daily active users) on mobile — meaning 15%+ of the world checks Facebook on their phone at least once a day.
This growth and dominance is due in large part to the brilliant leadership of Mark Zuckerberg. Prior to 2012, Facebook’s mobile presence was pathetic. FB didn’t even have native iOS or Android apps. As such, growth wasn’t spectacular.
But it was obvious the world was going mobile. This was especially true in developing countries which skipped the entire PC revolution and jumped straight to mobile. With billions of more individuals coming online every year, Zuck made a big bet.
Facebook put the entire desktop business/development on-hold to focus first and foremost on mobile. And it worked. They were able to go from ~135M MAUs (mobile only) in early-mid 2012 to over 1.15B in Q4 of 2016.
More importantly, look at Facebook’s revenue growth! The lionshare of growth has been mobile advertising — with mobile now accounting for 86% of their revenue — better than ANYONE expected.
Today digital advertising is a duopoly, with Google and Facebook attracting between 57-84% of global digital (outside of China) depending on the source.(Source — FT.com, Recode).
Scarier still is the fact that the duopoly is taking >99% of new growth is digital ad spend (as of Q3 2016).
2. Instagram — #1 photo sharing site
Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 for $1B. At the time this seemed a ridiculous sum for a pre-revenue company with 30M users (formed only 2 years prior). In hindsight it was genius.
NOTE: This was pre-IPO for Facebook so it isn’t like there was a mountain of cash waiting to be spent. And even with Facebook’s $104B valuation at IPO (which failed miserably for quite a while), this was still a sizeable portion of Facebook’s worth.
But again, the Instagram acquisition was genius. And Zuckerberg did something few CEOs do well, he got out of the way. Rather than monetizing Instagram and pleasing public markets, they waited until 2015, a full 3 years later. At this point, Instagram’s experience combined with Facebook’s user base built an unstoppable rocketship.
And with 100M new MAUs every 6 months, Instagram is exploding in popularity. Copying Snapchat Stories certainly helped (which Zuck was 100% happy to rip — pixel by pixel).
And our favorite part of explosive growth is when it also crushes competition (Zuck actually offered $3B to acquire Snap in 2013).
NOTE: Snap’s stock has dropped 50% since the ill-timed (controversial and greedy) IPO.
The best part about Instagram is that it attracts a different segment of the market and use case than Facebook’s core product. Instagram better addresses a millennial audience — building their advertising base even larger.
And soon Instagram may surpass Facebook in popularity. The advertising numbers aren’t half bad either, blowing past Merril Lynch’s projections.
It turns out Facebook’s flywheel and ad engine are pretty powerful.
3. Whatsapp — #1 messaging app
NOTE: I refuse to consider Facebook messenger a messaging app as it is just the messaging feature of Facebook — thus messages from Facebook come through and grossly distort the numbers of users.
Either way, Facebook bought Whatsapp in February of 2014 for a whopping $19B. Again this seemed absurd. Whatsapp doesn’t make money, how could it be worth so much.
But Facebook’s core business has ALWAYS been built around attention, eyeballs and waiting to monetize. And if Instagram is any indication, they know what they are doing.
Stern Agee, the financial services company estimates Whatsapp could be generating close to $5B in revenue with over 2.3B users by 2023. I would go bigger.
As we saw with Instagram, analysts tend to underestimate the velocity of growth and upside potential of true network effects companies. Facebook’s infrastructure and advertising engine are like steroids for an attention focused advertising business.
And due to Whatsapp’s more private, intimate nature, it creates growth opportunities that an outward-facing site like Facebook and to some extent Instagram cannot match. Essentially even if/as people become more reserved about social media, sharing and controlling their data, Whatsapp can still win — rigging the game in Facebook’s favor.
As Facebook/Whatsapp begins to open up Whatsapp’s API, the business opportunities and use cases will explode — more on this later.
4. Oculus — #6 VR headset brand
In 2012 Palmer Luckley and Oculus raised $2,437,429 from 9,522 backers on Kickstarter to make VR a thing. The Oculus Rift, the first virtual reality headset of its kind broke all sorts of records on Kickstarter, featuring an otherworldly video pitch/demo and promising the future of VR today.
Following this massively successful consumer “launch”, Facebook swooped in to acquire the company for a pretty $2B two years later.
The ironic thing is that Oculus didn’t ship the first Rift VR goggles for another full 2 years, in March of 2016 — a 40 months after originally promised. And while the hardware is hard, it isn’t that hard. Obviously, the Oculus Rift was a bit half-baked at the time of launch.
Controversy aside, this was a smart(ish) acquisition for Facebook. Zuckerberg was rightly terrified of VR. New paradigm shifts often kill incumbents. By being proactive and pragmatic, here and in other instances, Zuckerberg has shown himself to be a student of history and willing to spend whatever is necessary to ensure Facebook’s long term success.
Interestingly the VR market has failed to take off as experts predicted, surprise surprise. User adoption has been slow to these clunky, expensive rigs and build-up of content and virtual “experiences” have taken time.
An interesting debate has arisen over whether VR or AR (augmented reality) is the future. I for one believe in AR, and hope VR doesn’t come to eat society — ala Ready Player One. That said, having recently experiencing fully immersive VR, I was pretty blown away and see huge implications for society at large. The fear of heights (and falling) was incredibly real — treading carefully to avoid plunging to my “death.”
As the technology advances, miniaturizes and comes down in price, I fully expect to VR to explode. That said currently Facebook’s $2B investment has only shipped a subpar 950k units, with the 2017 worldwide market only reaching 13.65M (just 0.91% of the global smartphone market).
5. Facebook peer-to-peer payments
As you will see with Facebook, when you have a massive, dedicated user base, you can often branch out into other services and offerings to increase the LTV (lifetime value of a customer). This is something Facebook is constantly experimenting with.
While most of their efforts have largely failed (like Facebook’s efforts to date with the Facebook marketplace, ie eBay/Craigslist), they are working hard on mobile payments. And with companies like Venmo processing billions and the worldwide movement of money becoming more and more democratized, it is clear where Facebook wants to be.
That said, with only $180M in mobile payments revenue in Q3 of 2017, Facebook has a long way to go.
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6. Facebook instant articles
The last primary piece of Facebook’s media empire is its publishing platform. Designed to complement (ie compete with) sites like WordPress, Medium and all news, media and publications, Facebook instant articles allow publishers to more easily access Facebook’s organic audience.
Unfortunately (for publishers), this places complete control of the business in the hands of Facebook. Content is then monetized via advertising (more recently paywalls have been enabled as well), with revenues split between the two. Unfortunately, I was unable to find exact revenue share percentages.
From research, it appears that Instant Articles isn’t doing all that great as it is clearly a barely veiled attempt to own the internet, content, and media on the part of Facebook.
And as businesses have seen in the past, Facebook can change the algorithm (or rules) without a moment’s notice (for more on the power and danger of platforms, see this post).
Interestingly, it would appear that mainly clickbaity, scammy “news” sites like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post are among the few publishers still actively using Instant Articles (as of Feb 2017).
Facebook’s growth opportunities
Despite Facebook’s dominance, there are quite a few unexplored growth opportunities for the company. Here’s what to expect:
1. Messenger and Whatsapp monetization/growth
When it comes to technology and societal trends, Asia is almost always miles ahead. This is especially true with mobile and messaging apps.
WeChat, China’s version of Whatsapp is the most ridiculous, life encompassing application in existence today. Users do EVERYTHING through WeChat, from paying for goods, p2p payments and sending Bitcoin to booking an Uber (actually Didi), ordering food/wine or reading the latest news — encompassing 30% of mobile app usage in China (Source — CNBC) — compared with Facebook’s 13% for US users, this is impressive (Source — TechCrunch).
And of course, with such a high degree of usage/importance (and control) in consumers’ lives, WeChat is an incredibly valuable, profitable product/platform.
Look for both Messenger and Whatsapp to try and follow suit.
WeChat is owned by Chinese internet giant Tencent, a massive conglomeration with a market cap of $543B (more than Facebook). And while WeChat’s revenue and profit numbers are not public, as of August 2015 it was valued at ~$83B, ½ of Tencent’s total market cap (Source — TechinAsia). This implies WeChat, a messaging app may be worth in excess of $271B today…
Makes Whatsapp’s measly $19B acquisition seems tiny by comparison.
This is where both Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp could go. The question is, which route will they take?
There are two options here, and I’d argue they are mutually exclusive. The first and most obvious strategy given Facebook’s business model would be monetizing via ads. This would be a big mistake.
Advertising is the shittiest business model. Everyone hates advertising and the LTV (lifetime value of a customer) is among the lowest of any business — there is a little upside.
That said it is also easy and could be bundled quickly with Facebook’s existing ad engine.
But if I controlled Whatsapp I would build out the platform, focus on being WeChat. We have already established the MASSIVE value WeChat has built in the Chinese market. But outside of China WeChat is a nobody.
That means Whatsapp could become defacto mobile app/experience, owning everything mobile interaction — but that is a much longer shot.
Here the big challenge is cultural norms. Western consumers, unlike their Asian counterparts, are not used to living life via a messaging app. While the opportunity is HUGE, changing user perception of Whatsapp into anything other than messaging will take significant time (and marketing).
Additionally, while China is an almost completely cashless society and mobile payments are the norm, the West isn’t there yet. For Whatsapp or Messenger to own this space, significant infrastructure changes would need to occur.
But damn it anyway, that is how you own the world — by making big bets.
By diversifying out of an ads-only business model, Facebook would significantly de-risk its business and position itself to own (possibly) the next paradigm of UI.
2. Peer-to-peer payments
Regardless of Facebook’s direction with Whatsapp and Messenger, Zuckerberg should focus on mobile payments as the next big frontier. And it appears he is.
Rumors are circulating that Facebook may be looking to (or starting to) implement Litecoin for p2p payments. This would be a landmark moment not just for Facebook but for cryptocurrency, bringing decentralized, non-governmental payments to the masses.
If this is the case, Facebook could set itself up as the dominant p2p payments system. Here is why.
The banking and financial services infrastructure is old, outdated and expensive. Even newer, leaner companies like Paypal charge $0.30 + 2.9% on every transaction they process. And Venmo is in the process of starting to charge as well.
And while these may seem tiny, especially compared to traditional banking, cryptocurrencies unlock a totally new dimension of money — one that approaches 0% fees with no middlemen or hoops to jump through.
As we have seen, the peer-to-peer payments market is exploding, forecasted to reach $86B in 2018 in the US alone. And with global mobile payments expected to exceed $930B, this opportunity dwarfs the digital advertising space.
To date, however, Facebook has failed to capitalize on its user base. With just $180M in mobile payments revenue in Q4 of 2017, Facebook’s p2p payments team needs an overhaul. Here I’d recommend bringing in a proven outsider or even acquiring a team (more on this in our acquisitions section).
3. Competing with Youtube
While Google hides Youtube’s actual revenue numbers, Credit Suisse believes that in 2015, Youtube and Google Play accounted for ~15% of Google’s revenue (up from 4% in 2010), forecasted to reach 24% by 2020.
For Google, a company that did $75.54B in 2015, that would equate to ~$11.8B. And as video grows, expect to see this continue climbing.
This must be a massive tempting for Facebook, a company with 100M hours of video views per day (Source: TechCrunch) as of Jan 2016.
In order to compete, the biggest challenge for Facebook is its user behavior. People don’t go to Facebook to watch videos, they go to check their Feed. For videos, people go straight to Youtube.
Plus according to Youtube’s product chief, 70% of viewing time comes from their AI recommendation engine. Essentially that means people go to Youtube for one thing but spend a large majority of other related or interesting content.
To combat Youtube, Facebook needs a) a standalone platform (obviously linked on Facebook) and b) to make a video more social.
a) Is easy enough, although incredibly surprising they haven’t tried this. So let’s look at b)
Rather than creating a Youtube clone, Facebook should sneakily build friends and family video site. Imagine being able to filter results based on the creator: family, friends, friends of friends or other. Grandparents would KILL for this feature, the ability to see every video of their grandkids.
And parents are interested in their kids’ hobbies and interests too, and the lives of their friends.
Because of Facebook’s social graph, Facebook Video could create a more personal video platform with better searchability/discoverability than Facebook’s existing treadmill feed.
As Facebook Video starts to grow, it only makes sense to start stealing Youtube’s market of outward-facing creators, which given enough traction would work — creators want the maximum audience possible.
And unlike Youtube’s anonymity which provides certain advantages and disadvantages, Facebook Video’s personal touch would theoretically cut down on much of the negativity, hate and trolling so prevalent on Youtube — friends and family actually see the shit you post.
4. The future of VR
While Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus was exciting and all, it isn’t game-changing. In a goldrush, it is always better to sell shovels (more on this here).
So let’s say VR becomes the next big thing. Facebook is toast. They don’t have experience manufacturing, marketing or delivering consumer hardware. Heck, the Oculus Rift was almost 4 years late.
A billion times better play would be to build the operating system of VR. Facebook has the talent and money to dedicate itself to paradigm shifts. And while I’d love to see the evil empire fail, if they are smart, they are investing big in the software powering a virtual reality.
Facebook is perfectly suited to be the platform that powers VR startups. And building on that last concept of a Video platform, Facebook could do the same for VR.
While it isn’t guaranteed, most forms of content have large aggregators/discovery platforms. Medium for blogs, Youtube for videos, Pinterest for random things you don’t need… odds are VR experiences will be no different.
Rather than tying themselves to Oculus’ hardware division or creating a closed garden (which Facebook usually does), Oculus and/or FacebookVR should seek to become the Youtube/Amazon/Google Search of virtual reality.
If VR turns out as many experts are expecting, he who owns the infrastructure will inherit the world.
5. Wild card — Facebook cryptocurrency
I am a big believer in crypto and foresee blockchain’s inherent incentive structures and flywheel effects as one of the few big threats to Facebook’s dominance.
Because of this and the power of cryptocurrencies to create massive network effects and network value, I could foresee Facebook working to employ their own cryptocurrency — especially with the global crypto market cap exceeding $600B.
While completely counterintuitive, an FBcoin (Libra) could potentially fix many of Facebook’s largest problems — fake news, hate, political backlash, and misaligned shareholder/user goals.
The biggest problem with Facebook (and Google) are that they are advertising-based businesses. Because Facebook makes their money on impressions and attention, Facebook becomes more and more user-hostile overtime to drive advertising dollars.
From a purely economic standpoint, today’s advertising model means Zuck wants users on Facebook as close to 24 hrs a day as possible. Obviously, this is not sustainable, and studies show social media usage (especially Facebook) have a net negative impact on happiness. In the long term this is not sustainable for Facebook — the more you use Facebook, the worse you feel.
Russian election hacking and Jew hate-based targeting aside, Facebook could have serious problems on its hands if more and more users start to churn — which appears to be the case. Why else would Facebook be actively trying to reduce user addiction?
An FBcoin could fix this. Instead, users pay for tokens to replace advertising as Facebook’s primary business model and use them to access Facebook’s functionality. Users that create great content, moderate spam/hate or add new users to the network are rewarded and businesses buy/use tokens to access additional functionality like increasing visibility, getting feedback on a product even influencer marketing efforts.
Because Facebook’s business would no longer be based on eyeballs and engagement, Facebook could instead optimize for user happiness, focusing on building better communities and individuals rather than tearing them down.
NOTE: This is probably wishful thinking but in my opinion worth exploring for a giant like Facebook — especially if Zuck actually cares about humanity as he often claims to.
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Other factors to consider
Over the past 10 years, Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have proved themselves again and again to be one of the most dynamic duos in tech history (other than Bezos and Bezos).
From aggressive and thus far incredibly successful acquisitions (Instagram, Whatsapp, etc…) to a complete overhaul of the business — Facebook’s revenue increased from $272M/yr to over $10B per quarter — Facebook is kicking ass and set up to succeed.
And it never hurts when your CEO is willing to RUTHLESSLY copy or kill any competitor. By taking threat after threat seriously, remaining paranoid and planning for future disruptions, Facebook’s doing a damn good job setting itself up for smooth sailing.
2. Network effects
Facebook has (had) one of the strongest network effects of all time. There is no value in a social network without your friends and family. And every user added to the system makes the system that much more robust and valuable for every single user (to an extent).
Leaving literally means missing out on the lives of your loved ones (at least to some extent). That keeps people hooked, even when they might leave. And that makes disrupting Facebook (or Instagram) damn near impossible — which is great for them.
Facebook’s biggest threats
1. Net negative user happiness → churn
2. Non-diversified business model
Facebook’s revenue is 98%+ advertising. Having all your eggs in one basket is always a terrifying proposition. And as described previously, advertising has several inherent weaknesses, making it misaligned with user interests.
This could create big problems for Facebook going forward if either: public sentiment towards Facebook/advertising changes or politicians place greater restrictions (or bans) on digital advertising.
And of these, public sentiment is arguably not that important. Politicians have power, the public are helpless. So unless users start voting with their feet and leaving Facebook and it’s other services, Facebook shouldn’t be that worried.
Other ways to reduce the risk are of course acquisitions which we will talk about next.
3. GDPR — Data protection laws
Unlike in the US, in the EU individuals and policymakers care about consumer safety (especially when it comes to data). The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) going into effect May 25, 2018, will change the way businesses (especially those like Facebook and Google) deal with consumer information.
Designed to protect consumers from issues like the Equifax hack and incredibly personal Facebook ads, GDPR is meant to give European citizens control over their own data. And because in our increasingly connected world, nearly every site and business interact with at least a few Europeans (regardless of where they live), GDPR will affect every major corporation.
I know what you are thinking, it is just another silly regulation, right? Well unfortunately for companies like Facebook and Google, GDPR’s bite is worse than its bark.
GDPR fines can go up to 20 million Euros or 4 percent of annual GLOBAL turnover, whichever is higher. For a company like Facebook with a 2016 run rate of $27.6B, that would be over $1.1B in fines (and increasing every year). That isn’t something to scoff at.
And while unlikely to be enacted in other regions, imagine if the US, Europe, India and China all decided to levy 4% fines — suddenly it adds up pretty fast. Plus dealing with the EU is always a crapshoot. You never know when European regulators will take a change their stance, increase fines or even make regulations more restrictive.
4. Regulators part 2
“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way — I think is a pretty crazy idea. Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.” — Mark Zuckerberg
Need I say more? Governments around the world realized Facebook’s power and control over their respective populations exceeds even their own. When you threaten the people in power, bad things generally happen to you. The question is, can governments even stop Facebook?
In summary, governments are pretty powerless to act. To attack/cripple Facebook, they would need to ban and/or destroy it — ripping apart the lives (and businesses) of billions. 250 billion photos forgotten, countless companies snuffed out of existence, advertisers angry as hell, consumers pissed and rebelling.
Politicians are powerful as long as they stay in power. How long would that last after banning Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp?
That said you never know. And there will be fallout here. The only question is how much, where and when?
5. Blockchain-based disruption
Many consumers are starting to question the power and security of companies with their personal (and often financial) data and wondering why they don’t participate in the upside.
This is partially why cryptocurrencies are so interesting.
Imagine if as an early adopter of Facebook, you’d gotten even a small piece of the upside. Today Facebook is worth $522B, I wonder what your share would be worth…
News and social sites built on blockchain technology are gaining adoption for this very reason. By incentivizing users to both create content and onboard friends, sites like Steemit and Dtube (part of Steemit) (similar to Medium and Youtube respectively), create decentralized applications (dApps) where users are the driver and receiver of economic rewards (For more on this concept, see this post).
There is no advertising, there is no data collection — instead every user owns and participates in the network.
The implications of crypto-economics could very well create disruptive competitors to many of today’s biggest corporations. While displacing an incumbent (particularly one with network effects) is incredibly challenging, a token/crypto economy can hack the system, creating inherent economic and societal drivers/network effects. It will be very interesting to see how this pans out, especially for Facebook.
According to Bloomberg, of the tech giants, Facebook has one of the smallest percentages (23.2%) of cash hidden/held overseas. Sitting on $32.3B in cash, Facebook has a bit of a war chest.
I’d argue for spending a large portion to build the future of the business.
Hey Zuck, here is who to buy and why.
NOTE: Given Facebook’s massive user base and ease of rollout, they have a lot of quality options. Also, note that these are in no particular order.
Facebook has played around with ecommerce and local marketplaces since October of 2015. To date, they have achieved nothing of import.
At this point, Facebook needs to either get serious or give up. Both are acceptable, though I’d argue getting serious and acquiring a player in the space could supercharge their efforts and provide healthy diversification for their business.
And with the global ecommerce market forecasted to exceed $4.47T by 2021, this could represent a new, lucrative non-advertising based vertical for Facebook to sink its claws in.
There are a few options here, with the most important criteria being to avoid direct competition with Amazon at all costs (here is why).
1. Shopify is the anti-Amazon, the standalone platform ecommerce businesses are built on. And while the $11.4B would be a big bet for Facebook, Shopify is the #2 ecommerce solution worldwide, powering over 500k+ merchants and around the globe (Source — Shopify.ca). At 100k merchants in 2014, Shopify already spanned 150 countries, I can only imagine that number has grown — giving Facebook an ecommerce entry into virtually the entire world.
2. Etsy (market cap $2.38B) is an established, growing handmade craft and design marketplace with 1.9M active sellers, 31.7M active buyers, and over 45M products on the site (Source: ExpandedRamblings). In contrast, Amazon is almost 100% manufactured products and thus a very different segment of the market for both buyers and sellers.
Acquiring either could have profound impacts for both Facebook and the acquiree. In addition to obviously making the process much easier for Shopify/Etsy sellers to integrate catalogs and buy Facebook and/or Instagram ads, Facebook could do a lot more.
Given Facebook’s massive user base, building either standalone stores (not the current crappy Facebook stores) directly into the platform or building a robust search and discovery style marketplace, Facebook could help ecommerce companies fight Amazon and actually win — and of course be handsomely rewarded in the process either through platform fees (think 5% of sales price, which is 10% less than Amazon’s fees) or appreciation of their assets.
These benefits would be greatly intensified in developing mobile-first countries where Facebook Lite could act as the onramp to online shopping, empowering both consumers and sellers (only applicable to Shopify currently)
2. Streaming music service
It is surprising how little Facebook has done with audio. Specifically, a low cost (or ad monetized) streaming music service could be hugely profitable. How many billions have Facebook on their phones?
Unlike video (below), music presents much easier and likely more lucrative acquisition opportunities. Pandora, the most used music streaming service (free version), has a market cap of only $1.13B. That is chump change for Facebook.
The other interesting player here would be SoundCloud, the streaming service that nearly goes bankrupt every few months. As Soundcloud clearly haven’t figured out monetization, this could be an interesting plug and play with Facebook’s existing user base (if a proper monetization model, ie subscription fees or advertising was employed).
To date, SoundCloud has raised $467M. They aren’t worth that now (thanks to a failing, always at the brink of bankruptcy business). An acquisition could pay back investors and set Facebook up for success in a new vertical.
I have never understood why Facebook didn’t dedicate more resources to video. Either as a platform or as a standalone streaming service (ala Netflix), Facebook’s user base and ease of video integration would seem like an idiot-proof upsell.
To date, they have failed to make a play. And with the traction of Netflix, valued at $94B and the efforts by Amazon, Apple, and Youtube Red, can Facebook catch up?
Of course not!
And while the market for quality video content is constantly increasing, Facebook would need to build (or buy) a Youtube-like competitor to play in this space.
Unfortunately, there is no one, with the exception of DailyMotion, to buy. And DailyMotion’s audience of mainly millennial young men wouldn’t jive with the Facebook Video vision outlined above.
The most realistic scenario (described above) would be Facebook building their own “social” video platform and paying smaller film studios and Youtubers to join the platform. By bringing content from several genres (and hopefully stealing Youtuber followings), Facebook could further seed Facebook Video with both long and short-form video entertainment.
If Facebook was willing to put a sufficient budget to produce free content, they could effectively attack both Netflix and Youtube in a single swoop — later monetizing via ads or possibly subscriptions depending on the quality and extent of their content.
4. Peer-to-peer payments
We discussed the implications of Facebook as a true p2p company previously. And while Facebook has been working on this for quite some time, if don’t go through with the Litecoin/cryptocurrency option, they should consider an acquisition — even if only for expertise in an acqui-hire (for experience integrating into Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger).
For Facebook specifically, given their massive geographic reach, multiple acquisitions should be considered to cover different regions, acquiring both customer bases and teams with local experience.
Plus by owning multiple entities, Facebook could over time merge/evolve them all into Facebook payments (to be embedded in both Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp), connecting users from all services across the globe.
NOTE: Facebook should avoid China, they would get clobbered here.
Europe & Asia
TransferWise is the market leader in Europe (with a strong presence in Asia/Singapore as well). With over £500M in transfers per month (as of May 2015), Transferwise is doing serious volume and a major contender in the space. They just raised $280M at a $1.6B valuation, something Facebook could easily overpay to acquire to power their own payments system.
Africa & India
Easy choice, MPesa. MPesa’s parent company Safaricom is 4th most valuable brand in Africa (thanks to M-Pesa) with a $680M valuation. MPesa has a lot going for them, with over 30M users and 6 billion transactions in 2016, they have empowered the unbanked to own their economic future (Source — BrandSouthAfrica).
Given Facebook Lite’s MASSIVE success in Africa (often zero-rated by many mobile carriers), Facebook has achieved astonishing growth on the continent, with over 170M users (70% of the population with the internet — Source: Forbes).
NOTE: As of December 2016, there were over 1M MPesa users in India. Expect this number to rapidly grow now that MPesa was granted approval by the Reserve Bank of India to establish a payments bank (Source — KenyanWallStreet)
Finding worthwhile acquisition targets in other regions is challenging at this point due to competition. However, by beginning with the areas outlined above, inherent network effects would form due to both travels, overseas trade, and expats. This combined with a rollout in Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp would likely be enough of a catalyst to capture the other markets without the need for acquisition (other than China of course)
And as may or may not be obvious at this point, by owning the user and their funds/finances, Facebook would then become the bank of the world, at least for the underbanked.
This creates many other huge business opportunities.
5. Wild card 1 — p2p lending company
Piggybacking off the previous payments platform, loans seem a logical next step. And as the global p2p lending market is estimated to reach $1T by 2025, this could be a very interesting opportunity for Facebook, the company that kind of owns the world.
While acquiring a p2p payments company could help in the lending department, it isn’t necessary. Facebook could easily add lending to its existing operations. It is probably better to buy (rather than build) due to complexity, market opportunity and of course experience required to succeed.
As the mobile payments space, there are different players in each region (and different regulations). As such, it would make sense to acquire multiple companies.
Given that p2p lending is more complex (and more challenging to plug into Facebook’s existing infrastructure) than p2p payments, acquiring a single lending platform initially makes the most sense. Once this had been rolled out and tested via Facebook’s platform for scalability, they could then proceed to either expand or acquire new players in each region.
Unfortunately, I’m not an expert in the p2p lending space, thus way more due diligence and research would be needed to find a good fit value/culture/brand fit.
6. Wild card 2 — Airbnb
Holy shit. You heard it hear first.
Airbnb’s a 100 times better business than Uber. If I was Facebook, I would find a way to buy it.
The reason this is such an interesting acquisition opportunity is the synergistic benefits.
NOTE: Unfortunately all stats have different dates (bear with me). Dates will be added as parentheses (mo/yr)
Airbnb is exploding as a platform. With 150M users (3/17), 640k hosts (11/14) and over 4M listings (10/17) and 500k+ bookings/night (5/15), it is clear to see why Airbnb is killing it (Source — ExpandedRamblings)
But compared with Facebook’s 2B MAUs, it suddenly it seems tiny — especially considering most Airbnb users aren’t active every month.
What would happen if suddenly Facebook suddenly onboarded Airbnb into the Facebook family? How many would start listing their properties (or spare rooms)? How many would start skipping the hotel for the authentic Airbnb experience?
Your answer is as good as mine.
But with Facebook’s treasure trove of user data (including Instagram interests and recently viewed images), connecting the dots and advertising Airbnbs (and even flights via an affiliate model) as users are thinking about travel would undoubtedly convert a good deal.
And parents whose kids are moving out, well suddenly there is a free room. A poke, prod, and a few free Facebook ads and Airbnb’s base of hosts (and users) would keep on climbing.
But the biggest benefits would be social proof and group bookings. Inviting friends (or family) to split an Airbnb with a simple group messenger on Facebook Messenger (or Whatsapp), would definitely increase travel (especially via Airbnb), and creating a viral referral loop that pulled more and more users into Airbnb.
In March of 2017, Airbnb closed a $1B growth round at a $31B valuation. For Facebook to make an attractive offer, they would need some serious debt financing.
I know this is a moonshot, but if even a small percentage of Facebook’s user base started using (or hosting on) Airbnb, this could easily cover the cost of the acquisition.
Facebook has a ton going for it, too much to summarize. But there are also many inherent challenges.
Sure, we grade hard. But for behemoth tech giants of today, that is a necessary metric. If an A+ means owning the economy and near-infinite defensibility, we need a way to distinguish between our superstars of today to understand the corporations that create tomorrow.
If Facebook had a more diversified business model this would be a different story but the truth is, at the moment all Zuck’s eggs are in a single basket…
Ten years from now, which companies control the world? And how will EVERYTHING have changed?
These are the big questions facing entrepreneurs and investors today. But with chaos comes opportunity, and the next 10 years will redefine the world as we know it (and likely the human species).
Will Facebook still dominate communication? Will social media even be a thing? Will Zuckerberg be president/”benevolent” dictator of the world?
Where is this all going?
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