Will Facebook change its status?
Expectations are rising of a floatation after Goldman Sachs' deal values the social networking website at $50bn. What will it mean for co-founder Mark Zuckerberg?
Published 04/01/2011 | 10:14
Mark Zuckerberg's status on Facebook is about what he is trying to achieve for other people. "I'm trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share," it states.
The news on Tuesday was much more about what he had achieved for himself and his co-investors in Facebook. The deal with Goldman Sachs reportedly valued the company he set up with his erstwhile university friends at $50bn (£33bn).
The valuation would put the entrepreneur's personal fortune at close to $14bn, on a par with Google's founders, if some way off the $53bn fortune of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
It's a lot of money for someone who includes "minimalism" among his personal interests and is still five months away from his 27th birthday.
Although Facebook has been a major force on the internet for six years, it is in the last 12 months Mr Zuckerberg has emerged as a name rather than a nerd. The problem is the name has not always been flattering.
In October Hollywood passed judgement on the men behind Facebook in David Fincher's film The Social Network. None of the characters was treated kindly but Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Zuckerberg was particularly sharp.
The Facebook founder came across as charmless, friendless and witless when it comes to communicating with anything other than a motherboard.
Many of the film's details are wrong – Zuckerberg does have a girlfriend and is not motivated by a pathological desire for revenge on women – but its tone rings true.
If Zuckerberg really is motivated by a desire to help people connect it could be because it is something he finds so hard to do himself.
Even Time, which named Zuckerberg its Person of the Year for 2010, struggled to paint a positive picture. "Holding a conversation with him can be challenging," the magazine said.
"He approaches conversation as a way of exchanging data as rapidly and efficiently as possible, rather than as a recreational activity." Lose his attention and he'll just "tune you out", the piece concludes.
But it is perhaps his blinkered view on life that has most helped Zuckerberg make a success of Facebook.
With his chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg he has driven Facebook to the top of the internet usage list. At the end of 2010 it pipped Google as the most popular website in the USA.
With a reported extra $500m in the bank and the company now reputed to be turning a profit this might be the last time Facebook has to raise money from investors – or it might not.
As recently as April Ms Sandberg stated Facebook would not need to go back to investors. She also said the company was profitable. We now know at least one of these statements was not true.
If it has raised an extra $500m and bought in Goldman Sachs as a new investor Facebook and Mr Zuckerberg will only stoke rumours surrounding a possible company flotation.
An entry onto the public market is a route nearly all his nearest rivals – Google, eBay and Amazon – have taken. It is not just about unlocking his own enormous wealth, it is also about coming of age. As Google found out, it is really only when your shares are publicly traded that the wider market takes you seriously.
Talk about a possible listing will not be helped by reports that as part of the deal struck with Goldman the bank will help raise a further $1.5bn for Facebook in the private market.
There are questions being raised over whether US regulator the SEC will look at these private market transactions to see whether they are creating a false market.
Mr Zuckerberg recently said people shouldn't "hold their breath" waiting for a flotation. Maybe, but now Goldman Sachs is on board the feeling is it's only a matter of time before we hear a satisfied sigh of relief when the flotation fees come rolling in.