Zynga and the IPO

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I had held off writing on the ‘failed’ Zynga’s IPO at the end of last year. I am not going to say that Zynga is a great business; in many respects I don’t think it is, without even looking at its numbers I think that Zynga has three big challenges:

  • Facebook owns their customer base
  • Facebook owns their payment system
  • Facebook owns their customer acquisition strategy

But was the Zynga IPO really a failure? Before I answer that I wanted to talk about another IPO.

VA Linux IPO case study

Back in 2000, I had the experience agencyside running the European launch of a company called VA Linux and took its then CEO Larry Augustin around the media. At the time VA Linux’s primary busness was building specialist workstations and servers were optimised for Linux and had Linux pre-installed. This meant that they thought carefully about component choices for instance the ethernet card (network interface card or NIC) in the computer was from Intel rather than 3Com because Intel did a better job in supporting Linux  in terms of the quality of its drivers.

My experience of Augustin was of someone who was whip smart, with a dry wit and a genuinely nice guy – which made my job a hell of a lot easier to do. Life was good, Augustin gave good copy on the Judge Jackson finding of fact that had happened the previous November, Linux was building momentum in the enterprise and with web servers because it performed better than Windows, required less skill than the BSD distributions and was more of an entry level product than Sun Microsystems, SGI or IBM Unix hardware on specialised RISC architectures. One of the things that audiences wanted to talk about was VA Linux’s at the time record-breaking IPO.

VA Linux’s underwriters had priced its IPO at US$30 per share, on the first day of trading the price topped US$320 per share. It was described as a stunning success but that success was double-edged. In economic terms, the bank staff working on the IPO had obviously under-priced it because the price had surged so much – depriving the company of a substantial amount of potential capital that it could have raised. Admittedly it was crazy times and VA Linux wasn’t worth the absurdly high valuation in the end, as businesses like Dell started competing with them head-on. But one has to ask what difference would the extra capital have made? How big does the pop have to be to go beyond rewarding initial investors and become negligent underpricing of a company’s stock?

The Zynga comparison

Back to Zynga, which had the opposite challenge, the bank staff working on the IPO had optimally priced the stock so that the company got pretty much the full amount that at least some people were prepared to pay. Rather than a pop, a price decline occurred which investors got upset about as late arrivals to the Zynga party made a financial loss. The underwriters for the IPO earned their money on this occasion. If you want to be the first kid on the block in a new set of the latest Nike Air Jordans, the latest gadget or the season’s must-have handbag, you have two choice get in early enough or pay over the odds. Who is to say if you’ve overpaid, once the heat goes those items are then likely to become cheaper again. And so it goes with Zynga, this shouldn’t be your pension fund; it is part of the new hotness, a fashion stock if you will and was priced and paid for as such.

Disclaimer: this doesn’t constitute investment advice or a recommendation to buy stocks. I am not a financial services professional nor do I profess to be. If you want investment advice, pay someone who does this for a living for it.

More information

THE TRUTH ABOUT ZYNGA: The Only Reason The IPO ‘Flopped’ Is Because Idiot Investors Paid Too Much