Monday, June 11, 2007

Bebo, Facebook and Bulb 2.0 ?

When we look at Venture Capital activity, it is now obvious that the web is back in vogue again. The difference with 5 years ago being probably that 1) most of those projects are based on strong business models, 2) are developed most of the time by successful entrepreneurs and not first timers, and 3) that the whole ecosystem is strongly pulled by the huge web and heavily capitalized champions, the big GYMs (Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft).
In this short attempt for a quick bulb diagnosis through the prism of the Social Networking sites, such as Myspace of course, definitely Facebook, and now the Bebo case following rumors about its valuation at $1 billion, i will therefore make the assumption that Facebook and Bebo are still in a start-up phase.
When it comes to the business model, it makes actually more sense to talk about modelS, given the number of them, going from audience, advertizing (sometimes through deals with GYM like for Myspace with Google or Facebook with Microsoft), premium services and contents, distribution deals with telco operators (like Orange in the UK), etc...The issue would rather be to pick the right ones at the right time, the same goes for partnerships with strategic players, as the community grows virally without alienating the users on the way. I guess this "anti-churn" ability, to use a wording more familiar to Telco operators, is definitely the know-how, if not the secret science of Bebo's team, as Barry Maloney from Benchmark Capital, Bebo's key VC, would say. It definitely also requires science when it comes to managing the cold start phase of a start-up community service at launch, but that phase has now been far passed by Bebo. On the other hand, the Facebook open APIs strategy is so impressive that it would require a specific posting and analysis.
Beyond my slightly provocative title, I will not actually try here to decide if a valuation of $1 billion is worth or not. But i admit that the accumulation of business model options, proven science to start and develop a community especially within the complex youth segment, a cool and strong brand, international ability to expand and develop partnership deals, cross-synergies with multi-channel (web, mobile, TV) and multi-content (music, photo, video, TV) platforms and related business models, good timing considering the change of life styles of the new generations, dynamic open APIs strategy and the first mover advantage being back with this 2.0 era, are definitely able to generate huge goodwill values.
And if no one is interested on the buying side at this amount, let's bet that IPO remains a great option for companies like Bebo or Facebook.

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