Former Facebook engineering director Yishan Wong takes role as CEO of Reddit

Yishan Wong, a former director of engineering at Facebook, who spent more than four years at the company overseeing ads, payments and internationalization efforts, is becoming chief executive of Reddit.

Reddit is seeing somewhat of a resurgence after its onetime rival Digg saw a great deal of executive turnover. Reddit was spun out of Conde Nast last fall as a standalone unit, but the magazine publisher retains full ownership of it. I had heard last fall that Reddit had been poking around among senior executives at early social networking and gaming companies, but it wasn’t clear who would step into the position.

“I feel like I’ve been called to serve,” Wong said. “I think Reddit is a force for good in the world and if they need someone with my skills, I’m going to step up and do it.” The full blog post containing his thoughts on the move is here.

Wong was instrumental in building up Facebook’s engineering operations after serving for more than four years at Paypal.

Outside of work, Wong is quite prolific on knowledge sharing site Quora and is known for his often irreverent and contrarian answers — a knack that should serve him well while running Reddit.

He doesn’t have any big plans yet though.

“I’m not making big bold changes,” he said. “I just want to listen and learn from the community. It’s important to understand the nuances.”

In his spare time, he’s become a “gentleman hacker” of sorts and started an incubator in Mountain View called Sunfire Office, where he mentors early-stage teams of engineers. Wong will keep running Sunfire in his spare time.

Facebook likely paying carriers big cuts for mobile web payments system

Now that Facebook finally unveiled carrier-powered payments for the mobile web yesterday, it’s time to look at what the potential costs might be. Last month, U.K.-based mobile billing and analytics provider Bango announced to shareholders that it had a new partnership with Facebook, but that it couldn’t disclose the terms. Bango powers billing for app stores and also has a deal with Amazon.

Here are Bango’s standard payout rates for the carrier partners Facebook mentioned yesterday. (Important note: These are not Facebook’s actual rates. These are Bango’s standard rates. It is possible that because of the social network’s clout and scale, the company might have been able to wrest slightly more favorable terms. But this should give you an idea of how expensive the carrier’s cut is for Facebook.)

Bango’s standard carrier payout rates:

AT&T – 60%
Deutsche Telekom – Unknown, because Deutsche is not a Bango partner.
Orange – 83%
Telefónica – 55%
T-Mobile USA – 57.5%
Verizon – Unknown, because Verizon is not a Bango partner.
Vodafone – 79.2%
KDDI – Unknown, because KDDI is not a Bango partner.
SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp. – Unknown, because Softbank is not a Bango partner.

Since Facebook pays out a 70 percent revenue share to developers, any time a carrier remits less than 70 percent, Facebook is taking a loss on facilitating these transactions. When you factor in the research and development costs of building the mobile platform, it’s almost certain the company will be losing money on this area of the platform for some time.

Now to anyone in the mobile industry, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. Terms for carrier billing have always been onerous. Facebook has dealt with this in the past as it’s been possible to pay through carriers for Credits on canvas games through the Zong partnership. Google is also in a similar position when it comes to in-app payments on Android via carrier billing.

Continue reading on our sister site, Inside Mobile Apps.

Facebook partners with carriers to bolster mobile web-based payments

Facebook partnered with some of the world’s largest carriers to make the experience of paying with Credits more seamless on the mobile web, the company announced today.

The company has done a deal with AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI and Japan’s Softbank Mobile Corp to let Facebook users pay more seamlessly with Credits through carrier billing. The deal comes at a critical time for Facebook as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms threaten to cut the social network out of influencing and earning revenue from the mobile app ecosystem.

Facebook’s chief technology officer Bret Taylor said that the current system for making web-based payments has too many friction points to make it useful to consumers or developers.

“Right now, the payments experience on the web is just broken for end users,” he said in a keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “Even with operator billing support, most require a step called SMS device verification. That means if I’m in the middle of the game and I want to pay 99 cents, I have to wait for an SMS to arrive.”

After that, the user has to verify that the device is connected to their Facebook account.

“Then I have to awkwardly memorize the code and resubmit the transactions,” he said. “If I manage to make it this far, then I can finally go back to playing the game.”

With the new solution, third-party developers will be able to integrate a single SDK that lets their players charge their monthly phone bills in a single step through Facebook.

Continue reading on our sister site, Inside Mobile Apps. Lead Writer Kim-Mai Cutler is live at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where Facebook made the announcement.

Facebook puts weight behind industry-wide initiative to push HTML5 forward

Facebook announced a new industrywide consortium including manufacturers like Samsung and carriers like AT&T and Verizon meant to push HTML5 forward with a single set of standards.

During a keynote address at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook Chief Technology Officer Bret Taylor also announced a test suite called Ringmark, that will help everyone from manufacturers to developers test to see whether their mobile web apps work uniformly across devices and platforms.

Called the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group, the new industrywide consortium includes players like:

Samsung, HTC, Sony Mobile Communications, Nokia, Huawei, ZTE, TCL Communication, AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, Orange, Telefónica, KDDI, SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp., Qualcomm Innovation Center, Inc., NVIDIA, ST-Ericsson, Intel Corporation, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, Adobe, Netflix, VEVO, Zynga, @WalmartLabs, Electronic Arts, Sencha and Bocoup. You can read more about the group, and how to join, here.

Apple and Google are conspicuously absent.

Over the past year, Facebook has turned to HTML5 as a way to circumvent a mobile ecosystem that is increasingly dominated by Apple and rival Google. Because Facebook does not own the lower levels of the mobile stack with a proper mobile operating system like iOS or Android, the company’s options for deriving revenue from third-party mobile apps like payments or fees are more limited. If HTML5 improves, Facebook will have an easier time convincing developers to build for the web instead of focusing on native iOS or Android applications.

Continue reading on our sister site, Inside Mobile Apps. Lead Writer Kim-Mai Cutler is live at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where Facebook made the announcement. 

There is a $100M discrepancy between Facebook’s payments revenues and what it paid to developers

There is a $100 million discrepancy between what Facebook earned in payments revenue and what it paid out to developers, according to revenue figures in its IPO filing last week.

In the filing it says, “In 2011, our Platform developers received more than $1.4 billion from transactions enabled by our Payments infrastructure.”

But based on the company’s $557 million in payments revenue last year and its 30 percent share of transactions on the platform, Facebook should have paid out $1.3 billion at most. There is at least a $100 million discrepancy here. A company spokesperson declined to comment.

There are a number of possibilities:

  • Facebook may have comped free Credits for some developers.
  • There may have been initial problems with fraud in the early months of Credits, which the company may have also comped for developers.
  • Certain developers may have gotten a more favorable revenue share.
  • Facebook started doing promotions on Credits with 80 percent discounts last November.

Read the full analysis of this issue on our sister site, Inside Social Games.

Facebook shares climb 10% in private auction to $103B valuation

Facebook’s shares climbed 10 percent from a week ago in a private auction that valued the company at $103.4 billion. SharesPost, which arranges sales of shares in privately held companies, said it completed an auction of 150,000 shares of Class B stock today at a clearing price of $44. That’s up 10 percent from a week ago, where shares cleared at $40 with a $94 billion valuation.

Facebook may raise around $5 billion after filing for an initial public offering last week. While we don’t know what the ultimate market capitalization will be, the fact that the shares cleared at a valuation of more than $100 billion suggests that demand may be strong enough to push the company beyond the previously expected range of $75 to $100 billion.

A $103.4 billion valuation would give Facebook a PE ratio of more than 100 and put it at 27.9 times trailing twelve-month sales. Facebook had a net income of slightly more than $1 billion on revenue of $3.71 billion in 2011.

We based the valuation upon a fully diluted share count of around 2.35 billion, which is what Bloomberg used when it reported a similar auction a week ago that implied a $94 billion valuation.

They based it on 117.1 million of Class A shares, 1.76 billion of Class B shares and 380 million shares subject to restricted stock units that were outstanding at the end of last year. Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg also plans to exercise his options and purchase 120 million in Class B shares. There are also 138.5 million shares that are issuable under other options. The share count during the actual initial public offering will likely shift a little from what is projected now.

Facebook appends its 2005 stock plan to its IPO filing in new amendment

Facebook added a horde of documents to its filing for an initial public offering, including a copy of the 2005 stock plan.

There are also some offer letters to executives, the five-year agreement with Zynga and an agreement from 2010 with Russia’s Digital Sky Technologies when the late-stage investment firm held an 8.2 percent stake in the company.

Perhaps the most interesting thing though is a copy of the 2005 stock plan. In there, you can see how options and restricted stock units for the company were structured.

The Zynga-Facebook agreement is the exact same one the gaming company appended to its IPO filing last year. The redactions are the same.

The only interesting thing about the DST document seems to be that the firm agreed to a longer lock-up period than other investors. They will hold shares as long as 18 months after the IPO, which is longer than the 90-day period afforded to early investors, and then the six-month period for employees. It’s another concession from the Russian firm, which has a reputation for getting into choice deals because it moves fast and gives up trappings that more traditional venture firms ask for like board seats and liquidity preferences.

There’s also a document with a list of subsidiaries including Facebook Ireland Limited (Ireland), which I understand handles revenues through the European arm of the business. Then there is a subsidiary called Vitesse, which was an entity that helped build out the data center in Prineville.

We’ll be updating as we go. Today is our once-a-year Inside Social Apps conference in San Francisco, so apologies if updates are intermittent.

Developers say Facebook Credits converts fewer paying users than hoped

Facebook’s top developers say the company’s payments infrastructure and virtual currency Credits is converting fewer paying users than they had hoped a year ago.

Facebook made it mandatory for developers to use its payments platform in canvas games in July. That meant developers on the platform had to start handing over a 30 percent revenue share to the company, mirroring a similar split on Apple’s iOS. The hope was that a single, universal currency would make it more frictionless for users to start paying for virtual goods.

“We thought that conversions would go up and be around 15 or 20 percent,” said Kevin Chou, the chief executive of Kabam, a social gaming company that targets a more hardcore demographic, at the Inside Social Apps conference in San Francisco. “But it turned out to be around 5 to 10 percent, meaning that we’re taking a 20 percent net tax.”

For comparison, Facebook’s biggest developer, Zynga, revealed in its prospectus that it had 3.4 million unique payers during the third quarter of last year. That’s out of 152 monthly unique users in the same time period, suggesting a 2.2 percent conversion rate.

Anil Dharni, who co-founded Funzio, which has had hits on iOS and Facebook like Crime City, said the move to Credits ended up being roughly even for the company.

“Facebook credits is a wash for us,” he said. “It increased the conversion rate but we actually saw a gradual decrease in average revenue per paying user. It’s hard to know why.” Funzio has since moved its focus to iOS, where it has launched Crime City and Modern War, both titles that reached the top of the grossing charts.

Continue reading on our sister site, Inside Social Games.

Facebook’s 99%: Later employees may pay almost double the tax rate that early employees will

Even Facebook isn’t immune to the “Warren Buffett” problem. The widely-respected billionaire investor has famously said that he pays a lower rate on his taxable income than his secretary. The picture may not look that different at Facebook, once all the taxes are accounted for in the company’s widely-anticipated initial public offering.

Most Facebook employees who joined the company after 2007 will see almost half of their stakes in the company disappear through taxes following the IPO. That’s about twice the tax rate their much richer co-workers, who joined the company earlier, may end up paying on their holdings in Facebook.

While The New York Times and The Financial Times both ran stories over the weekend pointing out that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will pay between $1.5 and $2 billion in taxes, they’re missing a more interesting story. Zuckerberg will be paying taxes on $5 billion in gains from exercising options. He won’t be paying taxes on his current 28.2% stake in the company until he sells his shares — if he ever does. When he sells, he will pay taxes at something closer to the long-term capital gains rate (likely in the 20 to 25 percent range when you add in state and other miscellaneous taxes for Social Security and Medicare). Add the fact that he’s cutting his annual salary to $1 next year, and that means virtually all of his income should fall under the capital gains rate going forward.

The story is different for most of Facebook’s 3,200 employees. They will see 45 percent of their stakes in the company withheld to pay taxes six months after the IPO, according to the filing.

That’s because most later employees have restricted stock units, not actual shares that they’ve held for more than a year. Those restricted stock units will convert into shares six months after the IPO. At that time, the value of these shares will be taxed at the ordinary income rate — not the much lower long-term capital gains rate. That’s even if they were earned three or four years ago. The relevant part of Facebook’s filing is excerpted below if you want to read it yourself. We’ve also confirmed this interpretation with multiple attorneys, sources who arrange private sales of Facebook shares and founders or executives who have considered adopting RSUs as well.

This is the Silicon Valley version of the Warren Buffett problem — a debate about tax fairness that is embroiling the 2012 presidential race.

“You have employees who have contributed to a company’s success in a similar way. Yet some are taxed on their reward at 15 percent while others are taxed at 35 percent. It is unfair,” said John B. Duncan, who was a corporate attorney for Google after serving as general counsel for Slide. He has structured restricted stock agreements for two companies and is working on a third. “It’s not necessarily restricted stock units, but it’s still the symptom of an unbalanced tax system.”

Duncan adds that Facebook actually gets more of a tax deduction the more its employees earn under ordinary income. But the company gets no such deduction for what its employees take home under capital gains taxes.

“Most Silicon Valley companies have no taxable income so they don’t care, but these late-stage companies may realize a significant benefit off of the pain suffered by their late employees,” Duncan said.

On top of that, if Facebook isn’t careful about how it dumps all of these employee shares on the market to cover taxes six months after the IPO, the stock might decline and the company may have to sell more to cover the taxes. The filing says the company has reserved 378.8 million shares subject to outstanding restricted stock units, including ones that have yet to vest.

Most of these later employees — including the 2,000 or so that were hired in the last two years — are not the graffiti artists with $200 million of stock The New York Times likes to write about. If you look at Quora’s boards around late 2009 when the company had about 1,200 employees, you’ll see that Facebook was offering around 10 to 15,000 RSUs for entry-level engineering talent. That’s about $400,000 to $600,000 worth of stock at the $40 price Facebook shares went for in a private auction last week. [Update: A helpful reader reminds me that there was a 5-to-1 stock split back in 2010, so this actually represents $2 to $3 million as last week's share price.] Still, if Facebook went public in the middle of this year, close to half of that would still have to be vested and then almost half of what’s remaining would go toward taxes, leaving them with around $687,500 to $1 million. The other thing to take into account is that there are big equity drop-offs between employees who join the company at different times — a standard practice to reward the earliest employees who take the most risk. So the number of restricted stock units Facebook offers has also declined over the past two years as secondary markets have priced in the value of the shares.

Restricted stock units also behave differently in one other important way: they cannot be traded. So only early employees and investors who hold real shares have been able to participate in the secondary markets that have cropped up over the last few years. Facebook also instituted an insider trading policy in 2010 that banned current employees from selling shares.

The rise of restricted stock units

While nobody’s feeling sorry for Facebook employees, this is an issue that affects many late-stage or recently IPO-ed companies in the technology industry. There are thousands of employees who hold restricted stock units in companies like Groupon and Zynga.

Restricted stock units became popular over the last few years as more Silicon Valley technology companies chose to delay their initial public offerings. To do that, they needed to get around a Great Depression-era Securities and Exchange Commission rule that was originally designed to protect people from making bad investments in privately-held companies they couldn’t get accurate information about. The 1934 act that established the SEC said that companies with more than 500 shareholders needed to start divulging details about their financial performance.

But most late-stage companies don’t want to share such sensitive information if they remain private. So to keep the official shareholder count low while still allowing employees to enjoy upside, companies like Facebook began issuing restricted stock units. The downside is that they’re taxed like ordinary income.

Weighing restricted stock units against options

Facebook didn’t intentionally stick its later employees with these higher rates. One of the main reasons the company is even going for an IPO is to fulfill a pledge to employees, Zuckerberg said in his letter to shareholders.

“We’re going public for our employees and our investors,” he wrote in the company’s IPO filing. “We made a commitment to them when we gave them equity that we’d work hard to make it worth a lot and make it liquid, and this IPO is fulfilling our commitment.”

Zuckerberg just wanted a way build a business for the long-term without the distraction of public ownership. The tax issue is a side effect. In fact, if Facebook had relied more on options instead of restricted stock units, a similarly regressive tax scenario might have emerged anyway. The downside of options is that employees have to spend money to exercise them. In theory, employees can do this whenever it’s economically convenient. But in practice, later employees often hold off because they can’t afford to exercise them right away. They also might not want to risk tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars until they’re sure the stock is worth a lot more during an event like an acquisition or an IPO. That can stick them with the higher tax bill if they haven’t held the shares long enough to qualify for the capital gains rate.

Options have also fallen slightly out of favor over the last 10 years as accounting law tightened around how to value shares in privately-held companies. For companies with strong valuations, the strike price on options can end up being quite high, diminishing their upside to employees. Ultimately, it’s difficult to say whether Facebook’s employees would have done better financially if they were issued options or restricted stock units — all taxes considered.

What this means is that it’s hard to avoid ending up with a regressive tax situation on equity-based compensation in late-stage companies. It would be hard to change it too, given the complicated tangle of laws around incentivized options, non-qualified stock options, stock grants and restricted stock units.

Nobody would ever propose taxing founders more, either. They provide so much of the value that makes Silicon Valley tick. Facebook employees are lucky to have joined the one big winner of the last several years out of thousands of failed startups. And yet, they will probably end up paying a higher tax rate on their much smaller portions of equity than the company’s founders, early investors and early employees will.

“You can’t possibly come up with a better example than Zuckerberg. It’s $28 billion and he will probably get the absolute best tax treatment out of anyone in his company,” said Antone Johnson, who was eHarmony’s vice president of legal affairs before starting his own law firm serving early-stage companies like Gogobot on their legal needs.

After this most recent class of companies — Groupon, Zynga and Facebook — which all used RSUs, we’re starting to see some companies push back. Mobile payments company Square doesn’t plan to offer restricted stock units and instead will go with standard options, according to sources familiar with the matter.

If other companies in the $1 billion valuation-club follow suit, we might see a resurgence of Silicon Valley’s once-favored form of compensation.

Here’s the excerpt from Facebook’s filing (some of the bolding is mine):

We anticipate that we will expend substantial funds in connection with the tax liabilities that arise upon the initial settlement of RSUs following our initial public offering and the manner in which we fund that expenditure may have an adverse effect.

We anticipate that we will expend substantial funds to satisfy tax withholding and remittance obligations on a date approximately six months following our initial public offering, when we will settle a portion of our RSUs granted prior to January 1, 2011 (Pre-2011 RSUs). On the settlement date, we plan to withhold and remit income taxes at applicable minimum statutory rates based on the then-current value of the underlying shares. We currently expect that the average of these withholding tax rates will be approximately 45%. If the price of our common stock at the time of settlement were equal to the midpoint of the price range on the cover page of this prospectus, we estimate that this tax obligation would be approximately $ billion in the aggregate. The amount of this obligation could be higher or lower, depending on the price of our shares on the RSU settlement date. To settle these RSUs, assuming a 45% tax withholding rate, we anticipate that we will net settle the awards by delivering approximately shares of Class B common stock to RSU holders and simultaneously withholding approximately shares of Class B common stock. In connection with this net settlement we will withhold and remit the tax liabilities on behalf of the RSU holders in cash to the applicable tax authorities.

To fund the withholding and remittance obligation, we expect to sell equity securities near the settlement date in an amount that is substantially equivalent to the number of shares of common stock that we withhold in connection with the initial settlement of the Pre-2011 RSUs, such that the newly issued shares should not be dilutive. However, in the event that we issue equity securities, we cannot assure you that we will be able to successfully match the proceeds to the amount of this tax liability. In addition, any such equity financing could result in a decline in our stock price. If we elect not to fully fund our withholding and remittance obligations through the issuance of equity or we are unable to complete such an offering due to market conditions or otherwise, we may choose to borrow funds from our credit facility, use a substantial portion of our existing cash, or rely upon a combination of these alternatives. In the event that we elect to satisfy our withholding and remittance obligations in whole or in part by drawing on our credit facility, our interest expense and principal repayment requirements could increase significantly, which could have an adverse effect on our financial results.

Facebook’s net income and revenues: $1 billion on $3.71 billion in 2011

Facebook had $1 billion in net income on $3.71 billion in 2011, according to its filing to raise $5 billion in an initial public offering. The company’s revenues grew 87 percent year-over-year from the 2010, which in turn more than doubled from the year before.

Payments and fees revenue made up $557 million or about 15 percent of revenues for all of 2011, showing that the company is still heavily dependent on display advertising. Ads made up $3.154 billion in revenue. Just to note, Facebook has $3.91 billion in cash and marketable securities.

If you look specifically at the fourth quarter of last year, revenue grew 55 percent over the same time a year earlier. That’s mostly because of advertising revenue, which climbed 44 percent. Last quarter, Facebook saw the number of ads it served rise 16 percent while the average price per ad also jumped 24 percent. The growth in overall ad inventory has to do with more usage, as Facebook grew to 845 million monthly active users. At the same time, the company also tweaked the prominence of ads on pages and increased the reserve price for ads.

The other key revenue stream to point out is fees or payments, which are mostly from social games that use the company’s virtual currency Credits. Facebook made Credits mandatory for canvas games in July of last year, and that helped payments and fees revenue grow to make up 17 percent of the company’s revenue in the most recent quarter. That’s up from 10 percent share a year ago. So the company is making progress in diversifying from pure display advertising revenue.

The question now is whether Facebook can duplicate its success in payments in verticals outside of gaming. At a market capitalization of $7.41 billion, Zynga is the biggest company to date that the Facebook platform has spawned. But other categories of apps still have far to go. Facebook has made a concerted effort this year to diversify its platform by supporting businesses like Spotify and media properties like The Washington Post, but media and music have been historically difficult to monetize online.

Facebook even acknowledges its dependence on the social gaming ecosystem in the risks sections saying that Zynga accounts for 12 percent of the company’s revenues. That includes both payments revenue and advertising that is displayed alongside Zynga games.

“If the use of Zynga games on our Platform declines, if Zynga launches games on or migrates games to competing platforms, or if we fail to maintain good relations with Zynga, we may lose Zynga as a significant Platform developer and our financial results may be adversely affected,” the filing says.

Mobile is another potential growth area. Right now, increased mobile usage actually undermines Facebook’s financial performance because the company has yet to display ads in any of its smartphone or tablet apps. On top of that, Facebook does not have its own mobile operating system like Apple or Google, which makes it difficult for the company to earn a 30 percent cut of payments revenue through mobile apps. But Facebook says that showing sponsored stories in the news feed is one way it plans to monetize its mobile presence.

Overall, Facebook says its market opportunity is in display and performance advertising, where marketers can target users either on demographics like age and gender or their likes and preferences. Facebook also says it might expand its Credits virtual currency to other app categories. But it leaves out what we think are interesting revenue opportunities: an ad network that extends well beyond and search advertising from a search engine that marries Facebook’s open graph data and a thorough index of the web.

Facebook also says it is geographically diversifying revenue. The U.S. made up 56 percent of revenues last year, down from 62 percent in 2010 and 67 percent in 2009. This is mostly because Facebook is now growing faster in other countries than in the U.S. plus the fact that it has added international sales offices and more payment methods. The most lucrative markets outside the U.S. are unsurprisingly from Europe and English-speaking countries like Canada and Australia. That said, Facebook is seeing some of its fastest growth from Brazil and India so we might see some even further broadening over the next few years. India actually recently took Indonesia’s crown as Facebook’s second largest market during the past month.

This story is developing and we’ll report more as we go through the financials. Facebook filed to raise $5 billion in a much anticipated initial public offering today. We have a breakdown of the investor table here. We also have a breakdown of how much Facebook has paid for all of the companies it has acquired over the past few years.

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