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Classmates

Classmates IPO Tries to Cash In On Social Networking Craze

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classmates-logo.pngEveryone is trying to cash in on social networking these days. The latest attempt comes from Classmates Media, which just filed to go public at a valuation of $600 to $700 million. That is a smidgeon of Facebook’s still-private $15 billion valuation, but Classmates is no Facebook.
Its site, Classmates.com, is more a competitor of Reunion.com (which raised $25 million last April). While Facebook’s U.S. visitors grew 129 percent in September to 31 million (according to comScore), Classmate.com’s shrank 12 percent to 13 million. (Even Reunion.com managed an 18 percent gain).

Before buying this IPO, investors should look at who is selling. That would be United Online, which is spinning off 20 percent of its Classmates subsidiary and taking $50 million of the expected proceeds as payment for a loan (apparently, United Online didn’t want to simply invest in the business). United Online will keep the other 80 percent, and United Online CEO Mark Goldstone will also be the CEO of Classmates Media, and he is personally getting 2.8 million options at the IPO price. United Online’s current market cap is $1.2 billion. If it can price the IPO where it expects, at $10 to $12 a share, that would imply that half its value is attributable to Classmates.

Here’s what we learn from a quick perusal of Classmates’ S1:

—Revenues the first nine months of 2007 weer $140 million. (Full-year 2006 revenues weer $139 million; 2005 revenues were $85 million).
—Net income the first nine months was $1.6 million. ($1.9 million loss in 2006; $8.2 million loss in 2005).
—50 million registered users as of September, 2007. Only 12.8 million of which are active and 3 million of which pay on average $3.33 a month to email and connect with old friends directly.
—Monthly churn of 4.6 percent

Classmates makes money primarily from those people willing to pay a subscription. It also operates MyPoints, a loyalty awards marketing service, and owns a French social network, Trombi, and Sweden’s Stayfriends.

Here was the doozy from the Risk Factors section:

If our social networking members do not interact with our Web sites, our business and financial results will suffer.

Our success is dependent upon our social networking members interacting with our Web sites. Currently, the network effect on our social networking Web sites is limited, and the vast majority of our member activity is within our high school communities. Our members do not visit our Web sites frequently and spend a limited amount of time on our Web sites when they visit. In addition, only a limited number of our social networking members post photographs and information about themselves, engage in message board discussions, view other members’ profiles or participate in the other features on our Web sites. If we are unable to encourage our members to interact more frequently with our social networking Web sites and to increase the amount of user generated content they provide, our ability to attract new users to our Web sites, convert free members to paying subscribers and attract advertisers to our Web sites will be adversely affected. As a result, our business and financial results will suffer, and we will not be able to grow our business as planned.

Oh, and the FTC is investigating its membership subscription auto-renewal policy, where it just keeps charging your credit card until you tell it to stop. (Imagine what its churn rate would be if it didn’t resort to that sleazy tactic?). Maybe the FTC should try to find out why anyone would pay to be part of a social network when there are so many others out there that let you keep up with your high school or college friends for free.

Update: Just got October 2007 social networking numbers from comScore. Classmates did a little better with 14.4 million U.S. visitors, which was still a one percent year-over-year decline. (Facebook’s U.S. traffic rose 118 percent to 32.9 million during the same period).

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