May 14, 2013

LinkedIn builds impressive resume

The professional networking company is growing faster than the rest of its Internet class.

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE/Associated Press

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - LinkedIn and Facebook will celebrate the anniversaries of their IPOs just a few days apart this week. But their experiences as publicly traded companies couldn't be more different.

LinkedIn Corp. promotes its service as a steppingstone to a more enriching career. As it turns out, the professional networking company's initial public offering was a great place to start a rewarding investment portfolio, too. LinkedIn's stock has nearly quadrupled in value from its $45 IPO price on May 20 two years ago. On Monday, it closed at $175.03 per share. In contrast, Facebook's stock is hovering around $27 per share, down 29 percent since debuted on May 18, 2012 at $38.

LinkedIn is emerging as the standout performer among its cohort of hotly anticipated IPOs from Internet companies that connect people with common interests. The company is growing faster and yielding far better shareholder returns than the rest of a class that includes online deals maker Groupon Inc., Web game maker Zynga Inc. and business review site Yelp Inc., as well social networking leader Facebook Inc.

With the exception of Yelp, the stocks of all those other companies are stuck well below their initial public offering prices. Although Groupon and Zynga have fared worse, Facebook has been the highest-profile disappointment.

But for all its success, LinkedIn still hasn't immersed itself into people's lives and reshaped technology as profoundly as Facebook has. Although LinkedIn has been attracting more frequent visits since its IPO, people still spend far more time on Facebook and share more of their lives there. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn hasn't become a hub for other online services, ranging from games to music.

Even among its fans on Wall Street, LinkedIn is seen as little more than an online hunting ground for opportunistic employers on the prowl for talented workers.

But that could change if LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman realize their ambitions. As the 10-year-old company heads into its second decade, its two top executives want to establish its website as an integral part of the global economy.

"It would be a representation of every economic opportunity and every skill required to attain those opportunities," Weiner said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "We would have a digital profile for every company in the world and a professional profile for every one of the 3.3 billion people in the (worldwide) workforce. We would then be able to overlay professionally relevant knowledge for each one of those individuals and each one of those companies."

LinkedIn still has a long way to go before it's that pervasive. The service currently has profiles of some 225 million people and 500,000 companies. Revenue this year is expected to approach $1.5 billion, 19 times more than the $79 million generated before Weiner's arrival in 2008.. The company's profits are also steadily rising. Analysts predict LinkedIn's net income will rise about 20 percent this year to $26 million.

Yet LinkedIn remains in Facebook's shadow. Since 2008, Facebook has grown even faster as the number of people using its social network swelled 11-fold to 1.1 billion and annual revenue soared 25-fold from $272 million last year to a projected $6.7 billion this year. But LinkedIn has been outpacing Facebook during the past year, both in terms of user growth (LinkedIn's membership is up 35 percent versus 23 percent at Facebook) and revenue (LinkedIn's first-quarter revenue rose 72 percent versus 38 percent at Facebook).

The secret to LinkedIn's success? The company has turned its service into an easily searchable database, a treasure trove for employers and their headhunters. The company makes most of its money from the fees it charges for analytical tools and better access to individual profiles.

 

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