Valuing Facebook

June 30, 2008, 10:21 PM UTC

Tech Crunch landed a nifty scoop Saturday, publishing the name of a wealth-management advisor who purportedly is trying to sell shares of Facebook belonging either to an early investor or early employee. This is a peak inside the murky netherworld of investing in startups whereby shareholders in a private company can sell their shares under certain circumstances directly to other investors.

What’s particularly juicy about the revelation is that the investors are shopping a valuation significantly below the infamous $15-billion point Microsoft established when it invested in Facebook last year (the valuation at which a company raises money becomes the de facto valuation). Tech Crunch is reporting that Facebook’s valuation may have fallen as low as $3 billion, at least according to those doing the selling.

The amount an individual is willing to accept in order to dump an asset is one thing. What the company itself will take the next time it raises capital makes a significant statement about what Facebook is worth. Though Facebook has raised oodles of money — most recently the $100 million in debt financing it took from TriplePoint Capital — it undoubtedly will need more. When that happens, let’s say the valuation is still $3 billion. Microsoft would then have to write down 4/5 of its $240 million investment in Facebook. Not a big deal to Microsoft financially, but embarrassing all the same.

A final thought. Reading the purported details in Tech Crunch of the e-mail from Bill Dagley of Private Wealth Partners (I say “purported” because I have no way of verifying the veracity of an e-mail sent to Michael Arrington), I’m reminded how foolish it is to put anything sensitive in an e-mail these days — or ever. I’ve recently noticed an uptick in the number of people who pick up the phone to have a conversation they once might have e-mailed. It’s undoubtedly a healthy development, as folks like Eliot Spitzer, Frank Quattrone, and the two former fund managers at Bear Stearns assuredly would agree.