I went to the biggest show in town without a ticket and got busted at the door — even though I was dressed better than the star, who appeared in a hoodie and sneaks.
The Facebook roadshow — the ritualistic presentation to potential institutional investors, a customary prelude to any initial public offering — came to New York City today, and with an impressive posse of security. “I’ve never seen anything like this — even at the White House,” one investor emailed from inside the ballroom.
Too bad for me Desiree Rogers wasn’t in charge.
Usually it’s not a big deal to slip into investor presentations without an invitation. Most people usually have extras and are glad to share. But apparently there were some very real concerns about safety.
Like Mark Zuckerberg, I was fashionably late. About an hour. The estimated 550 to 600 investors were miffed, but I was not. Time was on my side. Inside, Zuckerberg was joined on stage by Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to discuss the deal, which is likely to give the company a value of close to $100 billion.
But first, to much general consternation, the Facebook team played the half-hour retail roadshow video that has been zipping all over the Internet since Thursday. Which when you think about it is pretty funny — Facebook was sending a message to investors: We’re not going to tell you anything different from anyone who has access to the Internet. (See the video here and my earlier summary of it here.) Technically, roadshows are not supposed to reveal anything that isn’t already on file with the regulators, but sometimes things slip out.
Which is why investors and people like me — I just wrote a mini ebook about Facebook — like to go to these things. So I thought I would swing by the roadshow just in case I had missed something, other than an invitation.
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On the way to the ballroom, I glided past the first set of guys in gray suits, ear buds attached to the always-attractive coiled wires leading to places unknown in their suits. At the top of the stairs, a quick turn and three sets of white tables, nicely set off behind a huge blow-up of the classic Facebook map of the world based on friend connections. Each desk was manned with three people. All you needed to know was your name — A-F? G-M? N-Z? And if you didn’t know your last name, there was a fourth desk — that would be me.
As I emailed this investor friend and that one to see if they could get me through security, several polite Facebook reps came over to ask for my credentials. Thank goodness for the smartphone. As Facebook would say, my life in my pocket. “I’m waiting for it to pop in my email.” I smiled. So true.
For Facebook reps, the fourth time was the charm. “Are you with the press?” I answered truthfully. Busted. And with style. “This gentleman will escort you out.” I looked up. There was the gentleman. Six-foot-plus. Lean. Unsmiling, even when I joked in all my five-foot-three-humor that I had never been escorted out of anywhere before. I suspect his next job will be as a beefeater.
Standing around outside, I rather enjoyed the thought of all those people trapped, watching a video, as I chatted up the crew from Asahi Television of Japan. All the usual suspects from the press were milling about. Finally, at 2 pm, a steady stream of people (mostly men) began leaving the ballroom, Facebook prospectuses in hand. One kind gent actually handed his to me. A real collector’s item! Is that all Facebook handed out? Well, there was the Cobb salad (not so tasty, I hear) and a brownie. Not a single woman would speak to me.
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Before the crowd dispersed, a few Facebook officials came out into the lobby, possibly feeling sorry for those left out in the cold. They scanned us and declared that we weren’t too much trouble. Except for you, said one, pointing at me. “I’m not trouble,” I said. “I’m clear. I’m firm. I’m a mom.” The rep smiled and handed me a brownie. Hooray for moms.
And now, for some highlights from the Facebook Roadshow, as told to me by those who had an invitation:
- The audience was intimidated. At first. When Mark Zuckerberg finally took the stage to field questions, there was a complete silence. A hush. “Awe” is the word that comes to mind of Ben Rogoff, director of technology investments for London-based Polar Capital. Then a couple of brave souls raised their hands to ask questions. The session lasted about a half hour.
- The Zuck factor. “He was more than credible,” says Rogoff. A couple of others weren’t as enthusiastic — but they weren’t negative either. So he gets to stay CEO.
- About that slowdown in growth. CFO Ebersman fielded the question on whether they were concerned about slowing revenues in the first quarter. One investor, who didn’t want to share his name, said that Ebersman said Facebook was more focused on improving the user experience; that they would sacrifice revenue in the interim. Someone also asked about the $1 billion Instagram purchase. They said that they felt Instagram would help accelerate Facebook’s growth.
- Funniest moment. Well, for the people inside the ballroom, it was when someone asked about Facebook in China. Apparently Zuckerberg said, “We are blocked in China.” And that was that. I think you had to be there to get the humor.
- Truly the funniest moment. In my opinion, it was when I got to the Sheraton on Seventh Avenue, and there were about 50 people in two lines, apparently waiting for someone. I asked a policeman, who said they were waiting for Mark Zuckerberg. Television crews had their cameras ready. Expectation was in the air. Then a guard whispered to a guest: “He’s already in the ballroom.”
- Bottom line. Investors didn’t seem to change their minds on whether they were Facebook fans or not. They were like car shoppers who had pretty much decided they wanted the Silver Toyota Prius with seat warmers. But just to be sure, they decided to come in person and kick the tires.
Nancy Miller is the author of The Facebook IPO Primer.