For those who wish they had a chance to invest in Facebook's (FB) Instagram as a standalone company, Pinterest's upcoming IPO might be the next best thing.
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pinterest is prepping an IPO that could arrive in April, and that it might have its underwriters lined up by January. It added -- in what's likely a hint about the kind of valuation Pinterest and/or the bankers it's talking to think it can achieve -- Pinterest "could achieve a valuation in the public market at or in excess of $12 billion," the valuation it was granted in a 2017 funding round.
Pinterest, as many readers likely know, lets users browse, share, bookmark and comment on images (pins) that interest them, as well as group pins into collections (boards) that can also be followed or shared. The company monetizes its platform by showing "promoted pins" from advertisers that can be targeted based on criteria such as user interests and activity, search keywords and demographics.
Pinterest had 250 million monthly active users (MAUs) as of September -- a small fraction of the billion Instagram claimed as of June, and also less than the 326 million Twitter (TWTR) claimed as of Q3. However, with MAUs up from 200 million as of Sep. 2017 and 100 million two years before that, the company is still seeing decent (though not massive) user growth.
Monetization, held in check for some time by management's preference for a slow and careful approach to fleshing out Pinterest's business, is improving as well: A source tells the WSJ Pinterest's revenue is expected to grow 50% this year to over $700 million. And with the company's revenue per MAU still well below that of Twitter, which is expected to see 2018 ad sales of nearly $2.6 billion, there still appears to be a lot of headroom to grow the top line.
As is the case for Instagram, the visual-centric nature of Pinterest's content lends itself well to photo and video ads. And the fact that its users often browse and search for items that they're interested in buying helps make it a natural fit for e-commerce advertising; Pinterest has long been a major source of referral traffic for some online retailers.
The company's demographics also work in its favor. With Pinterest only saying that over half its users are international, a large portion of its base appears to reside in the U.S., by far the world's most lucrative online ad market. Moreover, the fact that Pinterest usage skews heavily towards women, and to some extent towards younger consumers, gives it a unique audience to pitch to advertisers.
And both Wall Street and Madison Avenue have to like the fact that to date, Pinterest hasn't been roiled by the types of controversies that have hurt the images of Facebook proper and/or Twitter, such as privacy scandals, abuse/harassment problems and issues related to political content. Even relative to Instagram, which has begun to see some blowback over the actions of "influencers" and the platform's potential effects on self-esteem, Pinterest's image is squeaky clean.
For all its strengths, Pinterest could be vulnerable the broader pressures facing social media consumption in the U.S. and some other developed markets. And it's conceivable that Pinterest's S-1 filing will raise a red flag or two when it arrives.
However, based on what's currently known about Pinterest's user growth, top-line performance and business model, a $12 billion-plus valuation looks achievable.