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LinkedIn looks to build on its impressive resume

Michael Liedtke (via AP/ SMH) | May 14, 2013
LinkedIn's stock has nearly quadrupled in value from its $45 IPO price on May 20 two years ago while Facebook's stock is hovering around $27 per share, down 29 percent since debuted on May 18, 2012 at $38.

After Hoffman persuaded him to join LinkedIn as its president in late 2008, Weiner was promoted to CEO six months later.

The partnership has proven highly productive. LinkedIn's membership has increased sevenfold from the 33 million members that had set up free profiles on the service at the time Weiner came on board. Revenue this year is expected to approach $1.5 billion, 19 times more than the $79 million generated before Weiner's arrival. The company's profits are also steadily rising. Analysts predict LinkedIn's net income will rise about 20 percent this year to $26 million.

LinkedIn has made a habit of topping analyst projections. That is something the company has done in every quarter since its IPO, helping to propel its stock.

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. About 18,000 companies now pay LinkedIn for its so-called "talent solutions."

Most employers rely on LinkedIn to find so-called "knowledge" workers who can fill positions that require a college degree or other specialized training. Think: computer programmers, website developers, scientists, accountants, lawyers and executives. Although McDonald's is unlikely to turn to LinkedIn to find a cashier, a coffee shop might use the service to recruit a barista. A ski resort might scour the site in search of ski instructors.

"They are not even scratching the surface of what they might eventually be able to do," said Wedge Partners analyst Martin Pyykkonen.

LinkedIn is expected to generate even more revenue by selling more ads to accompany content such as professional insights from famous executives such as Richard Branson and Jack Welch, as well as other compelling content that induces its membership to visit the site more frequently and dwell for longer periods.

LinkedIn is also working on more analytical tools to sell to sales representatives who are "looking to turn a cold call into a warm prospect," Weiner said.

Almost everything will have to go right for LinkedIn to support its lofty stock price. Investors are currently paying about $121 for every dollar in LinkedIn's estimated earnings this year and $13 for every dollar in projected revenue. By comparison, Facebook's stock is selling for $47 for every dollar in projected earnings this year and $10 in every dollar in projected revenue.


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