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Facebook IPO: More Creative Share Offering?

Facebook IPO: can they get creative on the share offering? Mark Zuckerberg is making noises that he wants a new kind of company.

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How about this: letting the users in on the IPO!

It's been done before.

Does anyone remember the IPO of Boston Beer? When it went public in 1995, they stuffed sixpacks with coupons where you could fill it out and get in on the IPO.

Really, they did: they allowed each small investor to buy one unit of 33 shares for $495, or $15 a share. The IPO was eventually priced at $18 (the direct entrants got the $15 price).

It was a huge success: there was reportedly close to 100,000 requests, but since SAM made the offer to only the first 33,333 applicants, two out of every three applicants never got filled.

Why couldn't Facebook do the same thing? The modern equivalent, of course, would be to do it electronically.

So you would be on your Facebook page, you would be presumably be able to link to a coupon, fill it out, send it in electronically, then sit and wait to see if you get your allocation. Then you'd have to send them a check, which in all probability would go to the underwriter.

How might the pricing work? Use the Boston Beer model: Facebook says they're offering $5 billion. They could offer $1 billion of that to investors through Facebook. They could offer a single unit of, say, 20 shares at $25 ($500). First come, first served.

So there would be 2 million individual units offered ($1 billion divided by $500). I know, it's small compared to the total universe of users, but still. It's a start.

With all that said, there are issues:

1) there's no indication they will be doing this in the S-1;

2) it would generate enormous transactional costs (Google did a Dutch auction with a huge amount of input from the retail sector, and the paperwork was staggering for the company);

3) it would be difficult to check for suitability, accountability, and other legal requirements.

Still, it's worth considering. If Mr. Zuckerberg really does want to give Facebook users a sense of ownership, why not make that statement and let them have access to the stock directly?

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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