Friday, October 13, 2006

LoopNet: the anti-Zillow

By this point, nearly everyone with even a passing familiarity with real estate websites has heard of or visited Zillow. The folks who brought you Expedia are behind Zillow and, in addition to creating great buzz for the site, have collected around $57 million in venture capital (though obviously the $57m and the buzz are not entirely unrelated). At Zillow, users can get an automated valuation of almost any home in the U.S. - a very neat trick that involves the intake of countless different types of sales data from counties across the country.

I think Zillow is a technical marvel and I like their clean interface. But I see two problems with their business model: 1) The site isn't sticky. While users may go there once or twice to see the value of their home, or more likely their neighbor's home, there's not much that would keep an average user coming back week after week. 2) Zillow has competition. Several automated valuation services have sprung up in the wake of Zillow, perhaps most notably RealEstateABC (horrible name and it's interface could be cleaner, but it works well).

In contrast to the buzz surrounding Zillow, LoopNet is a real estate website that has largely flown under the radar. LoopNet went public earlier this year and currently has a market cap around $500 million. One reason why you may never have heard of LoopNet is that the site caters exclusively to commercial real estate - apartment buildings, shopping centers, industrial warehouses. LoopNet has basically created a multiple listings service for commercial real estate - a central place where both brokers and buyer go to look at investment property. Before LoopNet, this information was all on the local level.

Unlike Zillow, whose business model I question, LoopNet is in an enviable position for the following reasons:

  • It is rapidly creating a network effect (a la eBay) - the more brokers list properties, the more buyers turn to LoopNet to find a property, which then encourages more brokers to list more properties, etc.
  • With the value of commercial properties often starting at $500,000 and going up into multi-million dollars, LoopNet can charge both brokers and users hefty fees. The value to an investor of finding the right property more than outweighs the monthly fees you have to pay to become a "premium member".
  • Unlike residential real estate, commercial real estate shows no signs of slowing down. Investors increasingly view commercial properties as safe havens which provide good returns.
I don't own any LoopNet stock and I have not followed their financial performance since their IPO. But I think the contrast between a company with a lot of buzz and an uncertain business plan, and a company that has kept a low profile and built a very nice business, is an interesting one.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Is Google the new Yahoo?

There was a time from around 1998 through 2001 that Yahoo was the undisputed leader on the Internet. Other portals (remember those?) followed Yahoo's every move. If Yahoo acquired a web calendar company, the other portals followed suit. A slew of acquisitions ensued: email companies, calendaring companies, personal website companies, online store building companies, etc. etc. This was a very good time to be an Internet entrepreneur. You could almost predict which area would get hot by looking at the path of Yahoo's acquisitions.

With the acquisition of YouTube is Google now setting the pace? Will Yahoo feel the pressure to go out and acquire a video sharing company? There's already a lot of talk about Yahoo needing to move quickly on an acquisition of Facebook, just to show it can be decisive and keep up with Google's moves. Will this translate into other areas as the big 3 (Google, Yahoo, MSN) try to one-up each other? It didn't seem like Google was playing this game, but with the YouTube acquisition, something may have changed.

We'll see how Yahoo and other companies respond to Google's move. But it looks like once again it may be a good time to be an Internet entrepreneur.

It's good to be Google: What some people missed about the YouTube acquisition

Now that the hubbub surrounding Google's acquisition of YouTube is starting (maybe?) to die down, it's time to take a closer look at how this move changes the Internet landscape.

First off, let's look at Google's stock price since Friday when rumors of the acquisition started flying around the web (props to TechCrunch for breaking the story). On Friday Oct. 6, GOOG closed at 420.50. On Monday Oct. 9, when pretty much everyone knew the acquisition was going to be announced, GOOG closed at 429 - an increase of about 2%. Doesn't sound like much until you look at Google's market cap of $130 billion. A 2% increase equates to $2.6 billion - a full $1 billion more than Google paid for YouTube. One could then argue that Google's acquisition of the biggest web phenomnenon since MySpace was essentially free. It's good to be Google.

Next up: Google as the next Yahoo.