A billion reasons to be sociable

Over the last three years, I have openly advocated its significance in our daily lives. Throughout those years, there have always been more than a few disbelievers along the way. But now as I ogle with slight disbelief at LinkedIn Corporation’s opening-day gain of almost 110% on its initial public offering (IPO), it seems I have been vindicated.

All this time, as I earnestly defended the benefits of Facebook and Twitter to those with apprehensions at these companies’ sustainability, I was quietly hoping that the day would come when “a sign” would emerge to show the world that online social networking is truly here to stay.

And when “the sign” finally came, it came in a big way: LinkedIn priced its IPO at US$45 per share, open at US$83 and jumped to US$122 before closing its first day of trading at US$94. When the bell rang, it had sold 7.84 million shares and raised an incredible US$352.8 million (RM1.08 billion). The sign was definitely clear!

Becoming the biggest US internet IPO since Google in 2004, the online social network company, which boasts of 100 million members in more than 200 countries, has set the alarm bells ringing throughout the technology sphere and tongues wagging around the business community with its feat.

Noticed how I have firmly referred to them as a company? To those persistent naysayers, LinkedIn is a not another speck in the envisaged dot-com bubble or merely another passing internet fad. The company’s service, which is targeted to white-collar business professionals and their business-focused networking needs, has been around since 2003; houses more than 1,300 employees; and reported a net income of US$15.6 million on sales revenues of US$295.3 million as of March this year.

Unlike the Internet-related operations during the dot-com boom (and its subsequent burst) in the late 1990s, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are real organisations with real people and real business ideas already in operation.

“They (LinkedIn) have been around for some time and they have paid their dues to get where they are now. They started small and later grew just like most other small Malaysian technology companies over the years,” wrote Alan who manages an MSC-status outfit based at Technology Park Malaysia in Bukit Jalil.

He further pointed out in his Facebook reply, “This is where Malaysia needs our own LinkedIn to push us ahead in the global technology arena. Without these sort of breakthrough, we will always be followers instead of industry leaders.”

Perhaps then, with most of our country’s 2,517 MSC-status companies having already gone through the obligatory learning curve, Malaysians can expect an iconic IPO to come through soon? I queried the 30-something technopreneur.

“There are many aspects of the technology industry in the country that needs to be elevated in order for us to become world leaders. From the mindset of local technology entrepreneurs – many who runs small sized organisations – to the supporting environment around the industry, we still have a long way to go,” Alan commented.

The journey would have been significantly shortened with local and international investors having woken up from their almost decade-old slumber by LinkedIn’s revelation, coupled with Facebook’s anticipated IPO – it claims to have more than 600 million active users and recently estimated to be valued at US$70 billion – and the fast-growing group buying website Groupon’s IPO, both later this year.

While there may not be many, if at all any, local tech-geeks that possess the impressive numbers as the likes of Twitter’s 200 million users or the phenomenal growth of Farmville and Cityville’s makers Zynga – Cityville alone reached 100 million users in 45 days – this could be the right time for Malaysian technopreneurs to grab these investors’ attention.
As investors ride on this emerging wave in search of internet social-networking and tech-savvy companies to pour their money into, perhaps over the next 45 days these Malaysian companies can turn to the South Koreans for some help.

According, ironically, to a recent Japan External Trade Organisation survey, while the Japanese remained strong in technology, the main reasons why South Korean companies were cementing their global presence was due largely to their ability to develop products that matched the markets’ needs at a reasonable price.

The survey also revealed that the Koreans had succeeded in branding via proactive public relation activities and increasing its presence into regions where few Japanese companies exist, such as in the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America.

There you go: Set up a free social-networking website to unite the segregated population of the Africans and Middle Easterners and employ a media communication consultant to raise your company above the hullabaloo of the vuvuzelas and samba drums. Your RM1.08 billion IPO dream could just be possible.

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