Twitter IPO reveals a company that's growing fast but losing money

The company reported strong revenue gains in 2012, but also losses over the last several years

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Twitter has filed for its long-awaited initial public offering, revealing a fast-growing company but one that lost money in each of the past three years.

Twitter generated US$317 million in revenue last year, almost three times what it made in 2011, according to its IPO documents filed Thursday. Its loss last year was roughly $79 million, but that was smaller than its loss of $128 million in 2011.

The company hopes to raise $1 billion by selling its shares on the public markets, in the biggest social media IPO since Facebook went public last year. It's expected to use the money to expand its business and make further acquisitions.

The figures were revealed in Twitter's S-1 form filed Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Companies are required to disclose financials and other sensitive data when they go public, and the documents give the first look at how Twitter performs as a business.

Eighty-five percent of Twitter's sales were generated through advertising in 2012, the documents show.

Twitter doesn't seem to have trouble making money from mobile, which was a big problem for Facebook and initially dragged down its performance as a public company. In the first six months this year, three-quarters of Twitter's "average monthly active users" accessed the service from a mobile device, and more than 65 percent of its advertising revenue was generated from mobile, Twitter said in the filing.

Twitter has steadily boosted its number of users since it was founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. In the three months ended June 30 this year it had about 218 million monthly active users, up from 151 million during the same period last year.

The amount Twitter hopes to raise is significantly lower than the $5 billion Facebook sought in its IPO last year. Twitter's IPO comes at a different stage in its growth, however. Facebook, which now has more than 1 billion monthly active users, already had 845 million users when it went public -- much higher than Twitter's 218 million. Facebook also reported higher revenue of $3.71 billion when it filed to go public.

Twitter has grown to become one of Facebook's biggest rivals, though the services offered by the companies are different. While Facebook is primarily a platform for connecting with friends and associates, Twitter functions more like a publishing tool. They overlap in many areas, however, such as allowing people to upload and share photos and videos.

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