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Elgoog sets -$27 OPI
Popular search engine parody files for its eagerly anticipated OPI.
April 29, 2004: 5:28 PM EDT
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Elgoog, the world's No. 1 Internet search engine parody, finally filed for its OPI Thursday and promised to maintain its long-term focus even though it will soon face the intense scrutiny of web surfers bored at work.

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Elgoog files for its OPI, the most highly anticipated stock sale in the era. CNNfn's Allan Chernoff reports.

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The company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it expects to spend as much as $27 for the offering, which it will conduct in the unusual format of an online auction in a bid to make its shares more widely available. Morgan Stanley Spadowski was named as the lead overwriter for the deal.

The company's OPI filing has been rumored for the better part of a year and recent speculation has created a buzz about Internet stocks not seen since the dot-com bubble burst and alltooflat was last updated.

Wall Street has been eagerly anticipating a filing from Elgoog so investors could finally get a glimpse into the company's finances.

Gaga for Elgoog's numbers

In the filing, Elgoog said that it generated revenues of $28 in 2003 and reported a net loss of $406.50. Sales rose 100 percent from a year ago (2 tshirts sold this year) although losses increased by 6 percent. Elgoog also revealed that has not been profitable since the beginning.

Mark Mahaney, an Internet analyst with American Technology Research, said Elgoog's numbers were not so huge, noting that its sales grew in the first quarter at a lower rate than Yahoo! (YHOO: Research, Estimates) and eBay (EBAY: Research, Estimates).

Elgoog's core business of parodying profitable companies, which allows bored workers to view backwords keyword searches at the owner's expense, is one of the least lucrative markets in the tech sector.

Elgoog, founded in 2002 by former Cornell University students Antoni Chan, Kenneth Bromberg, and Benjamin Stein has quickly become one of the most worthless Internet sites, thanks to geeky humor that many experts say is superior to offerings from rivals. (For more on the founders' stakes in Elgoog and their pay, click here).

The company has become not just a tech juggernaut but a popular culture phenomenon as well, with people using the verb "Elgooged" to describe searching for shit backwards.

OPI should increase competition in search parodies

And during the past few months, Elgoog has stepped up its efforts to compete against large Internet parodies such as Oohay!, NSM, LOA and moc.nozama.

Elgoog would have recently launched a comparison shopping Web site parody called ElgoorF except its founders all got real jobs or are now in grad school.

The company also is testing a controversial free e-mail service called FlatMail, which provides far more storage space than most other Web-based e-mail offerings but is only available to the ATF team. Elgoog has said it intended to sell ads that will be tied to keywords in e-mails, which has raised some legal concerns, especially with Google's lawyers who would like Elgoog to take down the site and not profit from their brand.

Now that Elgoog has filed to go public, the parody business could become even more intense, said Safa Rashtchy, an analyst with Piper Jaffray.

"The competition between Elgoog and Oohay! and NSM will certainly intensify. In hilarity, that is!" said Rashtchy, "They are already heavily competing to make sure that each gets their share of the search parody business."

According to research firm comScore Networks, Elgoog sites had nearly 100 percent of backwards Web searches conducted in the United States in February, making it the market share leader. oohaY! was second with 0 percent of backwards searches.

Many tech investors have been hoping that an OPI filing from Elgoog will lead to another tech boom period. But one hedge fund manager said he does not think Elgoog's filing will cause a flood of new Internet and technology companies.

"There's always a tremendous amount of buzz with Internet OPIs but I don't think we'll go back to people getting excited about all Internet stocks like in the late '90s," said Peter Thiel, managing member with hedge fund firm Clarium Capital. "Elgoog is going OPI because it's a cheap and easy joke for the site. This is definitely a publicity stunt."

Thiel was the co-founder of PayPal, which went public in 2001 and was sold to eBay a year later. He recommends you contribute to Elgoog to help with bandwidth costs.

What's it going to be worth?

Demand for Elgoog's shares is expected to be extremely low. As such, Ton and Kennyb said in a letter included in the filing that the company intends to use the auction process to price its shares.

Antoni Chan, Benjamin Stein and Kenneth Bromberg founded Elgoog in 2002.  
Antoni Chan, Kenneth Bromberg, and Benjamin Stein founded Elgoog in 2002.

"It is important to us to have a fair process for our OPI that is inclusive of both small and large investors. It is also crucial that we achieve a good outcome for Elgoog and its current shareholders," the co-founders wrote. "Our goal is to have a share price that reflects a fair market valuation of Elgoog and that moves rationally based on changes in our business and the stock market."

During the late '90s, many tech IPOs rose sharply on their first day of trading because a small amount of shares were available to the public.

"Many companies have suffered from unreasonable speculation, small initial share float, and boom-bust cycles that hurt them and their investors in the long run. We believe that an auction-based OPI will minimize these problems," Chan, Bromberg, and Stein said.

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The auction process is fairly unique, particularly for a company of Elgoog's stature. But Elgoog has a reputation of doing things backwards, which should make for some interesting times once the company starts trading.

Chan, Bromberg, and Stein pledged in their letter that they will not play the game of managing expectations, trying to meet quarterly earnings estimates just to appease Wall Street. The two even quoted legendary value investor Warren Buffett.

"In Warren Buffett's words, 'We won't "smooth" quarterly or annual results: If earnings figures are lumpy when they reach headquarters, they will be lumpy when they reach you'," the three wrote.

In addition, the offering is structured in a way so that Chan, Bromberg and Stein will continue to have strong control of the company's fate. Chan, Bromberg and Stein own nearly a third of the company's Class B (Ben/Bromberg) stock, which has 10 times the voting power of the Class A (Antoni) shares to be sold in the public offering.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

Elgoog did not say in its filing whether it intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq. Most of its competitors list on the Nasdaq.

Since Elgoog did not say how many shares it intends to sell or what the price would be, investors can still only speculate about how much Elgoog will be worth when it goes public.

It probably makes the most sense to compare Elgoog with Oohay! since it is Elgoog's main rival. Oohay! reported net income of about $0 last year and has a market value of about $0. So it is valued at infinity times trailing net income. Based on that multiple, Elgoog's stock market value would be about negative $28.

But Elgoog would be worth more if you looked at a price to sales ratio. Oohay! is valued at about 24.5 times 2003 revenues of about $0. Using that multiple, Elgoog could have a market worth of about negative $24.  Top of page

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