Business network LinkedIn says in no rush for IPO

FRANKFURT Wed Jan 23, 2008 7:26pm EST

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Online business network LinkedIn has opened its first office outside the United States, in London, and the new head of its European operations told Reuters the company was in no rush to float on the stock market.

"It's not on our roadmap. It's not on our radar -- 2009, 2010, it's somewhere on the horizon out in that time," Kevin Eyres said in a telephone interview.

Eyres said LinkedIn was very happy with its current backers, who include Sequoia Capital -- an early investor in Apple, Google and Oracle -- and Greylock.

"It's about momentum and growth. That's what we're focused on right now. A capital event like an IPO would just get in the way," he said.

The fast-growing phenomenon of social networks is attracting intense interest from investors. Teen network MySpace, which now has about 110 million members, was bought by News Corp. in 2005 for $580 million.

Last October, Microsoft bought a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook that valued the platform -- which has half as many users as MySpace -- at $15 billion.

Eyres said Silicon Valley-based LinkedIn expected to double its number of members, currently 18 million, this year, and should grow faster in Europe, where it has more than five million members, mostly in Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands.

"PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING"

LinkedIn seeks to distance itself from the likes of Facebook with a more sober, professional approach and by giving members a high degree of control over their profiles.

"We don't want to have pictures of you drunk on your holidays. We're not into photo-sharing. You can put one picture of yourself up there, that's it. It's really about managing your own personal brand in a professional way on the Web," he said.

"I think in 2008 people will start to see the difference between social networking and professional networking."

The company announced the opening of its London office on Thursday.

"LinkedIn has seen outstanding growth in Europe in the past year, and by opening an office in London we expect to accelerate our momentum and better serve our users in the European market," Chief Executive Dan Nye said in a statement.

Eyres, who previously ran the international operations of Internet search company Alta Vista and began his career at computer maker Compaq, said LinkedIn would adopt a more aggressive and direct approach to marketing in Europe.

He said he had a "healthy" budget for marketing, without elaborating. Until now, LinkedIn has grown purely virally through word of mouth and invitations from within the network.

"We're going to see more engagement with the users," Eyres said, adding that members would be invited to participate in events both on- and offline.

"In the U.S., people do business over the phone, through email. It's perfectly normal never to meet someone you've done business with. In Europe, that's really unusual. It's much more of a personal interaction that people want to have."

Eyres, who has lived in London for eight years, said he was initially looking to hire six staff in marketing, public relations, business development and sales.

The company as a whole, which now employs about 220 people, would likely hire another 150 or more this year, he said.

Eyres said LinkedIn was working on offering its services in languages other than English some time this year, and would more likely do this alone or with partners than through acquisitions.

"No specific dates but that's well underway," he said. "Our primary focus right now is to take our product and localize it. We'll use partners. We're not ruling out any acquisitions but that's not our primary path."

LinkedIn's main European competitor in online professional networking, Xing, offers services in 16 languages to its more than 4 million members.

Eyres dismissed the idea that the two could merge. "I would say it's highly unlikely. It's definitely nothing that's on the radar," he said.

Eyres added that LinkedIn planned to offer additional services that would strengthen its core business since opening up its network to outside software developers.

An early such deal with BusinessWeek magazine last month enables users to hover over a company name in an article with their mouse and track down people connected with the company who are LinkedIn members.

"We see this as a great service that you could roll out all over the place," Eyres said.

(Editing by Quentin Bryar)

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