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商业 - 科技

Twitter天价研发经费花到哪儿去了?

Stephen Gandel 2013年10月29日

数据显示,从2010年初计算,Twitter已在研发上投入了4.28亿美元。但这显然不是这家公司在研发上的全部开支。实际花的钱要更多。不过,这笔钱到底用来研发什么产品了?外界无从得知。

    创新乏力是Twitter长期以来所面临的一大难题。

    主题标签功能是用户提出的。TweetDeck是Twitter从别处收购的。现在又传闻Twitter正考虑关闭今年早些时候发布的音乐服务。登录Twitter.com,大家眼前所见和五年前大同小异。知名商业杂志《快速公司》(Fast Company)已将Twitter从今年的“最具创新力公司”榜单上除名。

    但就此得出Twitter不思进取显然有失偏颇。上周四,Twitter公布了IPO细节,预计每股发行价为17到20美元,由此计算,市值可达100亿美元。这家IPO新贵在研发上的投入可不含糊。根据IPO文件,今年第三季度,Twitter的研发开支高达9,000万美元,相当于公司同期营收的52%。这是Twitter公司最大的一块开销,是其市场营销开支的一倍以上。这个比例远高于绝大多数竞争对手。以Facebook为例,它在上市前一个季度的研发开支仅为营收的14%。当然,现在这个比例已经上升至26%。不过,Facebook和Twitter不同,它至少是盈利的。

    谷歌(Google)的研发开支是营收的15%。而且谷歌还在研发无人汽车、谷歌眼镜等高精尖产品,甚至还有太空电梯。

    眼下并没有迹象显示Twitter正在研发什么先锋产品。事实上,Twitter在IPO文件中对研发预算的细节几乎只字未提,只是用官方语言描述称,研发开支被用于“改进我们的产品与服务。”Twitter显然并未在建设高精尖实验室,也没有打造什么超级计算机。Twitter研发费用的大头实际上都与人力成本相关。上季度,它研发开支的相当一部分被用于支付公司股票期权。

    Twitter并未透露从事研发工作的员工数目。这家公司目前共有2,300名员工。假如都是研发人员的话,他们的年薪将高达104,000美元,但显然并非如此。

    从Twitter的收益表中可以看到,它过去一年在研发方面的总投入将近2.5亿美元。从2010年初计算,Twitter已在研发上投入了4.28亿美元。但这显然不是这家公司在研发上的全部开支。实际花的钱要更多。

    Twitter和其它科技公司一样,将一些软件和其它研发成本进行了货币化。换句话说,Twitter一开始就为这笔研发开支做了预算,但它不会马上显示在收益表中。Twitter会在接下来数年分批将这笔钱花掉。只要公司认为这笔钱能在未来几年带来收入增长,这样做报表也是规则允许的。所以,除了常规研发开支,Twitter从2011年初开始,在货币化软件和研发成本方面共计开支8,700万美元。

    一些看过Twitter公司IPO申请文件的分析师表示,这家公司的财务状况可能比账面上显示的更好。若扣除研发费用,Twitter是盈利的。不过,鉴于研发费用可能占Twitter人员开支的大头,这笔费用短期内不大可能下降,除非Twitter打算精简人员。事实上,Twitter在IPO申请文件中写道,“在可预见的未来”,研发开支金额预计将持续增长。

    券商Wedbush Securities公司跟踪社交媒体公司的分析师迈克尔•帕切特说:“我猜测Twitter的研发开支很多是用于使其网站实现无缝衔接、适用于移动设备,同时扩建视频流媒体服务器。扩建规模很大。我不知道Twitter正在怎样进行创新,但我认为现在就批评他们缺乏创意还为时过早。”

    或许Twitter是在超支方面独出心裁?(财富中文网)

    译者:项航 

    One of the long-time knocks on Twitter is that it doesn't do a very good job of innovating.

    Users came up with hashtags. TweetDeck was created by another company that Twitter had to buy. Twitter is reportedly considering shutting down a music site that it launched earlier this year. Go to Twitter.com and you will basically see the same thing you did five years ago. FastCompany booted Twitter from its list of most innovative companies this year.

    This is apparently not for lack of trying. Twitter, which priced its IPO Thursday at $17-$20 per share, giving it a valuation of $10 billion, spends a lot on research and development. According to its IPO document, in the third quarter of the year, Twitter shelled out nearly $90 million on R&D. That was equal to more than half, 52%, of the company's revenue in the same period. It is Twitter's largest cost, nearly 50% more than it spent on marketing. And it's far more than most of its rivals spend. Facebook, for instance, spent just 14% of its revenue on R&D in the quarter right before it went public. It has since ramped up that spending to 26%. But Facebook (FB) makes money, unlike Twitter.

    Google (GOOG) spends just 15% of revenue on R&D. And Google is working on a self-driving car, high-tech glasses and, maybe, space elevators.

    There is no sign that Twitter is working on anything that cool. Twitter actually gives very little detail about what it spends its R&D budget on in the offering documents for its IPO. It says that R&D expenses are to "improve our products and services." And it doesn't appear that Twitter is building some kind of high-tech lab or supercomputer. In fact, the bulk of Twitter's R&D expenses go toward personnel-related expenses. And a good portion of that expense, about a quarter, was the cost of handing out stock options.

    Twitter doesn't say how many employees work in its R&D groups. The company has a total of 2,300 employees. That would be $104,000 per employee if all of its employees were in R&D, which they are not.

    In all, Twitter says on its income statement it has spent close to a quarter of a billion dollars on R&D in the past year. Since the beginning of 2010, Twitter has logged a $428 million expense for R&D. But that isn't actually all the money the company has spent on R&D. In reality, it has spent more than that.

    Twitter, like other technology companies, capitalizes some of its software and other development costs. That means that while Twitter pays for those R&D expenses upfront, that cost doesn't actually show up on its income statement. Instead, Twitter expenses the cost in chunks over the next few years. The rules allow that as long as you think the R&D expense will add to your sales over the next few years. In addition to its regular R&D expenses, Twitter spent another $87 million on capitalized software and other development costs since the beginning of 2011.

    Some analysts who have looked at Twitter's IPO filing have said its finances may be better than they appear. Take away the R&D expense and Twitter would be profitable. But considering the R&D expense likely makes up such a large part of what the company spends on employees, it's unlikely to go away any time soon, unless Twitter expects to start downsizing. In fact, in the IPO documents, Twitter says that it expects R&D expenses "will increase in dollar amounts for the foreseeable future."

    "I can only assume a lot of it is on making the site seamless, delivering to mobile, and building out servers that can accommodate video. That's a lot of buildout," says Michael Pachter, an analyst who follows social media companies at brokerage firm Wedbush Securities. "I don't know what they're doing to innovate, but I think it is early to criticize them for lack of creativity."

    Overspending, perhaps?

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