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On April 6, Bill Simpson wrote an analysis of Rosetta Stone (RST). In their market debut Thursday, April 16, shares finished their first day of trading up nearly 40 percent. The company opened trading at $25, on the morning after it priced its IPO at $18, exceeding the estimate range, and it sold 6.25 million shares, netting proceeds of $112.5 million.

The text of Mr. Simpson's original writeup follows:

• • •

Rosetta Stone plans on offering 7.25 million shares (assuming overallotments exercised) at a range of $15-$17. Insiders will be selling 4.125 million shares in the deal. Morgan Stanley and William Blair are leading the deal; Jefferies, Robert Baird, and Piper Jaffray co-managing. Post-ipo RST will have 20.3 million shares outstanding for a market cap of $325 million on a pricing of $16. The bulk of ipo proceeds will be used for general corporate purposes.

ABS Capital will own 25% post-ipo. ABS Capital is also the majority shareholder of 2007 ipo American Public Education (APEI).

From the prospectus:

'We are a leading provider of technology-based language learning solutions. We develop, market and sell language learning solutions consisting of software, online services and audio practice tools primarily under our Rosetta Stone brand.'

RST's language learning approach does not utilize the traditional second language approach of translation or grammar explanation. Instead, RST utilizes audio & video to replicate the natural language learning ability that children use to learn their native language. RST calls their proprietary language learning approach 'Dynamic Inversion'. RST currently offers their self-study language learning programs in 31 languages.

Language Learning - Children learn their native language without using rote memorization or adult analytical abilities for grammatical understanding. They learn at their own pace through their immersion in the language spoken around them and using trial and error. They do not rely on translation. Traditionally the majority of second language learning programs in/out of the classroom have focused instead on translation, grammar and rote memorization. The majority of alternative second language courses have focused on in-country immersion and private study, both expensive alternatives to the traditional memorization approach. RST's solution brings the immersion approach to one's computer.

Rosetta Stone solution - As noted above, RST aims to replicate the process in which children learn their native language. The student learns at their own pace. The RST content library consists of more than 25,000 individual photographic images and more than 400,000 recorded sound files. Each language has 1-3 proficiency levels which can be purchased individually or bundled. Individual proficiencies (such as Spanish I) retail for approximately $250 while the complete language bundle (Spanish I, Spanish II, & Spanish III) retails for approximately $550. Each proficiency level offers approximately 40 hours of instruction. In addition, RST offers an online peer-to-peer practice environment called SharedTalk, at www.sharedtalk.com, where registered language learners meet for language exchange to practice their foreign language skills. During 2008, RST had more than 100,000 active SharedTalk users.

Effectiveness - According to a self-commissioned study, after 55 hours of Spanish study using Rosetta Stone, the learning was sufficient to fulfill the requirements for one semester of university study.

Sector - RST generates 95% of revenues in the US. The US language learning industry generated $5 billion in revenues in 2007, of which $2 billion was for self-study. Assuming these numbers are correct, RST has approximately a 10% share of the self-study revenues in the US and is the far and away leader in their niche.

Customers:

Consumer sales accounted for approximately 80% of 2008 revenues. Direct-to-consumer channel sales accounted for 58% of consumer sales. These are sales made via RST's website or call centers. RST's 145 retail kiosks (located in airports and malls) accounted for 22% of consumer revenues and sales to retailers accounted for 21% of consumer revenues. The bulk of retailer sales were to Apple (AAPL), Barnes & Noble (BKS), and Borders (BGP).

Institutional sales accounted for 20% of 2008 revenues. Primary/secondary schools represented 44% on institutional sales, government & armed forces 19%, homes schools 20% and businesses 10% and non-profits 5%.

60% of RST customers earn more than $75,000 annually with 44% earnings more than $100,000. In a self-commissioned study, 92% of respondents expressed satisfaction with RST products and 76% have recommended Rosetta Stone to others.

Growth potential - RST feels their growth prospects going forward lie in the international markets. In 2008, just 5% of RST's revenues were derived outside the US.

Risk - 80% of RST's revenues are derived from US consumers. The big risk here would be a recession negatively impacting consumer discretionary spending coupled with a slowdown in international travel. We've certainly seen the first with consumer discretionary spending falling off a cliff in mid-September 2008. As RST is the first consumer discretionary ipo in quite awhile, this is a definite concern.

Lets look at RST's 4th quarter of 2008 and see if revenues were impacted. In the 4th quarter of 2008, RST booked their best quarter in operating history in terms of revenues while maintaining gross margins and dropping sales and marketing expense in terms of percentage of revenues (a positive). Now seasonality plays a factor here, as the 4th quarter annually has been RST's strongest due to holiday spending. RST, however, booked very solid revenue growth in the 4th quarter of 2008, much as they did a year prior in the 4th quarter of 2007. Quarter to quarter revenue growth in the 4th quarter of 2008 was a strong 11%, compared to 4th quarter of 2007 quarter to quarter revenue growth of 24%. Factoring in a near doubling of the revenue base in 2008 coupled with the difficult consumer spending environment in late 2008, the 4th quarter of 2008 for RST looks strong to me.

Returns - RST offers a 6 months 'no questions asked' money back guarantee on their products. In 2008 approximately 6% of all revenues were returned.

Competition - Berlitz International, Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Pimsleur), Random House (Living Language), Disney (DIS) Publishing Worldwide and McGraw-Hill (MHP) Education. There is no pure public comparable to RST.

Risk – As mentioned, 80% of customer base in 2008 were individuals. As a result, RST revenues could be affected by any trend changes in discretionary consumer spending and retail shopping patterns. Slowdown in international travel too carries a risk due to sales from airport kiosks forming almost a fifth of consumer driven revenues.

Financials

$2.67 in cash per share post-ipo, no debt.

Growth has been very strong in the past two years. As is often the case with software related ipos, gross margins are also impressive. Revenue growth was 50% in 2007 and actually increased in 2008 by 52% more. Rarely do you see a company deriving significant revenues and accelerating revenue growth year to year. That RST did so in a tough consumer 2008 environment is very impressive. The revenue growth here the past two years with back to back 50%+ growth is easily reason enough to recommend this ipo.

Seasonality - RST's best quarter tends to be the 4th quarter annually as they derive holiday related revenues.

RST's first profitable year was 2007.

2008 - Revenues were $209.3 million, a 52% increase over 2008. Gross margins were fat at 86%. As one would expect, sales and marketing expenses make up the bulk of RST's operating expenses. While in 2008 sales & marketing expense ratio was 45%, it did mark a decrease from 2007's 48% and 2006's 50%. Good sign, all things being equal, you want to see sales and marketing expenses growing slower than actual revenues, allowing a company to filter more of those revenues to the bottom line. Operating expense ratio is also decreasing annually, exactly what one wants to see. Fast growing revenues and declining operating expense ratios are the ingredients of a top notch ipo. Operating expense ratio in 2008 was 72%, compared to 79% in 2007 and 80% in 2006. This number is still quite high in 2008, however the trends are improving and if RST can continue at this pace over the next 2-3 years, they will become a very profitable operation.

2008 operating margins were 14%. Plugging in anticipated post-ipo tax rate of 37%, net margins were 9%. Earnings per share were $0.91. On a pricing of $16, RST would trade at 17-18 X's trailing earnings with a 50% trailing revenue growth.

2009 - I just do not feel comfortable forecasting another 50%+ jump in annual revenue for 2009. Having written that, RST is poised to have a very strong 2009. In what was a difficult environment in 2008 with consumer discretionary spending falling precipitously overall, RST shined. Looking at quarter to quarter revenue growth at the end of 2008 and factoring in seasonality with a much slow first half of the year for RST historically....I would project very conservatively that RST can grow revenues 20% in 2009 to approximately $250 million. Gross margins should remain strong and I would project operating expense ratios to continue to decline, increasing operating and net margins. On a $250 million run rate, with 86% gross margins, 16% operating margins and 10% net margins, RST would earn $1.23 in 2009. On a pricing of $16, RST would trade 13 X's 2009 earnings.

Conclusion

How has RST thus far managed to sidestep a massive consumer spending slowdown? 22% of RST buyers responded in a survey they did so based on the personal recommendation of another. That is pretty powerful word of mouth marketing when annual revenue tops $200 million. Digging into this ipo, the one constant appears to be customer satisfaction driving growth. You really could not ask for much more with a consumer based ipo. RST looks poised to grow strongly in 2009 and is trending well in every facet of their business. If RST is able to build on their United States success globally over the next few years, this could be a huge long term winner coming public at just a $325 million market cap (based on a $16 pricing).

RST is a unique, and difficult to value, sector leader with fast growing revenues, strong gross margins and improving operating expense ratios. All this equals a top-notch ipo. If RST can continue current trends for even another 2-3 quarters, the range of $15-$17 here is far too low. This is a strong recommend in range and one to pay up for if need be. The CEO describes his company as a 'disruptive value proposition' in language learning. I agree.

Source: Customer Satisfaction Drives Rosetta Stone's Strong Growth