Column: How CEOs of Public Companies Should Think About Their Stock Price

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Column: How CEOs of Public Companies Should Think About Their Stock Price

Congratulations! You've gone public, something to which many founders aspire but few achieve. In addition to the extra wind in your sails from the capital markets and the quarterly scrutiny of your performance (both huge factors to adjust to), you have a third concern: the stock price.

The stock price is a brand new unknown for founders of newly public companies, and (like everything else) no one really gives you a guide on how to do it well. For instance, how do you handle the balance between retaining the stock you own personally to show confidence in the company with your prudent desire to sell some stock and diversify? How do you keep in check your own PR, which can distort your perspective? And perhaps the most important to the health of your company, how do you mitigate the stock price's effects on your company's culture and prevent it from becoming a daily distraction which can impact employee morale and motivation? These are all questions I grappled with in my journey leading Zillow as a public company, and they are questions I receive periodically from CEOs of newly public companies.

1. Preset a Plan To Protect Yourself.

The roles of founder and personal shareholder will inevitably lock horns from time to time, and you need to protect both. My advice is to pre-set a plan for selling stock and creating liquidity for yourself, because every sale you make as CEO will be subject to scrutiny. A programmatic 10b5-1 plan helps you do this, as it allows you to sell a predetermined number of shares at a predetermined time. You don't have to pick and choose a date or price, and you don't have to explain to anyone -- shareholders, hedge fund managers, employees -- why you sold because it's all programmatic.

With a predetermined plan, you still need to decide frequency and quantity. It's nearly impossible to give blanket advice here, because everyone's situations are different. I've always opted to sell small amounts of stock along the way, and even though I've sold plenty of stock at lower prices than today's, I've never regretted a single sale. With a distributed approach, you can't really "mis-sell" at the "wrong" price.

In terms of how much to sell, if you haven't taken much liquidity to date, think in terms of what percentage of your holdings you'd want to sell in a given period of time. For example, a starting point could be aiming to sell 10% of your holdings each year for the first five years post-IPO, then reassessing this approach two or three years in. Taking more liquidity early on puts a premium on building your nest egg, enabling you to let plenty of stock ride in the long term but still putting away potentially life-changing money in the short term.

2. Invest in Objectivity To Keep It Real.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of an outside advisor to help with personal money management and investment strategy. As a founder, you are the number one believer in your company because you brought it into existence. Of course it can be worth $100 billion someday. Why would you ever sell a single share of such a promising venture?

An outside advisor provides the more conservative end of that spectrum, tempering your unshakable conviction in the reality that most companies don't reach that stratosphere. Neither one of you is absolutely right, but representing both perspectives will land you somewhere in the middle where you're committed enough to the cause but diversified enough to protect yourself.

Please don't think you're immune from this blind spot; even the most cynical and risk-averse founder will believe their own PR and fall victim to it in the absence of objectivity.

3. Don't Let Stock Seep into Your Culture.

For newly public companies, stock is a valuable lever for attracting top talent. But once that talent is in the door, they shouldn't hear about stock anymore, outside compensation statements. Owning and selling stock is their business because they've earned it, just like they've earned their salary. Never give your people, including executives, a hard time for selling stock. Sometimes I hear stories about CEOs berating employees for selling shares, and I think it's one of the most ridiculous and damaging things you can do as a leader. As with everything in your culture, you set the tone for this at the top.

At Zillow, it was taboo (intentionally) to even talk about the stock price; we discouraged focus on the stock among our leadership and employees because it's terribly short-term, and companies that last focus on the long-term. There was, however, a time when I broke my own rule: The year we launched Zillow Offers, a game-changing evolution that expanded Zillow's business from media into hard assets, our stock price plummeted and many newer employees were completely underwater. There was anxiety afoot, and we needed to address it.

At our annual meeting, I showed charts of Amazon's stock price when it launched major innovations like third-party marketplace, Amazon Prime and AWS. In each of these instances, the stock took significant dives: -94%, -56% and -60%, respectively. I then showed Amazon's ascent to current day to make a point we'd made all along: Stocks go up, and stocks go down. Take care of our customers and focus on the long term, and the stock price will take care of itself.

My team and I debated the decision to break precedent and discuss the stock price internally because on the surface talking (at length!) about the stock price went against what we'd ingrained in our culture. But a couple days after our meeting, an employee emailed me with a heartfelt thank you for doing so. He appreciated the message to focus on the long term while recognizing the short-term realities of the stock fluctuation for employees -- in his example, money he and his wife were counting on to pay off student loans. Stock can be life-changing for many of your employees (not just you), and sometimes you need to talk about it.

The final point to this story, and to all of this advice, is that stock is personal. Sometimes you need to change the plan. Sometimes you have to break your own rules. Be strategic, not dogmatic, and you'll find the best path for you and your company as a public founder.

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Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable
Evan Xie

The original dream of streaming was all of the content you love, easily accessible on your TV or computer at any time, at a reasonable price. Sadly, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come together over the last decade or so to recognize that this isn’t really economically viable. Instead, the streaming marketplace is slowly transforming into something approximating Cable Television But Online.

It’s very expensive to make the kinds of shows that generate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement from global audiences that drives the growth of streaming platforms. For every international hit like “Squid Game” or “Money Heist,” Netflix produced dozens of other shows whose titles you have definitely forgotten about.

The marketplace for new TV has become so massively competitive, and the streaming landscape so oversaturated, even relatively popular shows with passionate fanbases that generate real enthusiasm and acclaim from critics often struggle to survive. Disney+ canceled Luscasfilm’s “Willow” after just one season this week, despite being based on a hit Ron Howard film and receiving an 83% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon dropped the mystery drama “Three Pines” after one season as well this week, which starred Alfred Molina, also received positive reviews, and is based on a popular series of detective novels.

Even the new season of “The Mandalorian” is off to a sluggish start compared to its previous two Disney+ seasons, and Pedro Pascal is basically the most popular person in America right now.

Now that major players like Netflix, Disney+, and WB Discovery’s HBO Max have entered most of the big international markets, and bombarded consumers there with marketing and promotional efforts, onboarding of new subscribers inevitably has slowed. Combine that with inflation and other economic concerns, and you have a recipe for austerity and belt-tightening among the big streamers that’s virtually guaranteed to turn the smorgasbord of Peak TV into a more conservative a la carte offering. Lots of stuff you like, sure, but in smaller portions.

While Netflix once made its famed billion-dollar mega-deals with top-name creators, now it balks when writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday”) asks for $150 million to pay her cast of A-list actors. Her latest romantic comedy will likely move over to Warner Bros., which can open the film in theaters and hopefully recoup Scarlett Johansson and Michael Fassbender’s salaries rather than just spending the money and hoping it lingers longer in the public consciousness than “The Gray Man.”

CNET did the math last month and determined that it’s still cheaper to choose a few subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over a conventional cable TV package by an average of about $30 per month (provided you don’t include the cost of internet service itself). But that means picking and choosing your favorite platforms, as once you start adding all the major offerings out there, the prices add up quickly. (And those are just the biggest services from major Hollywood studios and media companies, let alone smaller, more specialized offerings.) Any kind of cable replacement or live TV streaming platform makes the cost essentially comparable to an old-school cable TV package, around $100 a month or more.

So called FAST, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV services, have become a popular alternative to paid streaming platforms, with Fox’s Tubi making its first-ever appearance on Nielsen’s monthly platform rankings just last month. (It’s now more popular than the first FAST service to appear on the chart, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV.) According to Nielsen, Tubi now accounts for around 1% of all TV viewing in the US, and its model of 24/7 themed channels supported by semi-frequent ad breaks couldn’t resemble cable television anymore if it tried.

Services like Tubi and Pluto stand to benefit significantly from the new streaming paradigm, and not just from fatigued consumers tired of paying for more content. Cast-off shows and films from bigger streamers like HBO Max often find their way to ad-supported platforms, where they can start bringing in revenue for their original studios and producers. The infamous HBO Max shows like “The Nevers” and “Westworld” that WBD controversially pulled from the HBO Max service can now be found on Tubi or The Roku Channel.

HBO Max’s recently-canceled reality dating series “FBoy Island” has also found a new home, but it’s not on any streaming platform. Season 3 will air on TV’s The CW, along with a new spinoff series called (wait for it) “FGirl Island.” So in at least some ways, “30 Rock” was right: technology really IS cyclical.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

Another day, another update in the unending saga that is the potential TikTok ban.

The latest: separate from the various bills proposing a ban, the Biden administration has been in talks with TikTok since September to try and find a solution. Now, having thrown its support behind Senator MarkWarner’s bill, the White House is demanding TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sell its stakes in the company to avoid a ban. This would be a major blow to the business, as TikTok alone is worth between $40 billion and $50 billion—a significant portion of ByteDance’s $220 billion value.

Clearly, TikTok faces an uphill battle as its CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. But other social media companies are likely looking forward to seeing their primary competitor go—and are positioning themselves as the best replacement for migrating users.


Last year, The Washington Post reported that Meta paid a consulting firm to plant negative stories about TikTok. Now, Meta is reaping the benefits of TikTok’s downfall, with its shares rising 3% after the White House told TikTok to leave ByteDance. But this initial boost means nothing if the company can’t entice creators and viewers to Instagram and Facebook. And it doesn’t look promising in that regard.

Having waffled between pushing its short-form videos, called Reels, and de-prioritizing them in the algorithm, Instagram announced last week that it would no longer offer monetary bonuses to creators making Reels. This might be because of TikTok’s imminent ban. After all, the program was initially meant to convince TikTok creators to use Instagram—an issue that won’t be as pressing if TikTok users have no choice but to find another platform.


Alternatively, Snap is doing the opposite and luring creators with an ad revenue-sharing program. First launched in 2022, creators are now actively boasting about big earnings from the program, which provides 50% of ad revenue from videos. Snapchat is clearly still trying to win over users with new tech like its OpenAI chatbot, which it launched last month. But it's best bet to woo the TikTok crowd is through its new Sounds features, which suggest audio for different lenses and will match montage videos to a song’s rhythm. Audio clips are crucial to TikTok’s platform, so focusing on integrating songs into content will likely appeal to users looking to recreate that experience.


With its short-form ad revenue-sharing program, YouTube Shorts has already lured over TikTok creators. It's even gotten major stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift to promote music on Shorts. This is likely where YouTube has the best bet of taking TikTok’s audience. Since TikTok has become deeply intertwined with the music industry, Shorts might be primed to take its spot. And with its new feature that creates compiles all the videos using a specific song, Shorts is likely hoping to capture musicians looking to promote their work.


The most blatant attempt at seducing TikTok users, however, comes from Triller, which launched a portal for people to move their videos from TikTok to its platform. It’s simple, but likely the most effective tactic—and one that other short-form video platforms should try to replicate. With TikTok users worried about losing their backlog of content, this not only lets users archive but also bolsters Triller’s content offerings. The problem, of course, is that Triller isn’t nearly as well known as the other platforms also trying to capture TikTok users. Still, those who are in the know will likely find this option easier than manually re-uploading content to other sites.

It's likely that many of these platforms will see a momentary boost if the TikTok ban goes through. But all of these companies need to ensure that users coming from TikTok actually stay on their platforms. Considering that they have already been upended by one newcomer when TikTok took over, there’s good reason to believe that a new app could come in and swoop up TikTok’s user base. As of right now, it's unclear who will come out on top. But the true loser is the user who has to adhere to the everyday whims of each of these platforms.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said
Evan Xie

According to Pew Research data, 27% of Americans interact with AI on a daily basis. With the launch of Open AI’s latest language model GPT-4, we asked our readers how they use AI in a professional capacity. Here’s what they told us:

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