Jan. 27, 2012 at 1:40 PM ET
By msnbc.com staff and wire
Updated at 5:25 p.m. ET
Facebook is poised to file papers as early as next week for an initial public offering that could be one of the biggest in history, creating hundreds if not thousands of instant millionaires, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The highly anticipated IPO will value the world's largest social networking site at between $75 billion and $100 billion, the Journal reported on its website. So far the Journal appears to be alone with the report. Facebook declined to comment.
Founded in a Harvard dorm room in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and his friends, Facebook has grown into the world's biggest social network with over 800 million members. Facebook earned roughly $1.5 billion in operating profits on $3.8 billion in revenues last year, CNBC's Julia Boorstin reported, citing unidentified sources.
The impending IPO -- expected to raise $10 billion -- is a prized trophy for investment banks, setting up a fierce competition on Wall Street, particularly between Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, which are expected to be the two lead underwriters.
The IPO could come about three to four months after the filing, which likely would put it sometime in May. Facebook is under legal pressure to go public this year because of the so-called “500 shareholder rule,” which requires companies to disclose financial information by the end of the first quarter the year after the company tops 500 shareholders.
Information about Facebook's ownership structure and employee compensation packages is hard to come by, since the still-private company discloses very little. But that could all change next week if the company files documents required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to offer stock to the public.
It is clear that Facebook's earliest employees, who were given ownership stakes, and early venture capital investors -- such as Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel -- will see the biggest paydays.
The Journal reported that Accel could see a return of $9 billion on an initial investment of $12.7 million. Several other venture capital firms would see their stakes grow to over $1 billion in value. Thiel's current stake could not be determined.
Zuckerberg, 27, is estimated to own a little over a fifth of the company, according to "The Facebook Effect" author David Kirkpatrick, meaning he could be worth $20 billion. The latest Forbes 400 list estimated Zuckerberg was worth $17.5 billion, making him No. 14 on its list of richest Americans.
The wealth will trickle down to engineers, salespeople and other staffers who later joined the company, since most employees receive salary plus some kind of equity-based compensation, such as restricted stock units or stock options.
Facebook's headcount has swelled from 700 employees in late 2008 to more than 3,000 today. Given its generous use of equity-based compensation in past years, people familiar with Facebook say that even by conservative estimates there are likely to be well over 1,000 people who will become instant millionaires, at least on paper, when the company goes public.
"There will be thousands of millionaires," said a former in-house recruiter at Facebook, who did not want to be identified because of confidentiality agreements.
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Reuters contributed to this report.