Sunday night, Kyle Chandler won an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in his role as coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights. Don't be fooled by the title; the show isn't about football. It's about community, and it's absolutely outstanding. If FNL were a stock, I'd own it.
And yet, since its inception, FNL has been underappreciated and misunderstood. In fact, wildly popular ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons had to take to his bully pulpit in 2007 to help save the show from cancellation.
What's this have to do with investing?
When you have a great product that doesn't seem to gain any traction with consumers, there's one target that's always in the crosshairs: management.
I won't get into the details of how NBC seriously mismanaged FNL; instead, I want to talk about another company with an outstanding product that management is absolutely wasting: Rosetta Stone (NYS: RST) .
Se habla Espanol?
One year ago, my wife and I decided to move to Costa Rica for six months. In order to prepare, we bought all five levels of Rosetta Stone's Latin American Spanish. I'm happy to say that after having used the product, and having seen others try a smorgasbord of other options to lesser success, we are fully convinced that the product -- and its immersion technique -- was well worth the money.
We aren't alone either; founding Fool David Gardner picked Rosetta Stone for his Stock Advisor service 19 months ago. Although Rosetta competes against CBS' (NYS: CBS) Pimsleur, Disney's (NYS: DIS) Publishing Worldwide, and McGraw Hill (NYS: MHP) , David saw Rosetta as a Coke with no viable Pepsi.
Things started crumbling when Rosetta lost two C-Level executives in the course of just two months in 2010, and things continued to get worse from there.
A major snafu by the company's marketing executives led to far fewer ads in late 2010 than years past. At the time, CEO Tom Adams said the marketing woes, not weak U.S. consumer demand, were the reason for slow sales.
But by March 2011, Adams was changing his tune, saying that Rosetta Stone wasn't for most U.S. consumers, who he termed language-learning dabblers.
Missed opportunities galore
As much as Adams' reversal irks me, it's the lack of forward thinking that has really gotten under my skin.
Consider: The company still has kiosks that sell the discs in airports and malls, instead of having transitioned to a subscription model where the software is cloud-based. Netflix wrote the blueprint for this years ago, but apparently there wasn't much creative thinking happening behind closed doors at Rosetta.
Also consider: The current price point is still very high (we paid $600 for all five levels). Even if done semi-regularly, it takes a long time to complete all five levels. A simple $30 per month subscription fee would lock in customers and probably bring in more revenue over time.
One more point to consider: The company's recent guidance for a loss in institutional revenue is completely unacceptable. As a former teacher, I can say with a degree of conviction that Rosetta is squandering an enormous opportunity in K-12 education.
We have a serious shortage of foreign language teachers in the U.S., and some schools are cutting their programs because they can't afford them. In most instances, a school's subscription to Rosetta costs far less than the salary and benefits of a teacher.
If education companies like Corinthian Colleges (NAS: COCO) can somehow find a way to turn a profit when it gets almost 90% of their money from the federal government, and almost 40% of its students default on their loans, there's absolutely no reason that Rosetta's products shouldn't be in many more American classrooms.
So why am I even holding?
Sometimes, even when your thesis turns out to be false, you still end up making money. I'm not saying that's guaranteed to be the case with Rosetta, but its growth in international sales, which are up 75% over the past 12 months, could end up being a huge boon for the company.
Right now, international consumers make up just over 20% of Rosetta's revenue. But that number will continue to grow as the company focuses on -- as Adams likes to say -- consumers for which learning a new language means bread, not cake.
Emerging markets represent a huge opportunity, and this is the one area where the company has not skipped a beat. As it makes up just about 2% of my portfolio now, I'm willing to hold to see how things turn out.
If after my article, you find yourself excited about Rosetta Stone, I encourage you to dig a little deeper into its international potential, which could be a gold mine. If, however, you find yourself wanting a few more ideas, I encourage you to check out The Motley Fool's latest special free report: "The Hottest IPO of 2011." Inside, you'll get details of a company that could produce returns similar to those you would have gotten if you invested in McDonald's circa 1971. The report is yours today, absolutely free!
At the time this article was published Fool contributor Brian Stoffel owns shares of Coca-Cola, Rosetta Stone, and Netflix. You can follow him on Twitter at @TMFStoffel. He can't wait to watch season four of Friday Night Lights. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola, Rosetta Stone, and PepsiCo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of McDonald's, PepsiCo, Rosetta Stone, Walt Disney, Netflix, and Coca-Cola, creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo, and buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy..
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