Sharing Information and Ourselves: Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg
Because Mark Zuckerberg is barely in his mid-20s, his résumé is a bit thinner than others here. Well, except for his first job as founder and CEO of Facebook, perhaps the most explosively popular social-networking company ever and the most high-profile Web 2.0 start-up. Mr. Zuckerberg created Facebook in 2004, while still an undergraduate at Harvard University, where he studied computer science. He brought the company to Silicon Valley before he had a chance to graduate from college, but managed to get a $15 billion valuation for the company anyway.
Sheryl Sandberg was Facebook’s first high-profile hire, coming to the social-networking site from Google earlier this year. At Facebook, she manages a wide swath of the company’s business operations, including sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy, privacy and communications. Ms. Sandberg was vice president of global online sales and operations at Google, where she built and managed the online sales channels for advertising and publishing and operations for consumer products globally. She was also instrumental in launching Google’s philanthropic arm. Ms. Sandberg was previously chief of staff for the United States Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton. She was also a management consultant with McKinsey & Company and an economist with the World Bank. She holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and was also an undergraduate at Harvard.
- Zuckerberg and Sandberg take the stage bearing gifts. Sandberg notes that Barry Diller described Facebook as the Princess Phone, so they hand Kara one of the devices. Sandberg says she hopes the gift will convince Kara to stop writing about the company so much. Kara: I won’t ever stop until you’re either the biggest thing around, or you’re dead.
- Kara to Zuckerberg: Define Facebook. Facebook, he says, is about helping people to share information and share themselves. It’s also about providing people complete control over their information and privacy (whawhaWHA?). [For a bit of background on that statement , check out the following Digital Daily posts:]
- Who did you look to for inspiration, Kara asks, when you first started? (ConnectU.com? No such luck.) AOL, apparently.
- Kara asks what it was like to come to Silicon Valley and get the sort of attention Facebook was given so quickly. Zuckerberg says Facebook didn’t become a phenom as quickly as many think. Originally, he’d moved out to California just for the summer. And he wasn’t really thinking about starting a company. “At the end of that summer, a bunch of us ended up staying in California …” And the rest, presumably, is history.
- Kara: Were you lonely at Harvard? Did you like college? Zuckerberg says he did, adds that it was funny listening to Bill Gates’s reminiscences about Harvard yesterday evening. (Cut from the same cloth, apparently, Gates and Zuck). Zuckerberg says he skipped class quite a bit as well. He was too busy working on Facebook. As the final in a course that he’d skipped pretty much in its entirety approached, a very unprepared Zuckerberg created a study tool Web site and encouraged his classmates to contribute to it. They did and he passed the course.
- Kara asks Sandberg about her early career. She recalls realizing tech’s importance while working for Larry Summers in the U.S. Treasury Department. She subsequently moved out to California, met Larry Page and Sergey Brin and took a job at Google. She says she was drawn to Google because of its concern for the user.
- Kara turns back to Zuckerberg. Tell me why you want to be CEO of Facebook and why you’re the guy for the job. Zuckerberg recites some PR bullet points (Facebook is about helping people to share information and share themselves ….). Kara, attempting to force Zuckerberg to do just that, takes a different tack: What did the Beacon fiasco teach you about leadership? Zuckerberg says that Facebook learned that if you give people control over their information, they’re more willing to share it. He concedes that Beacon was a big mistake. Kara asks if Beacon really was a mistake conceptually. Its execution was obviously a disaster, she notes, but its concept was interesting. Zuckerberg says there were other issues with its UI. (Privacy protections too, if you ask me.)
- Turning to Sandberg, Kara asks why she left Google (GOOG) to take a job at Facebook. She recites another variation of the same bullet points Zuckerberg offered earlier. Facebook, we are to understand, is about helping people to share information and share themselves. (Huh. Appears that there may be some sort of Facebook hive-mind at work here.)
- Discussing the opening of the Facebook platform now … Zuckerberg says that he felt that building our development platform so that anyone could make the same applications we were making would drastically expand the platform. And it did. He notes that within four days of the platform’s launch, iLike had developed an application that had 1 million users. Left unspoken for the moment: Facebook is about helping people to share information and share themselves. But you know he’s thinking it …
- Noting the generally juvenile nature of Facebook apps, Kara wonders if such applications have to become useful at some point. Zuckerberg answers that utility and usefulness don’t have to be a huge application. There’s a trend toward smaller, useful applications that aren’t Microsoft Word, he says, but still address a need. (Yeah, like Hotties …)
- Sandberg notes the continued popularity of Superpoke. Says that whimsical applications have been the ones that have gained the most traction. Clearly a “Zombies” freak, this Sandberg.
- What about the monetization issue? What about advertising? (Yes, yes, Kara. But what about helping people to share information and themselves? Hmm?) Sandberg addresses the monetization issue by talking about demand fulfillment. She notes that Facebook has an extraordinary amount of information about its users (their “Hottie” valuations, perhaps?) and can work with advertisers to create real user engagement by addressing user demands. She describes a free-cone promotion Facebook held with Ben and Jerry’s that was so successful that it generated some 53 million page views on Ben and Jerry’s Web site and forced the company to give away 250,000 more cones than it had planned. Aha! Not only is Facebook about helping people to share information and themselves, it’s about sharing ice cream as well.
- Kara: What sort of company are you? Zuckerberg: We’re not a media company. We’re a technology company. Kara: OK, what’s a technology company, then? Zuckerberg replies that it’s a company that creates technology. (Tell me again why Facebook is reportedly worth $15 billion?)
- Sandberg also feels Facebook is a technology company. (Looks like we’re all in agreement here about technology companies and how they develop technology, as well as how Facebook is all about helping people to share information and share themselves. Moving on …)
- Kara: So are you interested in selling to Microsoft (MSFT)? If Ballmer approached you right now and offered you $15 billion, what would you say? Zuckerberg replies that selling the company to Microsoft doesn’t really advance the company’s mission. Unlike Facebook, Microsoft, apparently, is not all about helping people to share information and share themselves.
- What’s your view on the Microsoft-Yahoo situation in light of your own relationship with Microsoft? Kara asks. Sandberg says the partnership is working out. Kara pushes her a bit more. No luck. She follows up with a question about Google. Asks if relations between the two companies haven’t been a bit tense lately over all that Open Social business? Zuckerberg disagrees with that characterization and claims to have had dinner with Google founders Brin and Page recently. “They actually came over to my house,” says Zuckerberg (quite the Silicon Valley street cred moment we’re witnessing here). “Page got one of the two chairs and Schmidt wound up on the floor.” You cooked them dinner? asks Kara. Zuckerberg: “I don’t have the proper things in my house to make dinner.” Presumably, he does have the proper things to help people share information and themselves.
- Question from filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld, who says his daughter gives up all sorts of private information on Facebook. Doesn’t this portend a dreary future for our children that privacy is forfeited so easily? (What the hell’s wrong with you Barry? Don’t you know that Facebook is about helping people to share information and share themselves?) Zuckerberg says that there are privacy checks on the site and that teens and everyone else can take them to ensure their privacy.
- Another question: Tell us three applications that don’t yet exist that you’d like to see. Zuckerberg says he’d like to see applications based around sharing information about sports, politics and religion. (Aren’t there thousands of apps like this already?) “Religion,” says Zuckerberg, “that’s a big thing around the world.” Straight into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, that one.
- Question: What are developers doing with all the information they request when you download a third-party application? Sandberg fields this one. She says Facebook has strict policies about the use and transfer of that information, adds that users control how much of that information is disclosed. She also notes that most of these developers are invested enough in the platform that the threat of being kicked off it for the exploitation of user information is an effective deterrent. The community is very effective at policing itself. Facebook, she adds, is about helping people to share information and share themselves and protecting their privacy.
- Ed. note: For those of you just joining us, “Facebook is about helping people to share information and share themselves.”
- Another question: As Facebook users become more connected, how do they manage their connections? Kara points out that once you hit critical mass on the site, your profile page and newsfeed become unwieldy. Zuckerberg says the company is working on tools to address this issue.
- Question from Tim O’Reilly: Facebook’s model is built around categorization and lists. At what point does it need to build on search? And isn’t Facebook falling behind on that front? Zuckerberg says that seems to be a reasonable theory. As the site gets larger it needs to get better at filtering and searching its contents. After all, Facebook is about helping people to share information and share themselves, is it not?
A note about our coverage: This live blog is not an official transcript of the conversation that occurred onstage. Rather, it is a compilation of quotes, paraphrased statements and ad-lib observations expeditiously written and posted to the Web as quickly as we were able. It was not intended as a transcript and should not be interpreted as one.