Mike Isaac

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Back on the Global Stage, Mark Zuckerberg Keeps His Cool

The heat was on, but Mark Zuckerberg refused to sweat.

The 28-year-old took the stage at the TechCrunch: Disrupt technology conference, after nearly a year of radio silence from the CEO and company, a botched IPO, a plummeting share price and growing investor ire. All of the tech world and Wall Street wanted to know how Zuckerberg would explain the folly of the past year.

But this performance was unlike Zuckerberg’s most famous of public interviews on stage at our D: All Things Digital conference in 2010, when the lights and pressure caused the young CEO to sweat through his trademark hoodie. Tuesday’s house lights may have shone hot, but the CEO kept his cool.

Maintaining big smiles — and even a few moments of laughter — throughout the course of the 30-minute interview, Zuckerberg was collected yet wound up, spitting well-rehearsed answers to some tough questions.

He acknowledged the “painful” reality that has been the company’s share price since the IPO. “The performance of the stock has obviously been disappointing,” he said, admitting to what all of the Valley already knew. But Zuckerberg was quick to reassure: “We care about shareholders.”

Regarding the shift from mobile to desktop — an area which, due to weak monetization, many see as one of Facebook’s largest liabilities — Zuckerberg re-framed the way outsiders should see Facebook’s mobile issue.

“It’s easy for those out there to underestimate how fundamentally good mobile is for us,” he said, listing a litany of reasons why. More than half of Facebook’s 950 million users are active on mobile devices monthly, with mobile users spending more time on their phones than they are on desktops.

This, despite Facebook’s shoddy performance with its mobile applications of the past — including its iOS and Android apps, and the large bet it had placed on HTML5, the next-generation set of Web standards driving the Web toward the future. Refreshingly, Zuckerberg openly admitted how poor a job the company had done with regard to its mobile strategy of the past.

“The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native,” the founder said, a massive reversal on the company’s stance toward the platform in the past. “We burned two years, and it’s really painful.”

Here’s the thing: Zuckerberg isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know. We’re quite aware that HTML5 as a technology just isn’t where it needs to be for a company with Facebook’s massive scale. We know that Facebook’s battle in mobile is an uphill one. And we know that, despite whatever united front Zuckerberg and the company may put forward, the lagging share price has had a serious effect on its company morale.

The difference is, this is the first time we’re hearing it straight from the mouth of Mark Zuckerberg, the figurehead for one of the most-watched Internet companies of the past decade. Tacit acknowledgement wasn’t enough — we needed to hear it aloud.

Wall Street seems to like it, too. Shares of Facebook were trading up more than four percent after hours.

And that’s exactly how Zuckerberg framed the road forward. Yes, our company faltered. Yes, our early iOS and Android apps have sucked. But we’re taking all the right steps to remedy that. We bought Instagram, which just passed the 100 million registered user mark. We have upwards of 230 million monthly active gamers on the Facebook platform, waiting to be monetized.

Oh, and there’s that whole “search” thing that one of our biggest competitors, Google, is doing. That’s an area where Facebook is already “on the order of a billion queries a day and we’re basically not even trying,” Zuckerberg said, calling it a big opportunity for the company going forward.

Not everything was all wine and roses — Zuckerberg didn’t get into the nitty gritty specifics of how Facebook will treat important sources of revenue, especially advertising and e-commerce. He only hinted that the company is working on a number of mobile ad products suited well to the medium, though refused to go into them in any detail.

That’s old hat for Facebook, telling the world, “Hey, we got this!” while still seeming to search for its own well-tuned advertising strategy to rival the likes of Google’s. Those are specifics that investors want to know before pumping more cash into Facebook shares.

But at the very least, it was the first public act of admittance, leveling with the world that, yes, Facebook has stumbled. Hard. But not for good.

Speaking about his own efforts to write software, Zuckerberg himself put it aptly, in hacker terms: “Everything I do breaks. But we fix it quickly.”

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