Here’s my takeaway from TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference this week: Mark Zuckerberg needs to get out more.
If you haven’t watched the Facebook founder’s half-hour sitdown the other day with Michael Arrington, the
TechCrunch swami, then you should. What you’ll also see is a company, and a CEO, pressing on in some promising ways, and making the case for why Facebook is, as they say, is a very serious
play-ah, despite everything you’ve read over the last few months.
But, of course, as Zuckerberg has been relatively silent since May -- with the exception of the usual stilted
performance on the earnings call -- this fact has been obscured. The haters have been doing the talking. Here, then, five reasons why Mark Zuckerberg needs to get out more:
it’s good for the stock. In wake of the TechCrunch appearance, Facebook’s stock went up 8%, its biggest leap within a day since it went public. (Or maybe, come to think of it, ever.)
Despite the typical investor focus on the short term, Zuckerberg’s focus on the big picture somehow pleased them.
- Because he can explain the Facebook mindset. You know
you’ve pictured the following: that ever since the IPO, Facebook employees have become slavishly devoted to checking the stock price, growing more depressed with each “refresh” and
less intrigued with working there. Zuckerberg put the current controversies swirling around Facebook in context, reminding the audience: “Facebook has never been an uncontroversial company in
the past.” Anyone remember a privacy firestorm or two? Or those lawsuits? Or that little movie? In other words, if you work at Facebook, you’re pretty used to slings and arrows. The only
distinction may be the direction they are coming from.
- Because his enthusiasm for mobile is obvious. Mobile, the potential Achilles’ Heel of Facebook, may still end up being
that, but Zuckerberg’s -- and Facebook’s -- relentless focus on it came across as absolutely genuine, and not something spurred by investor pressure. Zuckerberg even admitted he was so
focused on his phone that he actually wrote the founder’s letter in the Facebook S1 on it. What that core enthusiasm has to do with building a mobile company is hard to say, but it appears
to be happening. During the interview, Zuck went into some detail on how the company has embraced mobile in such a way that the actual “mobile” unit within Facebook is only writing 10% of
the mobile code, while 90% comes from elsewhere in the company. Not so long ago, Zuckerberg said, it was the reverse.
- Because he can put the company’s missteps into context.
If anything came into context during Zuckerberg’s interview, it was that Facebook is at least as hard on itself as the outside world is. Yes, Zuckerberg did say so, in precisely so many
words, but this was better illustrated by example, in his comments about what he now says was the company’s wrong-headed decision to put all its eggs in the html5 basket two ago. (Mixed metaphor
watch?). Of that he said: “We burnt two years, it’s really painful. I think probably we will look back on [it] saying that was the one of the biggest mistakes, if not the biggest strategic
mistake, that we made. But we’re coming out of that now.” Oh, so that’s why the company’s mobile strategy wasn’t quite formed when it went public.
talking candidly about Facebook helps coax the investment community to long-term thinking. No, the investment community can’t rely entirely on promises, but here’s an intriguing
thing: Zuckerberg makes it very clear that the company is not going to release products that aren’t ready for prime time. That’s a long-term way of thinking, not a short-term one. Facebook
scrapped FaceWeb -- its huge html5 initiative -- because, “We just never were able to get the quality that we wanted,” he said. This, despite the face that more users still access Facebook
via mobile Web than through any other way. While Facebook’s integration with Apple’s iOS is well along, Android will take longer. Asked when the Android integration might be done,
Zuckerberg said: “It’ll be ready when it’s ready.”
Perhaps the best sign that Zuckerberg should get out more --OK, this is number six -- is that
Zuckerberg is incredibly convincing. And there’s no better example of that, than, well, Zynga, which saw its stock rise by 2.5% after Zuckerberg’s interview. But there’s a punchline:
even though he described Zynga as “basically a strong company,” he
also said that its share on Facebook is declining, and Zynga shares still went up. Go figure.