Inside the mind of the man with about 500 million friends, Mark Zuckerberg talks why he only hires people he’d actually work for, why the ah-ha moment is a myth and why he’s always in the same old shirt.
Do you have a guiding principle for bringing on board new employees you’ll have direct contact with?
I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person. Business owners should resist the urge to settle for lesser candidates in the name of manpower. Over the long-term, you’re only going to be better if you get someone really good.
Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is the perfect example of someone I’d be happy to serve. Rather than mentors outside of the company, the most influential figures in my life are the colleagues I see on a day-to-day basis. Sheryl would be top of that list because she’s largely responsible for the fact that two million businesses advertise on Facebook today.
How do you attract that calibre of person?
The key to wooing top talent is just being upfront about what you stand for. Facebook, for instance, is bullish on its mission to connect the world – which isn’t a value or priority shared by everyone.
How would you describe your management style?
I’d say it’s fairly flexible. Employees need the ability to fully exercise all their creativity and all their capacity, or else they’re not going to be having the biggest impact that they can have on the world, and they’re going to want to go and do something else.
And while delegation is important, I strive to do as much work as possible myself. Facebook serves over a billion people, but counts a team of fewer than 10 000.
My first move when I was building Facebook wasn’t to hire a team of engineers to build a product. Each step along the way I generally have tried to do as much as I can myself.
Why are you always in the same clothes?
I find fashion silly and frivolous. Though people see me in the same hoodie and grey T-shirt (I have a bunch of the same shirts by the way), I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.
Research has shown that even the smallest decisions can be deeply depleting, and so like Steve Jobs and President Obama, I’ve streamlined my wardrobe into a kind of uniform.
How has your strategy for reach changed since inception and what does it mean for the company?
We had huge organic reach initially, but as Facebook has grown, content posted to the site has exploded. So much so that of the 1 500 stories that could theoretically appear on the average Facebook feed every day, most people only have time to consume roughly 100 posts.
What this has meant for us is that we have to ask ourselves ‘Are we trying to optimise newsfeeds to give each person the best experience when they’re reading, or are we trying to help businesses reach as many people as possible?’ In every decision that we make, we optimise for the first.
Smartphone users are bombarded with app installations. Why did you ‘force’ users to install Facebook Messenger?
The separate messaging app was a big ask of our consumers but we felt strongly that the decision would ultimately result in a better user experience.
Messaging is one of the few things people do more than social networking, and it therefore warranted a separate platform. We’re creating a fleet of apps in the coming years as on mobile, each app can really focus on doing one thing well.
Mandating rather than an opt-in feature illustrates that Facebook builds for a collective community in order to avoid a fragmented user experience.
Has Facebook lost its ‘cool’ factor? And what’s with all the photos?
My goal was never really to make Facebook cool. I am not a cool person. And I’ve never really tried to be cool. On the other hand, I’ve striven to create something that is more useful than it is exciting. Kind of like electricity, for instance.
As for all the photos, it’s indicative of the ways in which people prefer to communicate today. Five years ago, the majority of Facebook content was text. Fast forwarding another five years, the bulk of the site’s content is likely to be made up of video – and you’ve got to plan for that.
When did you have that big ‘ah-ha!’ moment with Facebook?
Um… I don’t think that’s how the world works. Ideas typically do not just come to you, it’s a lot of dots that you connect so that you finally realise that you can potentially do something.
Another popular fallacy is that I created Facebook singlehandedly. It was me and thousands of other people – and then millions of people using our products that built the community that shaped Facebook.
It’s dangerous to propagate that kind of narrative as it’s deeply discouraging to aspiring entrepreneurs. It makes you feel like, ‘Hey, I haven’t had my moment… maybe I’m not as good as people who built a whole company like Facebook by themselves.’
Building businesses is actually a lot more accessible than the media makes it sound.