Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform went public this February, and besides the hiccups in its stock price and all the negative press, there is no doubt that Facebook is worth a hell of a lot of money, its early employees have made billions from just one idea, and the company is inarguably the single most successful social networking site in the world.
But Facebook didn’t become the sensation that it is today by chance. The company has become so successful because it has a leader who was a genius at starting a company, keeping it focused, and disciplined and above all willing to understand and overcome his own shortcomings.
Ok, but why should you care?
You should care because having a short term plan and a startup idea is one thing, and breaking it into a billion dollar deal is a different ball game.
So how exactly did Facebook do it? This is the theme I go after in my forthcoming book, “How to Create the Next Facebook. (September 2012 , published by Apress). While I’ve followed the company from the early years — such as for Forbes.com and BusinessWeek — I still did not have a great understanding of what made it successful. Of course, this all changed when I started to do in-depth research on the company. And yes, there were some surprises.
For example, Mark Zuckerberg was actually not a natural-born CEO! In a famous incident, his top in-house recruiter got so frustrated and said, “You’d better take CEO lessons, or this isn’t going to work for you.”
Here are some helpful tips for young entrepreneurs that come directly out of Zuckerberg’s diary:
- Just Say “No.” – Make this word almost a reflex action. It will help avoid many headaches and complexities. A key advantage of a startup is speed. But if you keep taking on initiatives, then inertia will begin to set when. And it can be fatal. With Mark, he quickly learned to use the word “no” and it often made his team frustrated. For example, they would keep pushing him to add photos to Facebook but Mark was not convinced. He kept saying: “Why?” All in all, he did not hear any good reasons.
- Never block yourself from hearing ideas: Mark firmly believed that a new feature must be aligned with Facebook’s mission of sharing but the photos feature did not help this out. However, when someone proposed the idea of tagging photos, this caught Mark’s attention. He instantly knew it was the right approach and so he made photos a priority for the company. Within a few months, the feature took the No. 1 spot in the market.
- Level 5 Leadership: This is a concept from Jim Collins’s classic book, Good to Great. Essentially, Level 5 Leadership means that the CEO takes a humble approach and is focused on the success of the company. This certainly fits Zuckerberg. You will rarely find him posting comments about world events. He will not attend many conferences or take media interviews. Rather, he prefers to spend his time on what matters, such as the product and providing great service.
- Listen to the Data but don’t bet your life on it: From the start, Zuckerberg built Facebook with strong analytics. He wanted to know what was popular and not. But Zuckerberg also went deeper and looked at the key measures of success. No doubt, one was driving daily active users (DAUs). He knew that this would be critical in beating rivals like MySpace. Yet Mark was not a slave to the data. He also used his own intuition to make decisions. This was the case when he launched Facebook’s News Feed. At first, the response was mostly negative which Zuckerberg thought to be a short-term thing. After all, he believed that the News Feed would make the Facebook experience much better. In the end, he turned out to be spot-on.
Remember, Getting dominance is often a matter of a few key decisions. Keep in mind that companies like MySpace or Friendster could have easily become the leader. Hey, my book may have been called “How to Create the Next MySpace” or “How to Create the Next Friendster” if history had been different.
Tom Taulli is the author of forthcoming book: How to Create the Next Facebook: Seeing your Startup Through from Idea to IPO (September 2012, published by Apress). Currently, Taulli is an advisor to tech companies andwrites extensively on tech, finance, and IPOs. His work has appeared on Forbes.com, TechWeb, and BusinessWeek. He is also frequently quoted in publications like the Wall Street Journal and is regularly interviewed on CNBC and Bloomberg TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli