Mark Zuckerberg was Time magazine's Person of the Year in December, 2010. He was given that honor because Facebook dominated the emerging social media marketplace, and social media had clearly begun changing how people do things. Despite his young age, Mr. Zuckerberg had created a phenomenon demonstrated by the hundreds of million new Facebook users.
But things have turned pretty rough for the young Mr. Zuckerberg.
- Facebook was pretty much forced, legally, to go public because it had accumulated so many shareholders. The stock hit the NASDAQ with much fanfare in May, 2012 - only to have gone pretty much straight down since. It now trades at about 50% of IPO pricing, and is under constant pressure from analysts who say it may still be overpriced.
- Facebook discovered perhaps 83million accounts were fake (about 9%) unleashing a torrent of discussion that perhaps the fake accounts was a much, much larger number.
- User growth has fallen to some 35% - which is much slower than initial investors hoped. Combined with concerns about fake accounts, there are people wondering if Facebook growth is stalling.
- Facebook has not grown revenues commensurate with user growth, and people are screaming that despite its widespread use Facebook doesn't know how to "monetize" its base into revenues and profits.
- Mobile use is growing much faster than laptop/PC use, and Facebook has not revealed any method to monetize its use on mobile devices - causing concerns that it has no plan to monetize all those users on smartphones and tablets and thus future revenues may decline.
- Zynga, a major web games supplier, announced weak earnings and said its growth was slowing - which affects Facebook because people play Zinga games on Facebook.
- GM, one of the 10 largest U.S. advertisers, publicly announced it was dropping Facebook advertising because executives believed it had insufficient return on investment. Investors now fret Facebook won't bring in major advertisers.
- Google keeps plugging away at competitive product Google+. And while Facebook disappointed investors with its earnings, much smaller competitor Linked-in announced revenues and earnings which exceeded expectations. Investors now worry about competitors dicing up the market and minimalizing Facebook's future growth.
Wow, this is enough to make 50-something CEOs of low-growth, non-tech companies jump with joy at the upending of the hoody-wearing 28 year old Facebook CEO. Zynga booted its Chief Operating Officer and has shaken up management, and not suprisingly, there are and install a new CEO.
Yet, Mr. Zuckerberg has been wildly successful. Much more than almost anyone else in American business today. He may well feel he needs no advice. But.... what do you suppose Steve Jobs would tell him to do?
Recall that Mr. Jobs was once the young head of Apple, only to be displaced by former Pepsi exec John Sculley -- and run out of Apple. As everyone now famously knows, after a string of Apple CEOs led the company to the brink of disaster Mr. Jobs agreed to return and completely turned around Apple making it the most successful tech company of the last decade. Given what we've observed of Mr. Jobs career, and read in his biography, what advice might he give Mr. Zuckerberg?
- Don't give up your job. Not even partly. If you create a "shadow" or "co" CEO you'll be gone soon enough. Lead, quit or make the Board fire you. If you had the vision to take the company this far, why would you quit?
- Nothing is more important than product. Make Facebook's the best in the world. Nothing less will allow a tech company to survive, much less thrive. Don't become so involved with financials and analysts that you lose sight of your #1 job, which is to make the very, very best social media product in the world. Never stop improving and perfecting. If your product isn't obviously superior to other solutions you haven't accomplished your #1 priority.
- Be unique. Make sure your products fulfill needs no one else fulfills - at least not well. Meet unserved and underserved needs so that people talk about your product and what it does - not how much it costs. Make sure that Facebook has devoted, diehard customers that believe your products meet their needs so well they would not consider your competition.
- Don't ask customers what they want - give them what they need. Understand the trends and create future scenarios so you are constantly striving to create a better future, not just improve on history. Never look backward at what you've done, but instead always look forward at creating what noone else has ever done. Push your staff to create solutions that meet user needs so well that you can tell customers why they need your product in ways they never before considered.
- Turn your product releases into a show. Don't just run out new products willy-nilly, or on a random timeline. Make sure you bundle products together and make a big show of each release so you can describe the upgrades, benefits and superiority of what you offer for customers. People need to understand the trends you are meeting, and need to see the future scenario you are creating, and you have to tell them that story or they won't "get it."
- Price for profit. You run a business, not a hobby or not-for-profit society. If you do the product right you shouldn't even be talking about price - so price to make ridiculous margins by industry standards. At Apple, Next and Pixar the products were never the cheapest, but they accomplished what customers needed so well that we could price high enough to make margins that supported additional product development. And you can't remain the best solution if you don't have enough margin to keep developing future products.
- Don't expect products to sell themselves. Be the #1 passionate spokesperson for the elegance and superiority of your products. Never stop beating the drum for the unique capability and superiority of your product, in every meeting, all the time, never ending. People like to "revert to the mean" so you have to keep telling them that isn't good enough - and you have something far superior that will greatly improve their success.
- Never miss an opportunity to compare your products to competition and tell everyone why your products are far better. Don't disparage the competition, but constantly reinforce that you are first, you are ahead of everyone else, you are far better --- and the best is yet to come! Competition is everywhere, and listen to the Andy Groves advice "only the paranoid survive." You aren't satisfied with what the competition offers, and customers should not be satisfied either. Every once in a while give people a small glimpse as to the radically different world you see in 3-5 years so they buy what you are selling in order to prepare for that future world.
- Identify key customers that need your solution and SELL THEM. Disney needed Pixar, so we made sure they knew it. Identify the customers who can gain the most from doing business with you and SELL THEM. Turn them into lead customers, obtain their testimonials and spread the word. If GM isn't your target, who is? Find them and sell them, then tell us all how you will build on those early accounts to eventually dominate the market - even displacing current solutions that are more popular. If GM is your target then make the changes you need to make so you can SELL THEM. Everyone wants to do business with a winner, so you must show you are a winner.
- Identify 5 of your competition's biggest customers (at Google, Yahoo, Linked-in, etc.) and make them yours. Demonstrate your solutions are superior with competitive wins.
- Hire someone who can talk to the financial community for you - and do it incredibly well. While you focus on future markets and solutions someone has to tell this story to the financial analysts in their lingo so they don't lose faith (and they are a sacrilegious lot who have no faith.) Keep Facebook out of the forecasting game, but you MUST create and maintain good communication with analysts so you need someone who can tell the story not only with products and case studies but numbers. Facebook is a disruptive innovation company, so someone has to explain why this will work. You blew the IPO road show horribly by showing up at meetings in a hoodie - so now you need to make amends by hiring someone who will give them faith that you know what you're doing and can make it happen.
These are my ideas for what Steve Jobs would tell Mark Zuckerberg. What are yours? What do you think the #1 CEO of the last decade would say to the young, embattled CEO as he faces his first test under fire leading a public company?
(Adam hartung is the managing director at Spark Partners.)