It’s always a great opportunity to hear open, unscripted talk from big leaders, and today I had the chance to listen Mark Zuckerberg give a tech forum talk at BYU. It was really quite good, and there were a lot of good things to be learned from it. The session was recorded, and will be available in a day or two on (how fitting) the BYU Facebook page, but for now, here are some of the highlights that I took away from it.
The talk was in a Q&A format, led by Senator Orin Hatch, with Zuckerberg responding to the questions. For those curious, Zuckerberg just had on his typical dark grey hoodie, jeans, and tennis shoes, and seemed fairly comfortable, despite the fact that he’d “never spoken to a stadium of people before.” Questions were submitted by BYU students and the public, and were curated before presentation. Thus we didn’t get into any juicy details about Facebook’s recent role in the Mideast revolutions or what he thought of the movie, but no surprise there. Here then, is a summary of the talk, in Q&A format. You’ll notice that it is quite jumpy–these are simply my notes that I took. Enjoy!
Question and Answers
(Note: Only word for word quotes are presented as such; the rest is my summary.)
Hatch: Facebook is one of the many new business ideas, and one of the few that succeeded. What has made it so that Facebook has been successful? What made it good as a startup?
Zuckerberg: I wasn’t working on the Facebook company to try and build a company. In fact, I didn’t expect it to ever be a company. “I built the product because I wanted it to exist at Harvard.”
At the end of my sophomore year I moved out to Silicon Valley, not to start a company but to learn from those in the Valley. My intention was to return to Harvard in the fall, but that didn’t happen.
“Silicon Valley is an epicenter for technology. I knew nothing getting started.”
“If I were to do it again [start a company], I probably wouldn’t choose Silicon Valley.”
Hatch: Is management or marketing more important to Facebook?
Zuckerberg: People are the biggest predictor to a company’s success. In any industry there are a lot of folks trying to do the same thing. It’s not that Google came up with the idea of a search engine first, it’s that Google did a better job on executing search than others.
“The success of Facebook is really all about the team that we’ve built.”
We’ve focused on keeping the company as small as possible. Quoted user base at 500 million.
“You make sure that every person that you add to your company is really great.”
You can tell a company that is going to succeed by the team that they’ve built. Senator Hatch quoted Zuck’s worth at $13.5 billion.
Hatch: What classes would you recommend? What have been most beneficial to you.
Zuckerberg: “Well so I wasn’t in school for that long…”
Zuckerberg double majored in computer science psychology. In the end, all these problems that we’re trying to solve are human problems. The things that people are most interested in is what is going on in the lives of the people that they care most about. In Facebook, there is just as much psychology and sociology as technology.
For CS, there are highly theoretical courses and practical ones. The practical ones “you learn real stuff.” Those are the courses that he felt prepared him best to be successful.
Hatch: What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs? What character traits would you consider important?
Zuckerberg: “I think you have to really love and believe in what you’re doing.” If you go to start building something, or to lead the world in any direction, large or small, you encounter a lot of challenges.
“If you don’t believe in what you are doing then it actually becomes the rational thing to stop doing it.”
Be passionate about what you’re doing. Find that thing that you’re passionate about. It requires introspection. He talked about always having wanted to have travel around, something that he didn’t do while in school because he left so early. When Facebook reached 100 million members or so, he reflected on the fact that he had never fulfilled that passion, and so he took a month off and traveled around.
On really hard days helping people connect with each other is what keeps me going.
(At this point, Zuckerberg broke the mold and asked Senator hatch a question, much to the pleasure of the crowd and which threw the Senator off.)
Zuckerberg: “How does the government see the evolution of the Internet? What should Congress be doing to help budding entrepreneurs?”
Hatch: I think that what Congress should do is keep out of the way. No regulation. We also have highest corporate tax rate in the world, so Senator Hatch thinks he needs to work on that.
Hatch: 3rd party devlopers are crtitcal to the FB environment. What is FB doing to promote 3rd party developers?
Zuckerberg: You said that a good policy for the government is to get out of the way. A lot of what we’re trying to do is set up an environment where it’s not only Facebook that can build innovative, social apps.
They have an internal soundbite at Facebook: “A good independent entreprenuer or developer should always be able to do something better than a division of a big company.”
Things that will bud into quite large industries are not things that Facebook is going to build.
“It’s humbling to see the success that a lot of people have had.” Talked about gaming in particular, and the highly-valued companies that have grown up in that space.
Hatch: The internet is powerful and has so many benefits, but some may think that it may have a dark side as well. How can we minizme the danger and government control?
Zuckerberg: If we go back 10 years a lot of people were afraid with sharing things on the Internet. The thing that got people ready to put stuff up is our “robust privacy controls.” We’re also focused on children’s safety (those under the age of 18). We really try to be safe environment.
Hatch: What other steps is Facebook taking on the security front to protect its users from “bad actors?”
Zuckerberg: A lot of security goes into providing a safe environment. Facebook is one of first products to have ability to have sessions be encrypted over HTTPS.
Safety on the Internet is really the intersection of technology, psychology, and sociology–we use your social connections to provide extra security (he was talking about the “identify your friends” login challenge).
A lot of other services can’t do this because they are not approaching technology as a social problem.
Hatch: What are some ways that technology can enhance the more traditional styles of learning?
Zuckerberg: When my GF graduated from school she was a teacher before going to medical school. Education is really important to her and I, it’s one of my priorities. Making information more open and accessible would help out education a lot.
There is no consistent standard for education across the board so you don’t know how well you are educating students or managing your schools. The Internet gives you more transparency on performance. It also allows you to share information of what is working well and what is not. Technology can help in measuring all of this.
Gave a shout out to Khan Academy. “That’s an amazing resource that the Internet can bring to bear.”
This sort of thing is going to be really disruptive.
Zuckerberg is trying to help out with education outside of Facebook becaues the current regulatory environment doesn’t allow those under 13 to easily use online tools [COPA]. This makes it so that you can’t touch most of the users that would use an educational tool. So Zuckerberg is working with some Facebook employees to try and build new educational systems that may someday help in this realm.
(Again, Zuckerberg turns the question on the Senator.)
Zuckerberg: “This is my opportunity too to ask you some questions. What should we be doing for science and education?”
Hatch: Talked about his support of STEM (science, technology, engineering, match), his, the American Compete Act, his ATTAIN Bill, etc.
Zuckerberg said, “It really is an honor to be here,” in reference to BYU. Awesome!
Hatch: What would you say is the role of social media technology in dealing with some of our global issues? Did you ever envision Facebook as the catalyst for reform that it has become?
Zuckerberg: I remember having conversations with friends at Harvard about how they thought that something like Facebook would be built, but just not by us. The transparency in the Internet is the transformative power. It gives people a way to connect that they couldn’t do before. It’s the “bottom-up” effect that’s important.
In the future, you will also see disruption in how consumers communicate with businesses, and businesses will need to start being a lot more open. Businesses can’t hide behind a large corporate veil anymore.
The longest term thing will be how tools like Facebook and the Internet affect civic engagement with the government. People now have an ability to share something, put their opinion out there, and have people hear it in a way that just wasn’t possible 20 years ago. Issues that you are thinking about can get spread a lot more easily.
One of our engineers for fun put together peace.facebook.com. It maps the friendships that are being created between people in countries that historically aren’t friends.
Over the long term, I think technology and the Internet, as well as social media, will create more working with countries and people.
Hatch: What does Facebook look for in potential employees? What can BYU students to do get themselves on Facebook’s radar?
Zuckerberg: A lot of it is that we just look for people who are passionate about something. In a way, it doesn’t matter what it is that you are passionate about, just that you are. What we look at in interviews is what people have done on their own. Did you just go through classes to get grades, or did you build tools, games, or other things for yourself? If you’re in management, what other leadership do you have? What philanthropic/community engagement work have you done?
“People don’t get put into roles, they create them for themselves.”
We don’t want people to join Facebook because of what it already is, we want them to join it because of what you want to make it.
Hatch: Are you worried that ads take away from FB’s coolness?
Zuckerberg: Well I think everyone likes Facebook being free. (applause) We never sell people’s information because we know people trust us with it. Advertisers don’t have access to profile information. Only Facebook gets to do the ad targeting via access to Facebook.
On bad days, ads keeps FB free. On good days, I hope it brings value-added content.