Not everyone loves all of Facebook's policies and practices, but one thing that's hard to argue against is Founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg's entrepreneurial success.
Have you learned anything about business from the Facebook story? Let us know in the comments.
Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a Wall Street Journal bestselling book about a topic which is made fairly obvious by its title. While it was just published in December it could go on to be considered one of the major works dealing with entrepreneurship in the age of the social network. We had a conversation with author Ekaterina Walter, a "social media innovator" at Intel and board member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, about what it means to "think like Zuck" and how doing so can help entrepreneurs build the best businesses possible.
"'Think Like Zuck' is an analogy of a leader who follows his/her passion, leads with purpose, builds great teams, and strives for continued excellence in his/her product (or services) and partners smartly," Walter tells WebProNews. "It is a mentality that drives great leaders to build successful businesses and the approach they use to do so."
The one trait Mark Zuckerberg holds that entrepreneurs should strive to emulate, Walter says, is "Long-term strategic outlook and the courage to stand up to the pressures (both internal and external) that would veer him away from his vision."
"For example, everyone was saying NewsFeed was a bad idea and now it is the feature we can’t live without," she says. "People were saying Facebook becoming a platform is not the right strategic and business decision and now 24.3 percent of the top 10,000 websites in the world have some form of official Facebook integration on their home pages."
"It isn’t easy (especially when you are in your early twenties) to withstand those pressures," adds Walter. "It is even harder to walk away from a billion dollar buy-out offer. But Zuck has a clear long-term vision of where he wants to go and where he wants to take this company and he is executing on that vision. Everything he does consistently supports his purpose of connecting the world and making it more open and transparent. Having a clear direction and focus is critical for a success of any company."
For some, it's become hard to remember what the Internet was even like before Facebook. Still, even today, Zuckerberg is only 28 years old, and he's had far more success than most of us, including many entrepreneurs with years more experience, will ever see.
When asked what more experienced entrepreneurs can learn from Zuck, Walter says, "Creating the culture of urgency, staying in the state of permanent beta, not resting on [and] its laurels. That is something a lot of leaders are struggling with, especially once they reach some level of success. The hacker culture that Zuck created is the key to its continuous innovation and fluid adaptability."
"Find and hire passionate people (independent of their age and sometimes experience) and offer them non-traditional career paths," she suggests. "Zuckerberg understands the power of passion and the right attitude. Sometimes Facebook hires people just to have the right talent on board, and later on matches up their passions to the projects that they are best suited to work on."
"Facebook runs hackathons where engineers can work on new ideas outside of their current projects and anything goes," Walter notes. "A lot of traditional leaders a lot of times are afraid to give young and inexperienced a big chance and that’s where they are missing a huge opportunity to tap into passion and motivation of the entrepreneurial generation."
As big and ubiquitous as Facebook has become, many wonder what direction the company would take, should Zuckerberg ever decide to step down from his role. Walter is not so sure Facebook could continue to thrive if someone else took over as CEO.
"Zuckerberg has always had this profound vision of where he wants to take the company," she says. "He has made some unpopular decisions that ended up paying off big time. I believe the reason Facebook stayed so successful was because Zuckerberg maintained control over the company and a laser focus on his vision. How many leaders do you know have courage to stand up to the short-term pressures to create long-term value? And how many companies fell apart because they were bought out and/or changed leadership? More than we care to admit."
Near the beginning of her book, Walter talks about how organizations need "intrapraneurs." This is a term she credits Edelman Digital executive vice president David Armano with coining, and defining as "someone who has an entrepreneurial streak in his or her DNA, but choose to align his or her talents with a large organization in place of creating his or her own."
So how can an employer foster this kind of development within its staff?
"Hire for attitude, not just skills," urges Walter. "Skills can be taught; passion can’t. You need to get the right people on board. The right people are those people who share your beliefs, live your values, and strive for the same purpose."
"Zappos is considered to be the company that not only treats its customers right, but also treats its employees right," she continues. "Zappos has a rigorous screening process and intense 3-week training for new hires. But even with that, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, thinks bad hiring has cost Zappos more than $100 million. 'This cost is a result of not only the bad hires we’ve made, but the decisions those people have made and how they have contributed to additional poor selections,' he says. That’s why Zappos offers its new hires a substantial sum of money to leave the company if after the training they feel like this isn’t the right fit for them. You see, a great company not only has to focus on bringing the right people on board, but also make sure it leaves the wrong people behind."
"Also, foster the environment of fearlessness, not fear," she adds. "Empower your employees to innovate and execute on their ideas...passion, curiosity and sometimes naiveté prevail. Don’t dismiss ideas and believe in impossible."
In the book, Walter says that when a company starts growing, it gets harder and harder to find employees who share the same bigger purpose or who fit perfectly into the unique environment created by its founders, but if building the right team around the values of the company is so important, how can employers overcome this challenge? How do you find the right people?
"First, look within," says Walter. "Rally your employee base and involve them in finding the best candidates. Chances are if your employees are passionate about your brand and your mission, they connect with similar-minded people. In the early days every single employee at Facebook was serving a function of a recruiter. They were scouting their connections, universities, friends to see if they can find people who are passionate about what the company does and wanted to join them."
Second, watch the industry closely," she says. "Who are some of the people who write about the issues you are passionate about? Who are the ones that are being mentioned in the hallway conversations?"
"Third, invite the candidates in. Events like the Hacker Cup that Facebook puts together every year brings a lot of like-minded people together. That is an amazing (and elite) candidate pool to choose from."
"Be creative in building communities internally and externally that would allow you to identify and single out the most passionate people," Walter says.
That's a handful of the things you can learn from Zuckerberg, but of course, there are enough to fill a book. On the other hand, as another book (and the film that adapted it) taught us, some have different views of Zuck's principles.
Do you consider Mark Zuckerberg an inspirational figure? Let us know in the comments.