Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: We Burned Two Years Betting On Mobile Web Vs. Apps

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Fac...

Photo: Wikipedia

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t said much, if anything, publicly since the No. 1 social network went public in May. But oh, how much has changed since that day. Not only did the IPO fall flat, but Facebook is now dogged by slower growth perhaps partly due to its late start on mobile advertising.

Today, Zuckerberg went public himself at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. Clearly the big “get” for the conference, Zuckerberg was in his element at the conference, which is aimed at tech startups and the software developers creating them. In a wide-ranging and surprisingly revealing interview with TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington, who has since become a venture capitalist, Zuckerberg said Facebook lost two years betting on mobile Web technology instead of native iPhone apps but said he thinks mobile will be even bigger than the Web for Facebook in terms of advertising.

Investors liked what they heard. Facebook shares rose 3.6% in after-hours trading, breaking $20 a share, on top of a 3.3% rise on Tuesday before his talk.

Here’s the interview, edited slightly for clarity and my inability to catch every single word the fast-talking Zuckerberg utters:

Q: You went public on May 18 and the stock has lost roughly half its value.

A: Just get right into it!

Q: Would you have done anything differently on the IPO?

A: The performance of the stock has obviously been disappointing. But the commitment we made was to fulfill this mission to make the world more open and connected.

The key will be how we do with mobile. A lot of stuff has changed in six months since we’ve been in the quiet period.

Literally six months ago, we didn’t run a single ad on mobile. So people can underestimate how good mobile can be for us. It’s the main thing that’s fundamentally misunderstood. For one, there’s just more mobile users–5 billion people have cellphones in the world. Second, they’re spending more time on it. We’re already seeing people more likely to be daily active users on mobile. And those stats are before the new iOS app. And third, we can have better advertising on mobile, make more money.

Q: You make money to build great services rather than build services to make money. Do you really mean that?

A: We are a mission-driven company. In order to do this, we have to build a great team. And in order to do that, you need people to know they can make a bunch of money. So we need a business model to make a lot of money.

Building a mission and building a business go hand in hand. The primary thing that excites me is the mission. But we have always had a healthy understanding that we need to do both.

Q: What about the stock causing morale problems?

A: Well, it doesn’t help. But first, Facebook has not been an uncontroversial company in the past. So people are fairly used to the press saying good things about us and bad things about us.

What really motivates people at Facebook is building something that’s worthwhile, that they’re going to be proud to show to friends and family.

We also haven’t done much on equity to incentivize people. The way we do compensation is we translate the amount of compensation we give you into shares. [So employees get more shares if the stock price is down, thus similar compensation, thus the stock price doesn't mean as much as it might appear.]

Q: I’ve been rough on the company on mobile products.

A: We were very self-critical too.

Q: Is mobile a strength or weakness for Facebook?

A: There are more users, they spend more time on Facebook, and we’re going to make more money on mobile ads. There are huge things we can do to move the needle. Mobile is a lot closer to TV than [to] the desktop. We’ve had right-hand-column ads and it’s been great, a multi-billion-dollar business.

But on mobile, we can’t do that. It’s clearly going to have to be different. We’re seeing some great mobile ad products being developed. There’s a huge opportunity. The question is getting there.

Clearly we’ve had a bunch of missteps there. The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5, because it’s just not there yet. We went for this approach, an internal framework called Faceweb. We just couldn’t translate it to mobile with the quality we wanted.

We had to start over and rewrite everything to be native. We burned two years. It may turn out it was one of the biggest if not the biggest strategic mistake we made.

Two years ago, we decided to bet completely on HTML5. We believed that because it used the same technology as the desktop, we thought it could improve. But it wasn’t good enough. We realized the only way we could get there was to go native.

Q: Did you realize the previous Facebook mobile app sucked?

A: Yeah, it was not where we wanted it to be. We just decided to ship the same features as before, but faster. But in parallel, other teams have been building new features. Over the coming weeks and months, we can expect to see a lot of the cool stuff. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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Benchmark VC Matt Cohler: Mobile Ads Will Be Even Better Than Web Ads

Image representing Matt Cohler as depicted in ...

Image by Facebook via CrunchBase

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Despite rising doubts about whether mobile advertising will ever amount to much, Benchmark Capital partner Matt Cohler says he’s more jazzed than ever about the prospects.

In an interview with TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this morning in San Francisco, the former vice president of product management at Facebook said he has made zero investments this year, though he wasn’t entirely clear why except to say he made more than the usual number last year. But he said he’s looking actively for opportunities in “mobile marketplaces,” as well as products and services that use the smartphone as a “remote control for your life.” Here’s what else he had to say, in edited form:

Q: You haven’t made any investments lately. Why?

A: I haven’t made any investments this year. Last year I made more than a typical venture investor would.

It wasn’t a single specific decision. We’re at an interesting moment in time where aspects of various platforms are starting to shift. But I’ll do it if the time is right.

Q: Do you regret not making some investments?

A: I’m sure I passed on some things that will probably be successful.

Q: You criticized Groupon awhile ago when it was hot. That looks pretty smart two years later. But you have invested in a deals site in Brazil.

A: I think daily deals are a good idea. Any ad people view as content is a good ad, and that’s true for daily-deal ads too. But I’m not sure it’s smart to build a company around that one thing. Groupon has some interesting assets. The question is what can it do with them? …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Lots Of Blame To Go Around For Facebook’s IPO ‘Debacle’–But It Doesn’t Mean A Thing

Facebook CFO David Ebersman. (Photo: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

When anything goes wrong, we just love a scapegoat, don’t we? Today’s scapegoat in the business world is David Ebersman, Facebook’s chief financial officer, who New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin says is completely, solely, and utterly at fault for the social network’s underwhelming initial public offering and subsequent swoon in its stock price to less than half its IPO level.

Sorkin, as well as others, say Ebersman’s insistence on a higher stock price and especially on issuing more shares shortly before the offering were the key reason Facebook’s post-IPO shares not only failed to rise but steadily fell–vaporizing some $50 billion in shareholder value in the past 90 days.

But Ebersman is hardly the only culprit in the IPO. There’s also:

* Facebook’s underwriters, including Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase. Not only did they go along with and even encourage the pre-IPO hype, but recently they cut their target prices for Facebook, contributing to today’s slide that knocked shares to under half the IPO level.

* Facebook investors. Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, who knows a little something about Internet stock dynamics, says investors willfully ignored both Facebook’s own warnings about advertising revenue uncertainties and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to, yes, investors, that he would focus on building Facebook’s services over maximizing its profits.

* Not least, CEO Mark Zuckerberg. After all, the buck (or in this case, 50 cents) stops here. While finances are probably at least third on the list of his concerns, behind Facebook’s services and its employees, a CEO ultimately is responsible for such a signature event in a company’s life.

Still, regardless of whom you might think is most culpable, in the end it probably will have little impact on Facebook’s prospects. That’s because there’s an even more fundamental reason to question the singling out of Ebersman: Perhaps Facebook’s IPO wasn’t really a debacle after all. …

Read the rest of the post at The New Persuaders.

Flashback to 2001: How Far Can Facebook Shares Fall Before They Can’t Fall Any Lower?

Facebook’s stock performance since May IPO

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

I’m having a flashback, and it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s fault. OK, not exactly the fault of Facebook’s cofounder and CEO, but his company’s stock.

The swoon in Facebook’s shares, culminating in a close today at less than half their IPO price, brought back memories of what feels like (but may or may not be) a similar situation I observed a decade or so ago in the wake of the dot-com bust. I was covering Amazon.com during its period of rapid expansion, when it was far from apparent to everyone that it would survive, let alone turn into a blockbuster business.

Amazon.com’s shares–which went public at $18, as it happens the price to which Facebook’s shares fell today–had dipped below $6 a share in late 2001. Amazon had huge costs from building out massive warehouses around the country well ahead of its level of revenues, prompting one analyst to predict that Amazon would go under unless it changed its expansionist ways.

It was the one time I remember wishing that I weren’t prohibited by BusinessWeek rules from buying stocks of companies I wrote about. Having reported on the company for several years and knowing how the economics of its business worked, I was pretty darn sure Amazon wasn’t going under and that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos knew exactly what he was doing.

And he did. Thanks to his vision coupled with a determination to stay the course while adjusting for market changes along the way, Amazon is now trading at $248 a share. A mere 100 shares bought then would have realized 40-fold return for a pre-commission, pretax profit of $24,200.

I don’t yet have the same feeling about Facebook’s stock that I had about Amazon’s back then. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Why Do Programmers Hate Internet Advertising So Much?

Facebook ad question (Photo credit: renaissancechambara)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Another week, another pontificating programmer slamming online advertising. What is it with these guys?

The latest example is a steaming heap of linkbait from software developer and entrepreneur Patrick Dobson entitled Facebook Should Fire Sheryl Sandberg. That would be the chief operating officer of Facebook, whose purported crime is that she steered Facebook toward being an ad-supported company.

In Dobson’s telling, while Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was off at an ashram in India, onetime Google ad exec Sandberg mandated that Facebook would henceforth be an advertising company. Proof of her folly? Facebook’s now worth half of what it was at its IPO three months ago as it “continues to flounder in advertising hell.”

This, despite the fact that Facebook will gross about $5 billion in ad revenues this year, despite the fact that its current market cap is still more than $40 billion less than eight years after the company’s founding in a Harvard dorm.

Thousands of Web developers would love to flounder this badly.

Dobson’s preferred alternative is that Facebook should gradually phase out advertising in favor of–and I have to get technical here, because the bigger picture he provides is fuzzy–selling access to its application programming interface. That way, developers can build businesses like Zynga did on top of the social network in the way personal computer software developers built applications atop Microsoft’s Windows. From his post:

… There is massive value in the social graph and the ability to build applications on top of it. I believe the value is greater than all of the advertising revenue generated on the web to date. … What is the best way to monetize the social graph? To sell access to the social graph! … Developers can then figure out if advertising, or micro transactions, or payed access is the best way to monetize the social graph.

I’m not really sure what “selling access to the social graph” would be, though it sounds like the result could make Facebook’s many privacy gaffes to date look tame.

But the bigger problem is the persistent implication by tech folks like Dobson that advertising is beneath them, and beneath any intelligent human being. Now, I’m no huge fan of most advertising, and all too often it is indeed lame. But there’s no doubt it can be useful at the right place and time, and even when it misses the mark, advertising is a small, remarkably frictionless price to pay for a whole lot of free Web services.

The notion that advertising is evil, to use a favorite term of Google critics, or at least useless is a longstanding meme in Silicon Valley. It goes at least as far back as Google’s founding, before it became–right–the biggest online ad company on the planet. Cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin famously wrote in their Stanford doctoral thesis describing Google that advertising could pollute search results.

Why this antipathy to advertising? A lot of tech folks seem to believe they’re immune to the influence of advertising. More than that, they assume that no one else is much influenced by it either (despite ample evidence over many decades that ads do influence people’s attitudes and behavior). Therefore, the reasoning goes, ads are nothing more than an annoyance, an inefficient allocation of capital. Dobson accuses Sandberg of a “rampant lack of business creativity” that has “no place in centers of innovation,” later saying she should start an ad agency in Miami. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Marketers Send Facebook Message In Q2: Show Us

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Getty Images North America via @daylife)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook may have disappointed investors with its first earnings report as a public company, but the results also reflect disappointment among an even more important group of constituents: marketers and agencies.

It’s not that Facebook did badly on the sales front. It exceeded admittedly dampened expectations, not to mention hitting the Street’s profit target. Nor do the folks who write the checks to run ads on Facebook spend much time watching FB on the stock ticker. “Whether the stock is up or down is not a big concern,” says David Berkowitz, VP of emerging media at Japanese ad giant Dentsu’s digital agency 360i.

What is? Results. While Facebook today trotted out plenty of stats and examples of success stories for the Sponsored Stories that it clearly views as the most effective ad it offers, the company hasn’t yet managed to close the deal for many marketers and agencies. “Facebook has to do a better job of articulating the value of its advertising to the brands,” says Heather Pidgeon, VP of services for iProspect, a digital agency owned by Aegis Group. “They have yet to say, ‘This type of advertisement works for this type of advertiser.’” …

Read the full post at The New Persuaders.

LIVE: Facebook Shares Plunge On Disappointing Q2 Earnings

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Fac...

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook managed to hit the second-quarter earnings numbers investors had expected, but that wasn’t nearly good enough as shares plunged in after-hours trading.

The social network earned a non-GAAP 12-cent profit, on target with expectations, on revenues of $1.18 billion, the latter up 32% and a tad above estimates.

Ad revenue was up 28%, to $992 million, well above analysts’ forecasts, though still below the first quarter’s growth rate. Facebook suffered a net loss of $157 million, or 8 cents a share, largely because of accounting for employee stock plans post-IPO.

Shares rose as much as 6% in extended trading initially, but then quickly fell back almost 11%. That’s probably at least partly because Facebook didn’t offer a forecast, at least ahead of the conference call. They fell more than 8% at the market close today. They now sit at an all-time low of just under $25. That’s 37% below the $38 IPO price.

A quick take from Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry: “Overhyped and underdelivered.”

Here’s what CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives had to say about the quarter in the company’s first earnings conference call: …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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