It’s bad enough that people pay any attention to Forbes magazine’s pathetic “my portfolio is bigger than your portfolio” list of rich people, but at least most of the people on the list have actual assets that can be measured in some objective fashion — i.e., by stock-market value. But young Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, manages to get on the list at #321 with what Forbes calls a “net worth” of $1.5-billion, which is apparently based on little more than someone hitting a few numbers on a calculator. But hey, it makes for a great headline, right?
Is Facebook worth $15-billion? Not in any real sense of the word. Yes, it’s true that Microsoft paid $240-million for 1.6 per cent of the company, which theoretically values the entire company at $15-billion. But the key word there is “theoretically.” There’s about as much chance of someone buying Facebook for $15-billion as there is of me flying to the moon. In real terms, Mark Zuckerberg is worth something functionally equivalent to zero. I’d love to see him walk into a bank with a copy of the Forbes magazine list and try to get a loan for a couple of hundred million or so.
Not long after the interview with Mark Zuckerberg had wrapped up at South by Southwest, the Twitter messages started flowing, with people I know calling Sarah Lacy’s interview with the Facebook founder “a train wreck” and “the worst interview I’ve ever seen.” Soon there were blog posts about the debacle at CNET and at Wired, and almost all of them said that Lacy just didn’t come across well during the interview — that she was too personal, too flirty, that she told rambling stories instead of asking questions, didn’t ask about the important issues, and so on.
If you dig a little deeper, however, you get the distinct impression that the crowd was unruly at best, and that they may have turned on Lacy as a result of what appears to be a laid-back interviewing style. Some have suggested that she did her best in interviewing a guy who is not just shy (as he has admitted to Scoble, among others), but has also presumably been trained to reveal as little as possible. As one Twitter poster put it: “Sarah Lacy got stuck trying to do a normal interview in front of an audience that was out for blood. And Zuckerberg was over-briefed.”
I’ve done my share of interviews — many of them with CEOs who have been trained within an inch of their lives to stay “on message,” and some of whom are notorious for being difficult, if not impossible to interview — and I can say that reading the descriptions of the interview with Zuckerberg made me cringe a little for Sarah Lacy. Those kinds of things are hard enough to do when it’s just two of you, let alone in front of thousands of people who have their own idea of where the interview should go. If you’re interested, you can find more impressions of the event through Terraminds.
So did Sarah’s style just not jibe with the format, or did she not read the room properly, or was the crowd at SXSW really just out for blood after too many complimentary Austin highballs?
I haven’t watched video of the interview itself yet, but watching an interview that Austin 360 did with Sarah after the event, she seems untroubled by the whole thing, saying there was a small minority “at the back of the room” that got upset, and that in retrospect she didn’t think Zuckerberg was “a good fit” with a conference like SXSW because it was mostly developers who wanted to talk about APIs. She also says that she gets this kind of reaction all the time because she’s one of the few women who report on tech. Mark Evans has a take on how Twitter affected the response to Lacy’s interview.
Glad I added all those sarcastic caveats to my description of Valleywag below — it seems someone at Facebook played Owen Thomas like a fiddle, and the rumour about Zuckerberg cashing in isn’t true. Owen’s attempt to talk his way out of having been played is here. I still think it would be a smart thing to do though, even if it isn’t actually happening.
According to the scrupulously honest and eminently reliable folks at Valleywag, young Mark Zuckerberg has taken an early cash-out from Facebook, by selling some of his stock in the company’s latest financing round. The gossip site says he picked up a not-too-shabby $40-million as part of the deal with Microsoft.
As Valleywag’s Owen Thomas notes, this isn’t how VC financing typically works. And it’s not how founders of startups typically work either — many hang on long after they could have maximized their return, either because they aren’t allowed to sell any shares or because they don’t want to make it look like they are losing faith.
But why shouldn’t Zuckerberg get a little something for his effort — and take advantage of the market’s valuation frenzy? He still maintains a huge stake in the company. I think it’s a smart move.
It’s like deja vu all over again, as baseball legend Yogi Berra reportedly said. Just as the Facebook news feed pushed the bounds of what users felt was appropriate in terms of privacy, and caused a backlash that eventually led to a mea culpa (Latin for “I screwed up big-time”) from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s new Beacon Web-tracking “feature” has done almost the same thing — except that it pushed the bounds of privacy as a way of serving advertisers’ interests, not users’ — and sure enough, here comes the mea culpa.
In addition to taking the blame for blowing it, Zuckerberg says that users will now be able to opt-out of the entire feature completely, with a simple click. And it seems as though Marky-Mark may have learned a thing or two about taking the heat: in the case of the news feed, the Facebook CEO at first tried to laugh off concerns and told people that they needed to chill out a little (I’m paraphrasing). This time he takes it on the chin right up front:
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.”
Maybe all of these new features and the frenzy surrounding them are God’s way of teaching Mark Zuckerberg humility 🙂 In any case, I don’t want to say that I told you so, but I kind of saw this coming. I expected that Facebook would push the envelope of what people were comfortable with, and that as a result of that the company would change its new service.
As nice as it might be to see Mark taking the hit and apologizing, however, you have to wonder: how many more times are they going to get whacked for similar ventures? I think Om Malik has a good point: if Facebook is a social network, then why not ask users what they would or wouldn’t be willing to tolerate before you roll out a new service?
Kara Swisher writes about how a court rejected Mark Zuckerberg’s recent attempt to squash some public documents that were submitted in the court case between the Facebook founder and the trio of Harvard types who claim he stole the idea (and some code) for the social-networking site from them — a story that is detailed in a recent magazine piece in a publication called 02138, which is aimed at Harvard alumni.
The documents Zuckerberg was concerned about are all available on the magazine’s website (most in the form of PDFs) and they include the Facebook co-founder’s application to Harvard — one of the ones he wanted removed, since it contains his parents’ home address in Dobbs Ferry, New York, among other things — as well as excerpts from Zuckerberg’s online journal, two statements he made in the case, an email he sent to Harvard about the dispute, and Facebook’s financial statements from 2005.
The online journal excerpts are particularly hilarious — they detail how Zuckerberg decided (after breaking up with a girlfriend, apparently) to whip together something that would pull people’s pictures from their online Harvard profiles and then post two of them side by side so people could vote on who was more attractive:
“Iâ€™m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if itâ€™s not even 10 pm and itâ€™s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland facebook is open on my computer desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.”
That’s at 9:30 in the evening. Over the next five hours or so, Zuckerberg whips up a script that will hack into the various residence houses at Harvard and pull the photos out, using holes in the Apache server settings. It makes for pretty funny reading (according to the magazine piece, he was reprimanded for his exploits and briefly suspended).
Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard-trained hacker. In case you’re interested, his Harvard application also notes that he was the MVP on his fencing team at Exeter Academy in 2000; a finalist for the New York Regional Fencing championships; got gold medals at the Science Olympiad in Practical Data Gathering, Astronomy and Physics; and was the high scorer at the American Regional Math League in 2001.