What I Learned From Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg


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March 01, 2021

What I Learned From Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

Download a FREE E-book: "The Definitive Guide to Selling Better & Faster"(Note: much of the content in this article is a summation of a Podcast on 5/24/17 from Masters of Scale)


Everything is a work and an exercise in progress

“The most innovative products should be a perpetual case of embarrassment.” That’s quite a line. From the outside, the claim is counterintuitive––to say the least. Over the course of Reid Hoffman’s interview with Mark Zuckerberg, in episode #4 of Masters of Scale, I understood how a healthy combination of risk with security will lead to a greater level of innovation and productivity. The thing for you bear in mind is everything is a work in progress.


Moreover, everything is also an exercise in progress. You’re never finished and, as such, you’re always learning. Fostering an environment in which employees are encouraged to make and embrace mistaken ventures is a recipe for a more resilient exterior and a more fluid and productive infrastructure. Facebook embodies these principles through the manner in which imperfection is fostered by experimentation. How did they arrive here?


The origin of Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg made games as early as age 10. They were for him and they were also awful. One was a snowball fight with stick figures; even though the game was unoriginal and shallow, his sisters preferred it over actual outdoor snowballing. While a number of technology entrepreneurs design games, Mark progressed further. He made a communication system in which his dad, a dentist, could communicate with hygienists in their home, which was also his office.


His father was also able to communicate with his children. The system was called “ZuckNet.” Although ZuckNet was rudimentary at best, Zuckerberg technically beat AOL to market. He didn’t especially care whether the execution was perfect, but he really wanted it out for use. If you are launching a product, imperfect is perfect. You can’t be caught up in minutiae if you’re looking for success in the big picture.


Don’t be embarrassed of being embarrassed

The case for embarrassment is actually stronger than first indicated. Reid is advocating for embarrassment on a level where, if you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, you released it too late. Your assumptions of everything you believe your user base would like, often including the makeup of the base, is regularly incorrect or, at least, never completely accurate. In order to figure them out, you need to offer a real product for real consumers.


Imperfection will neither make nor break a company. Speed, however, will. How quickly can you produce a product or service consumers will actually enjoy or even love? Zuckerberg’s well-known mantra is “Move fast and break things.” This was the original statement of intent for Facebook. He wants his team to move with the swiftness of a hacker, like himself when he produced ZuckNet. The caveat is you also need to be attentive to what others want.


Opportunity is as important as refinement

In college, Mark created several pieces of software. The first he mentions is a service for a history class, in which an exam would provide a piece of art and students would have to write an essay on its historical significance. Naturally, Zuckerberg was busy coding Facebook, so he was behind in his studies. He made a system where you view a piece of art and write your answer, after which you see everything everyone else said. You get the information you need.


The key is if he waited any longer, the interface may have been nicer but the class wouldn’t get the information when they needed it and Zuckerberg would miss out on the learning experience of having them use it. High-achieving individuals are often perfectionists and the very same qualities that improve our grades may also make us worse entrepreneurs. Uniquely, however, Zuckerberg always understood the need for availability and opportunity.


Zuckerberg never believed it would be him

He’s been nursing a theory ever since his childhood believing the internet changes the way we socialize. This appears an obvious inference now, but back in the day of AOL instant messenger and no cellular communication, this wasn’t as forthcoming. He grew up across a bridge from his classmates, so he knew he always wanted to be in touch after the day was over in a way inaccessible to him. He saw opportunity.


He believed someone would eventually build a global social platform, yet he never believed he would be the one to do it. Surely other companies with higher budgets would be the first to achieve a monumental movement of the kind. Hoffman says he hears the element of surprise in other entrepreneurs, who begin with a minimal collection of users, whose intimate linking enables a kind of precision perfectly suited to a mass market.


Release, observe, react––quickly

Zuckerberg also began to realize you needed to be both attentive to users’ interest as well as their interests. Release early––release, observe, react. Users often react negatively and resist change until they embrace it after adjusting quickly. Listen and selectively ignore. No one knows exactly what they’ll be interested in in the future. Be ready to iterate your service rapidly in response to whatever your consumer base is feeling with an eye to your inside information.


Even if your service isn’t perfect in the beginning (note: it never will be), you’ll end up doing better if you’ve iterated over a year or two than if you wait as long for a single update. Learn faster. Making a change in the digital sphere is far less expensive than one in the real world. Yet even on the internet, Zuckerberg became a more responsible CEO. He knew breaking things on an epic scale would be highly damaging. He changed the company’s m.o.


Learn from a mistake and make new ones

Instead of “Move fast and break things,” the Facebook manta is now “Move fast with stable infrastructure.” With “break things,” they were willing to allow for a reasonable level of flaw and bugginess, but, eventually, they began requiring longer in fixing the errors they ended up creating than they saved in moving faster. They made an excellent infrastructure so anyone would be able to come in and use a product on Facebook as fast as possible.


Moreover, Facebook enables engineers to experiment with ideas and launch new versions of Facebook for a limited amount of users, from 10 to 50,000 depending on the amount of a sample size they want. They evaluate the version with respect to functional reaction as well as business value, including the cost of any new efficiency. If it’s a bust, they file it away in lessons learned, but if the new version is better, they include any update as a piece of the foundation.


You’ll always be a little embarrassed

For the company’s engineers to really feel free, they all must be very comfortable with embarrassment. This is different from criminality or shame, but merely embarrassment of being unable to have seen the unseeable or even obvious, in retrospect. Engineers have no need for argument and Mark focuses on the bigger issues in devising the direction of the company. If the experiment isn’t especially dangerous, they’ll learn more than they’ll sacrifice.


Hoffman reiterates his notion of embarrassment, but also informs us we’ll always be a little embarrassed because nothing is ever perfect. Even if you’re scaling up into 1 billion users, you’ll always get a little embarrassed, and it’s a good thing. No one is immune to fear of failure, but Zuckerberg is negotiating away from it by valuing opportunity. He cares more about making the most of their circumstance––more than the possibility of messing up every once in awhile.


Use campaign experiments on AdWords

If you’re using Google AdWords, for example, indulge yourself in a campaign experiment. Collect enough data for a few inferences or even ingest a few suggestions from the Analytics, if you’ve enabled them. Adjust a new feature in order to find out whether you are missing out on an optimizing variance. And finally, let yourself be embarrassed by anything you never saw before and let it motivate you so you’ll be as vigilant as you can as you move on.


Download a FREE E-book: "The Definitive Guide to Selling Better & Faster"