What We Can Learn From Facebook’s Success

In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg was an undergraduate at Harvard University looking to start the next great internet company. Like many successful entrepreneurs, he had a unique vision: to enhance communication, openness, and sharing around the globe. Even before Facebook, Zuckerberg had founded several web enterprises, including an online version of the board game “Risk” and a music player called Synapse that attempted to learn about the listener’s musical preferences (much like Pandora). Neither of these projects generated serious momentum or financial potential, but Zuckerberg was undeterred. He began looking for the next groundbreaking idea…and thus, Facebook was born.

In the last five years, no company has grown faster or had more impact on our daily lives. From its beginnings as a side project created in a Harvard dorm room, Facebook has evolved into an iconic web platform with more than 500 million users and a billion dollars in revenue. It has even been the subject of a book and an upcoming movie. There’s no doubt that Facebook is here to stay, and has permanently changed the way we use the internet. With that in mind, here are a few things we can learn from Facebook’s success.

Take time to make the right decisions

Many people have this romantic view that Zuckerberg founded Facebook, instantly raised money, and built an empire overnight.  In fact, the exact opposite was true. Facebook’s creation was largely just an accident. Zuckerberg never imagined that he would drop out of Harvard to work on the project full-time. But after he moved to Silicon Valley for the summer, he was convinced that this was something worth pursuing.

The decision to drop out of school was not a rushed choice. After launching Facebook, Zuckerberg met with many investors to gauge the potential success of his new company. He defined his goals and evaluated all of his options. He only pulled the trigger after meeting several top notch venture capitalists, recruiting a stellar founding team, and coming close to finalizing a first-round investment.

It’s important to be adaptable

Throughout the process, Zuckerberg showed a willingness to adapt. He originally viewed Facebook as a combination social network and file-sharing services. Zuckerberg’s investors asked that he remove the file-sharing component and instead focus on the social network. They didn’t want Facebook to suffer the same fate as Napster. Zuckerberg was initially reluctant, but eventually agreed. This was an important decision that ended up preventing some major lawsuits.

In fact, it is this ability to constantly adapt that has made Facebook the multi-billion dollar company it is today. By starting with a few select markets, Facebook gathered data about which features were working most effectively. The company then hired top notch analytics experts and engineers to make adjustments as necessary. Although this approach required significant upfront expense, it allowed Facebook to achieve exponential growth as it rapidly expanded throughout the world.

It’s crucial to find the right talent

Let’s take a look at the first few employees and advisors to Facebook:

  • Peter Thiel, Investor and Advisor: The former CEO of PayPal, Thiel had the connections and business savvy to identify a good opportunity and recruit the best people in Silicon Valley.
  • Dustin Moskovitz, Chief Technology Officer: Another Harvard drop-out who had the technical skills to scale Facebook as it grew.
  • Owen Van Natta, Chief Operating Officer: A senior executive with experience in scaling Amazon.com’s worldwide operations.
  • Matt Cohler, VP of Strategy and Operations: A young computer scientist from Yale who had been instrumental in architecting LinkedIn, another up-and-coming social network.

Facebook knew that the first few people associated with the company would define its culture. Therefore, it didn’t settle for anyone who wasn’t a world class talent. Find the right people, and you’re well on your way to building a profitable business.

Create Buzz Through Exclusivity

Let’s face it, social networking isn’t a cutting-edge technology. When Facebook started, Friendster already had millions of users. But Facebook beat them by using a unique strategy: exclusivity. At first, Facebook was limited to just Harvard and some other Ivy League schools. This created a sense of privilege; all of a sudden, everyone wanted to be associated with this trendy new social network.

Over time, Facebook became more and more open. Today, it is available to users around the globe. But it was the initial exclusivity that brought in a ton of users upfront.

Get Others to Promote You For Free

In March of 2010, Facebook released their new “like” button. The idea is simple: any web publisher can put a small icon on their site:

When visitors click on the icon, facebook posts a link to their profile with the title and URL of the website. This link will appear in their newsfeed and allow publishers to get access to a whole new group of people. This extra publicity gives publishes a huge incentive to put the “like” button on as many pages as possible, which in turn creates a lot of free awareness for Facebook itself.

Why Do You Think Facebook Is So Successful? Please Share In The Comments

One Response to “What We Can Learn From Facebook’s Success”

  1. G.Riddy says:

    Hey, great post!  Thanks for distilling all of that. We often forget that exclusivity is really the future of the Internet.  There's this widely accepted idea that the web  is about equality and democracy, but like you say, really it's an oligarchy.  The facebook story demonstrates the importance of building oligarchical web-based business, which gets the common netizen to want to join, thereby generating buzz and demand for your website.  
    Getting the right people to join early on helps as well.  From all my years advising various startups, I've found that they pay too little attention to that.  Being really cheap and hiring the wrong people at the start breeds the WRONG culture, and that prevents growth later on.  I only wish more startups would read your blog and learn these things sooner rather than later.  
    Keep up the great work!

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