Tag Archives: Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook Needs at Least One Woman on Its Board

(Note: I posted this earlier today on the Huffington Post. I’m reposting it here because this is my main blog, and I believe what I wrote, so I want it here too.)

Why would a startup as important as Facebook, run by somebody as young as Mark Zuckerberg, whose users are more than 50 percent women, go into all-important public stock offering with a board of directors composed of seven men?

For no good reason.

Not that these seven don’t make a great group. It includes Peter Thiel, Donald Graham, James Breyer, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreessen, Reed Hastings, and Erskine Bowles. So that’s the founder, several world-class successful entrepreneurs, the CEO of the Washington Post, a venture capitalist, and a former university president who was also co-chair of President Obama’s Commision on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. That’s an excellent group of men.

Still, qualified as they may all be, seven men and no women? After all, the purpose of a board of directors, Wikipedia says is to govern the organization, establish broad policies, review the CEO, and answer to stakeholders for the organization’s performance. That purpose isn’t better served with at least one woman in the seven-member board? I don’t believe that. Do you?

There is research indicating that including women on a board of directors is better business. For background on that, read Why Your Next Board Member Should be a Woman on TechCrunch, or The ‘Terrible Truth’ About Women on Corporate Boards on Forbes.com, just to cite two of many. And, if you like irony, listen to Cheryl Sandberg, Chief Financial Officer of Facebook, in this Ted talk from 16 months ago, worried about under representation of women in the upper ranks of business. She cites a statistic I’ve seen elsewhere, that over the last six years, women have held a static 15-16 percent of c-level corporate jobs and spots on boards of directors.

Frankly, nobody can say there aren’t qualified women available. Search the web. That’s just dumb.

So why?

I was contacted by the group behind the Face It Campaign, at www.faceitcampaign.com. I went to their website, saw the video on YouTube (embedded here), and signed up. They’re not asking for money, just support for what should be obvious.

If change is going to happen, it takes place one step at a time. This seems like a good time to take this step.

(Note: if for any reason the embedded video doesn’t show up here, it’s on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8DMdSPeBuvU)

Is Marketing Dead?

I’m troubled. Some of the smartest, most successful people I know say marketing is dead. It doesn’t matter, they say. It’s a waste of time. Instead…

… just build great product. Disrupt a big market. The buzz will follow.

And it makes some sense. Did Facebook care about marketing, or product? What about Twitter? Amazon.com? You could say their product was their marketing.

Which, however, is something like saying higher education is useless because Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college.

No doubt marketing is all mixed up and turned inside out these days. It’s still a strong force in big businesses with multi-million-dollar advertising budgets, but there’s this new world in which thought, content, effort and authenticity make up for money. You don’t necessarily buy attention in this new world – you can earn it instead.

But a lot of the core concepts — like understanding your target markets, and developing your main messages, and pricing as message, and managing channels – are as important as ever.

Because there are the brilliant exceptions to the rule, and then there’s the rule.

(image: igoncepts/istockphoto.com)

Not the Customer’s Job to Know What They Want

There was a nice short video on TechCrunch the other day, quoting Mark Zuckerberg, John Doerr, and two other industry leaders on how much the iPad has changed “everything.” I picked it up because of what John Doerr says near the end.

The video snippet I’ve embedded here skips directly to my favorite part, at 2:45, very near the end, as John Doerr talks about Steve Jobs saying what market research has done for the iPad. Jobs says:

It’s not the consumers’ job to figure out what they want.

I like that. As we turn increasingly to polling and research for answers, the problem is that people don’t often say what they really think, and quite often don’t even know what they really want. One kind of leadership, to me, is leading people instead of asking people. You take a guess. When you guess right, you win big. Guess wrong, you lose.  Is it possible that this is also called entrepreneurship? What do you think?

The Nature-Nurture Debate on Entrepreneurship

Is entrepreneurship something people are born with, or do they learn it? Good question, I suppose, but not one I expect anybody will ever be able to really answer. Emily Malby does a good balanced job of reporting about it in Entrepreneurship: A Look at the Nature-Nurture Debate on the Online Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com).

WSJ page view

I’ve always found the nature-nurture debates interesting because only a fool is ever really sure anything is one or the other. These are all great examples of arguments in which the only intelligent answer is uncertainty. Who could ever isolate all the factors involved? And what about Malcolm Gladfield’s book Outliers, for example, which suggests that true expertise takes 10,000 hours of hard work. Is the accomplished musician, or the successful artist, the result of talent, training, or both? And what’s the role of luck?

The WSJ quotes a survey taken with 500 entrepreneurs in the UK. It says:

Only 13% believe that skills they gained through education and experience were the main drivers in starting a business.

Hmmm … but what does that mean, “the main drivers?” and what does “skills gained through education and experience” mean? The report goes on to suggest a contradiction, and maybe a problem with definitions:

Almost 90% of entrepreneurs who took the survey had worked for another company before launching their own companies, and 30% had studied business and management.

So that’s kind of mysterious. I think it goes back to how hard it is to get data like this. We don’t get the facts — as if there are any — but what people say about themselves. And nobody asked unsuccessful entrepreneurs what they thought … what if lack of education and experience increases the likelihood of failure?

The WSJ story, I should add, goes on to give a well balanced summary of this debate, quoting experts and research on several sides of it.

And either way, the nature-nurture debate has nothing useful to say about whether we can teach entrepreneurship, or learn entrepreneurship. Whether it’s learned or innate, there is still the matter of training, and skill, and experience. Don’t tell me born entrepreneurs don’t gain from learning the normal process, and skills like cash flow and marketing. Don’t tell me that the luxury of learning, if it’s available, doesn’t help.

For every Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg there are hundreds of millions of the rest of us.

An Older Entrepreneur’s 10 Takeaways from the Facebook Movie

I saw The Social Network last Friday night, and enjoyed it thoroughly. When it was over I was surprised. “What? Two hours already?”

Here are 10 (mental) notes I took as I watched:

  1. This movie is fun. Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing and Studio 60) does a great job making entertainment from reality.
  2. The plot feels real. I have no first-hand knowledge of Mark or Facebook, but I’ve done angel investing, raised VC money, and was a founding director of a software company that went public. And it feels to me like how these things happen.
  3. The Mark character rings true. He’s brilliant, obsessive, extremely productive, abrasive, selfish, and driven. I’ve known some people like that. They get things done. They bump people around on the way, more from blind obsession with their goals than on purpose. They’re not real good at seeing two sides of any question. They build empires.
  4. Ideas have little or no value. Implementation is what matters. Facebook grew out of some similar ideas that others had first. Mark took them and made them Facebook, and those others didn’t.  When reminded that others had a similar idea first, the Mark character points out that if it had been left to them, it would never have grown into what Facebook became. I agree. The race goes not to the alleged originator of the idea, but to the person who took that idea and built a business out of it.
  5. This movie is not bad for Facebook or for Mark Zuckerberg. We should all be so lucky. What happened with Facebook is a one-of-a-kind business phenomenon and this movie reinforces that. And the Mark character isn’t bad guy or good guy, he’s techie nerd obsessed business founder. It won’t hurt him at all. Mark can cry all the way to the bank. I like Ben Parr’s Mashable post on the real Mark Zuckerberg’s feelings about the movie after it rolled out. And I like this NYTimes.com analysis (you may have to register to see it, but registration’s free) of Facebook’s lack of legal options to do anything but watch.
  6. I don’t feel sorry for the three guys who came up with the original idea. The idea was obvious. They didn’t implement it. Mark stalled them with misinformation, which isn’t nice, but then ideas aren’t owned, so they can’t be stolen; just implemented.  (Corollary to note #4)
  7. The guy who wrote checks has a better argument. There are at least two sides to his story, and I doubt that the movie tells his side very well.   It doesn’t add up right. I do believe that writing checks into a business early on gives you some real ownership.
  8. Always get it in writing. There’s a lesson for entrepreneurs everywhere: sure it’s awkward among friends, but even if it’s not a legal document write it down and sign it. Maybe it’s just a reminder for you and partners later. Maybe you keep it in terms you understand. Ideally, you work with a lawyer to make it legal. It’s very important to do this early, before success or failure, because that keeps motivations cleaner.
  9. You have to protect yourself, not trust in friendship, good will, or ethics. Good intentions and verbal promises get lost in the shuffle. Business is like that. Never trust what somebody tells you a legal document says; read it. When somebody else is working with an attorney, get an attorney.
  10. The real world is full of great stories. It doesn’t take a space fantasy or super hero to make a great movie plot. Real people, the real world, and even real business can be very entertaining. And hey, if we get a few lessons along the way, everybody wins. Right?

For the record, the notes here were mental notes only. I didn’t get my phone out and type into it during the movie. So movie goers, don’t worry. That wasn’t me.