Mark Zuckerberg Interviewed at Ivanti-Sponsored Silicon Slopes Tech Summit 2020
It's not every day the CEO of Facebook pays a visit to Utah. But when he does, 30,000 people show up. And they all have their phones out taking pictures of Mark Zuckerberg for their social media sites—namely Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram.
The 35-year-old billionaire, who co-founded the world's largest social network out of his dorm room at Harvard, appears humble and down to earth on the Silicon Slopes stage (photo credit: Silicon Slopes).
Mark Zuckerberg at Silicon Slopes Tech Summit
“I built this platform because I wanted to give every single person in the world a voice - not just the ones in a position of power.” - Mark Zuckerberg @ Silicon Slopes Summit #SSTS20 pic.twitter.com/SZ8Ym9PsNV— Silicon Slopes (@siliconslopes) February 1, 2020
Clint Betts (Exective Director of Silicon Slopes) began the interview after a standing ovation from the audience. Here are some of the highlights.
Betts: Recently you shared in a press conference that one of Facebook's focuses for the next decade is that "it is more important to be understood than to be liked." Can you share what you meant by that?
Old Facebook: Focus on Product
Zuckerberg: When I got started with Facebook, I was 19. There were so many parts about building a company that I didn't know. I didn't know anything about hiring or managing or building a company. I certainly didn't really know that much about how to communicate about what we were doing with the world. I'm an engineer by training. I love coding. I like building products. That's kind of the background.
My experience growing up and running the company, is I would go out, talk about what we did, say some stupid things, get called out, and kind of go into a shell. So I ended up being really cautious about how we communicated. It worked out okay for a while because we built products that a lot of people really liked.
We weren't winning because we were communicating well, we were winning because the products worked well, I think, in spite of the fact that we were communicating quite poorly about what we were doing.
Zuckerberg: I just think that, for one, we don't have that luxury anymore [to not communicate]. Two, I think that for a while, that kind of led to a sentiment towards the company that was positive but fairly shallow. Because if you're not out there standing for things that people care about, then it's not possible for people to feel that strongly about what you're doing.
So now I've tried to change our approach more recently. I went out in Georgetown last year and gave this speech around our principles around free expression. And that's just one of the areas that I really feel like is under attack right now. Increasingly, we're getting called to censor a lot of different kinds of content that makes me really uncomfortable.
Betts: There is a lot of talk that social media leads to enhanced polarization in the world. How do you respond to that?
Social Media Polarization
Zuckerberg: The mission of the company is to help people build community and bring the world closer together. So the last thing I want is for our products to be used to divide people or kind of rip society apart in any kind of way.
I think that we can continue to improve what we do to make it more positive over time. But you know, some of the research is now coming out on this and it goes against the narrative that I think a lot of people have—this mainstream narrative.
This guy Gentzkow out of Stanford just released this study that he did on polarization effects across many different countries around the world. The finding is that while social media is obviously a global phenomenon—it's in pretty much every country and we're not in China, we're not in North Korea, but we're pretty much in every other country—that polarization is trending in very different directions in different places.
While it's increasing in the US, it is flat in a lot of Europe, and it is down in a lot of other countries. So if the main thing is that we're driving polarization around the world, where that now you're giving everyone a voice and that is somehow having this negative effect, then it doesn't really make sense that you wouldn't see that uniformly everywhere.
Betts: As you mentioned, you're a product guy at heart. When you look at the next decade, what product innovations are you most looking forward to? What product trends are you excited about?
Digital Intimate Spaces
Zuckerberg: When I look at our private social apps today, they're still pretty much just texting. I think when you fast forward, that's not going to be how it is in the future. I think we're going to have private social platforms, which are as robust as the digital town square type social platforms that we have, but for all the different ways that we want to interact publicly: small groups, sharing location in private ways, interacting with businesses one-on-one, or just being able to hang out.
Right now where instead of growing up in a 10,000 person town, we have a community of billions of people. We have access to all this great content, but I think part of that is a little disorienting, too. I think that we all kind of want a sense of intimacy and community, and I think that a lot of the next set of trends are going to be around building social products that help build that as well. It's not that the digital town squares are going to go away. I think they'll keep on growing and there's a lot more to do there as well, but I think that the intimate spaces are going to be really important.
Zuckerberg: I know there's a lot on commerce that's going to be really exciting about empowering individuals. That's kind of what I think our company is about, is we want to give every person a voice. We want to empower individuals.
On the business side, the way that we think about what we do is, and we serve about 140 million small businesses. The vast majority use our products for free. I think it's about eight million advertise with us so the vast majority are using it for free. But the way that we kind of think about what we do is that we want every small business or individual entrepreneur to have access to the same kind of sophisticated tools to reach people that historically only the big guys have had access to.
I just think that there's so much more to do on this, in terms of building out tools around commerce, making it so that people can have control over their money and assets and move it around. I mean that's a lot of what is happening in the crypto space. I think that there's a lot of interesting stuff that can happen there. We're in a lot of countries around the world and I kind of think that right now a lot of the payment infrastructure has been built up very nationally. So you look at different countries and a lot of it is very country-specific. It's very hard to do commerce or move money across borders. And I think that can be a lot easier.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Zuckerberg: Probably the thing that I think is the craziest that I think we're going to get in the next 10 years is real, true, augmented reality and a more mainstream virtual reality. The reason why I'm so excited about this is because ... it delivers a feeling of presence, right? You feel like you're right there with another person or in another place, no matter where you actually are physically. You can be playing ping pong with someone halfway across the world.
In the future we could be doing this interview and this could be a hologram version of you interviewing me. I really think we're going to get that. That's going to be way more powerful than just being able to make a phone call or a video chat.
Betts: I have to ask you this. Do you feel like you're taking heat on behalf of the entire internet?
Q: Do you feel like you’re taking heat on behalf of the whole internet? A : “That's what leading is” - Mark Zuckerberg @ Silicon Slopes Summit // Full video interview : https://t.co/Zx7qifhOqv #SSTS20 pic.twitter.com/bDuNDo5vbd— Silicon Slopes (@siliconslopes) February 1, 2020
"That's what leading is."
Zuckerberg: That's what leading is. I think we're certainly the center of a lot of issues. When I talk to my peers and folks who are running other companies, they certainly feel like they're in heaven. They have a lot of incoming as well. So I'm always very sensitive on this because it always feels very tough.
Whatever challenges you're dealing with feel very personal. You feel that very acutely. And then other people's challenges, it's easy to abstract away. So I always think you need to be careful about kind of judging the position that you're in compared to others.
Betts: What are principles you've lived by as a founder/entrepreneur? And of those principles, which ones do you wish you would have adopted much earlier?
Establish Clear Goals
Zuckerberg: I think it's really easy when you start building something to underestimate how much context you need to put out there and how clear you need to be about what you're trying to do. So most of my mistakes early on in building the company were about not being clear enough internally about what we were trying to do.
There's this very famous episode where like in 2006 a couple of years into building the company, Yahoo tried to buy us, and they offered a ton of money. A lot of the people who I'd hired at the point (experienced technology executives) thought this was their startup dream come true. They joined and then within a year or a few months the company had the opportunity to exit for this large amount of money.
I really failed through that period to communicate what we were trying to do and what we stood for. In the absence of that context, it was a rational thing for people to think that this was a good outcome for us to have.
Internal Team Cohesion
Zuckerberg: When you have internal team cohesion and you have a team that believes in something, you can get a lot of things done and you can handle a lot of adversity. But when you break that, it's very hard to get things done.
So through the other big challenges that we've had to navigate over time—not just the last couple of years, but after we went public where we had a big business model challenge—we were transitioning from a desktop and web-based business to mobile. Our app wasn't in the space that I wanted it to be. We didn't have ads in newsfeed yet so we weren't sure if that was going to work.
We went public and our market cap got cut in half, and within the first year, people doubted whether we were going to be able to make this transition to mobile. Empirically, that's not a crazy thing to doubt because a lot of technology companies basically die or really lose their way during these big technology shifts, and going from web to mobile was certainly one.
But you know, through that period we were able to maintain very good team cohesion internally. Everyone had a strong sense of mission. They knew what we were there to do, they believed in the products, they cared about connecting people and bring the services to more people around the world.
Betts: What can you teach us about creating mission and values for a company?
Write Down Your Values
Zuckerberg: Early on someone gave me this advice when we were talking about value, which was if you have values, you better just write down what they are... Sometimes companies write down what they want their values to be, and then it's dissonant with what you actually believe and how you actually operate.
Part of building a company is trying to communicate to a group of people both internally and outside the company how you're going to operate. So I think what you need to do is just write down and encode and try to encode that and capture that. You need to be honest about it. It shouldn't be some crap about how you wish you operated or some platitudes. It should actually be how you operate.
Zuckerberg: Be honest. Obviously you should be honest, right? Everyone should be honest. If you're not going to be honest, don't work at our company. But that's not really a trade off. You're not giving something up to be honest. I think that that should be a given.
But I think the internal communications since that Yahoo episode that I was talking about has actually been a strength of kind of how we built up the company. That's because at every step along the way, we've erred on the side of being more open internally. I do a Q and A with with all employees every week where not only will I answer pretty much any question that anyone has, but we go out of our way to get the hardest questions. We've built up new processes over time as the company has scaled. So that way, people can now vote on the top questions that they want to get answered.
Betts: If you think about what you want your legacy to be, what would you want your legacy to be?
Give People a Voice
Zuckerberg: People are really questioning at a fundamental level if giving people a voice good. I believe that there is a pendulum that is swinging and the pendulum will go back in the other direction towards voice and free expression. And I hope that I can play a part in that.
But I think people really have turned from thinking that tools that help people connect is going to be a powerful thing and positive for our communities, positive for social cohesion and democracy. I think the pendulum is swinging there, too.
But really, I think that the formula throughout history has been that empowering individuas—more voice, more connection between people—you build strong communities, and that's how we make progress together. If we can do this around the world, I think it'll hopefully lead to more prosperity and people living more fulfilling lives everywhere. If we can be a part of that, then that's what I hope to do.