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Date: August 27th, 2012
Category: social media

Is Zuckerberg to blame for Facebook’s slumping stock?

As an analyst, that’s the questions that I’m asked over and over again. In fact it was the same question CNN recently asked in its story last week on Zuckerberg, Facebook, and Wall Street. It’s a fair question to ask and CNN’s Heather Kelly wrote a balanced and thoughtful piece on the subject. While it’s only one of many discussions likely to happen, the truth is that Facebook must focus on its business, employees, and now also investors…regardless of technicalities, follies, insider discussions, etc.

This is a long term play. We all know it. But, we tend to talk about this in the short-term. While only a couple of quotes were used in the CNN piece, I wanted to share the full discussion with you. Perhaps someone at Facebook will read and Like this and share it with employees and investors.

CNN’s Heather Kelly: The recent reports on if Zuckerberg should be out as CEO made me wonder if he just needs more time, if there are specific things he needs to step-up and do, or if it’s just instinctual to blame the CEO for a companies poor performance.

It’s natural in any situation to find a scapegoat if the story’s negative or a hero if the story is positive. Unfortunately, the Facebook IP(uh oh) was plagued with problems from the onset. The market needs to points the finger somewhere and it’s not a thumbs up to signify a “Like.” Mark is young, now incredibly wealthy, and unusually quiet (private) for a notable business leader. He’s almost the perfect archetype to pin the blame. But, the company is far from underperforming. Additionally, Facebook as a product is too far from underperforming. At almost one billion users, Facebook accounts for somewhere between 38-42% of all Internet users around the world. As of July 26th, Facebook also reported that revenue grew 32% to $1.18 billion in the second quarter, which was slightly above analyst expectations. On August 23rd, Facebook released a new improved version of its iOS app and the market is mostly positive about the new release. Lastly, with the approval of the Instagram acquisition, Facebook can focus on improving the mobile experience in order to more effectively monetize it.

To quote my friend and technology investor Shervin Pishevar, “I’m bullish on Facebook because I’m bullish on human relationships.”

CNN: What are some of the biggest criticisms of Zuckerberg from investors right now?

First and foremost, Mark is viewed as an idealistic CEO whose focus on connecting the world over building a profitable business.

Mr. Zuckerberg is often questioned about the caliber of his experience and whether or not its enough to lead a publicly traded company into positive territory and more importantly, instill confidence in the investor community. There are also allegations that Mr. Zuckerberg took part in the over-valuation of Facebook prior to the IPO. Other complaints are more trivial in nature. His young age opens the door to criticisms that he appears immature and doesn’t care about the performance of the stock. And that like Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg doesn’t want to answer to anyone.

CNN: What should he, as CEO, do to address the situation? More disclosure on expenses and how Facebook’s operating costs will result in revenue? Just communicating more? Stay silent?

There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. Mark Zuckerberg is very much like Steve Jobs in his approach to the product over investors and critics. Mr. Jobs wasn’t always successful. He too faced financial difficulties and product failures. Mark is very much focused on building the best product and experience for a multitude of varying consumers from diverse cultures across differing devices and connection speeds. That’s no easy task.

The company however, could invest more time in earning the confidence of investors. Now that its a publicly traded company speculation can either work for or against you. In Apple’s case, the company mastered spinning positive speculation to great fanfare around product releases. For Facebook, speculation is working against the company as measured by the stock price not the company’s revenue, which if you think about it, is part of the problem. Investors don’t know how to think about Facebook most likely because they don’t use the it. They probably use LinkedIn and think Facebook is for their kids. That’s a misperception that contributes to the bigger problem. Speculation about Mark’s capabilities as a leader also contributes to the problem. Staying quiet and avoiding these important topics is not a strategy I recommend. Even Apple needed to break its silence when the market got the story “right” or wrong according to Steve Jobs.

CNN: Is his inexperience as a CEO insurmountable or is it necessary to have him there since he’s the founder/key to the brand?

It’s his vision that makes Facebook so successful. It’s his dedication to the Hacker Way that keeps some of the world’s best developers religiously following his lead. In working with Sheryl Sandberg, he’s able to focus on as he calls it, “shipping.” That’s what investors need. But they do also need to hear from someone in the organization that can give them faith.

CNN: Do there need to be changes to the Facebook business model, or just more communication with employees and investors to boost faith in the current model? Is it just part of the social media cycle (sites lose member’s interest, a la MySpace, Friendster)?

Mark is perpetually competing for relevance. That’s his mission. That’s what investors don’t get. MySpace and Friendster lost track of the original vision because the companies tried to put “the right” people in top roles to appease investors or shareholders. And, it could be argued that MySpace and Friendster stopped competing for relevance…stopped thinking about improving the user experience. Facebook is focusing on mobile which is where it needs to be. Combined with the ongoing quest to stay cool and push people into sharing more and more about themselves will help keep them coming back to Facebook because there is actual value in doings so. Aligning that experience with monetizable opportunities for brands so that there’s value on both sides of the experience will only help. Investors can find solitude in that Mark Zuckerberg brings Jobs like tenacity and focus to solving these problems and any problems that will emerge over time.

CNN: Do you think low employee moral is dangerous (will they sell off more shares when the lockup period is over and would that have a big impact on FB)?

Morale is always an issue for a publicly traded tech company. One minute you’re trading at $36 and the next you’re at $19. Those dramatic swings can wipe away a significant chunk of an employee’s net worth. Mark has done the best he can to invest in a culture where money isn’t the endgame, but instead incentive for hard work. On the eve of its IPO, Mark hosted a Hackathon. He focuses on shipping and user experience. He gives his employees a mission to believe in. Facebook has a positive role in this world and it is this sense of higher purpose that has a better effect on morale than cashing out. At least that’s the hope…

As I shared with Al Jazeera pre-IPO, ”In an era of digital Darwinism you have to compete for relevance in real time, almost faster than real time,”

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The End of Business as Usual is officially here…



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