“I’ve never met or spoken to Mark Zuckerberg,” admitted screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who penned the effervescent dialogue in Hollywood’s account of Facebook’s launch, The Social Network. “The day the movie opened in the US, he shut down the Facebook offices, bought out an entire theatre and took his staff over to see it. Mark needed this movie like a hole in the head [but] I think the way he handled it is to be admired.”
Admirable handling of the various challenges presented to Zuckerberg by his extraordinary life and work is becoming something of a constant. While The Social Network portrayed him as a cold and borderline-Aspergian, code-obsessed Machiavelli, the circumstances behind the latest chapter in Facebook’s ongoing transformation have cast him in a very cosy light indeed. Announced on Thursday 2 February, the company’s forthcoming stock-market flotation – predicted to generate up to $100bn – is set to hit several image-management birds with one mighty, diamond-encrusted stone. Say what you like about Zuckerberg – he’s done it again, timing the venture with watchmaker precision.
Here are seven aspects of the announcement that highlight Mr Z’s management genius:
1. Paying customers compliments
Let’s come clean: Facebook is a form of entertainment, right? As much as going to the pub, hanging out at the movies, watching TV or listening to music, the network allows us to meet our mates, let off steam and experience a variety of media. While its unilateral format changes tend to leave users cold, its more positive attributes – obtainable at no charge, lest we forget – have pulled in some 845m monthly active users, of which more than half log in each and every day. As a result, one whole page of the company’s flotation fling, lodged last week with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), is a thank-you to Facebook’s millions of punters around the world, who helped to put it where it is. And cheers to you, too, Mark.
2. Redefining bonus pay
Up to 1,000 Facebook employees could become millionaires as a result of the flotation. You want team morale? Facebook staffers are going to be cutting blocks of it out of the air in their offices and flogging it off the back of trucks.
3. Reining in that principal paycheque
In view of the tidal revenue about to flood into his bank account from the share purchases, Zuckerberg has pledged to slash his wages to just one dollar per annum. This is the kind of senior remuneration scheme that employees around the world would find immensely agreeable.
4. Cooling off a persistent legal threat
As fans of The Social Network will know, Zuckerberg’s bêtes noir in the founding of the site were his fellow Harvard alumni, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss – muscle-bound twin Olympic rowers who pursued the young entrepreneur through the intellectual property courts.
Claiming that Zuckerberg had pilfered their idea for an online yearbook, which they didn’t have the technical knowledge to execute themselves, the brothers eventually won a $65m settlement. Last year, the ‘Winklevi’ went back for more, claiming that the network had been undervalued under the terms of their original deal, entitling them to an enhanced cut. In July, it fell to a Boston District Judge to block that new claim on grounds of invalidity – just weeks after the brothers had ditched the idea of taking their complaint all the way to the Supreme Court.
Under the terms of the flotation, the twins have been tipped to make $300m on windfalls from their existing shares. Could this help to extinguish their persistence?
Who knows. But it’d sure extinguish mine.
5. Paying dues to peripheral creatives
David Choe’s contribution to the founding of Facebook did not include one line of source code. Instead, he had the task of conveying its maverick sensibility through the form of interior design, blessing the company’s Palo Alto offices with a liberal wash of energetic graffiti. Offered cash or shares, he chose the latter, and as a natural result of the flotation he stands to trouser $200m – which ought to sound pretty impressive jangling around with his spray cans.
This subplot alone has highlighted Facebook’s trailblazing nature. Can you imagine Choe getting a gig to redecorate Rupert Murdoch’s office? Can you heck.
6. Opening up brand firepower
“Facebook user growth and engagement on mobile devices,” says the risk-factors portion of the SEC filing, “depends upon effective operation with mobile operating systems, networks and standards that we do not control.” Anyone else hear the implied “Yet” at the end of that sentence?
Expect molecules to play as much of a role in Facebook’s post-flotation life as pixels. And for the brand to achieve Virgin-like ubiquity.
7. Making Google look evil
In Zuckerberg’s eyes, Facebook has a “Social mission [to] make the world more open and connected … We don’t wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money, but we understand that the best way to achieve our mission is to build a strong and valuable company.” The very week that he made this statement – as part of the flotation announcement – Facebook and Twitter took Google to task for deliberately skewing its search results in favour of content held on Google-run platforms and services.
Google’s PR division is now looking at a nasty bunch of monolithic and Orwellian connotations to chip away.
Happy chiselling, folks.
To read Facebook’s full flotation document, click here