BEST OF THE WEB: How Mark Zuckerberg transformed into a competent CEO – and took Silicon Valley by surprise

Most tech-savvy entrepreneurs will know Mark Zuckerberg’s story, how he started coding Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, flew out to California, quickly made some good friends and is now on top of what is likely to be one of the biggest tech IPOs in recent history.

But there’s another story here that not many others know – how Zuckerberg has transformed into a competent chief executive.

When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, he was barely out of his teens and yet in charge of one of the most popular and fastest growing websites in the world. Even more strangely, without any experience in business at all, he’s maintained control. So much control that when Facebook bought Instagram for $US1 billion, he didn’t even tell the board until after the decision was finalised.

What’s even more surprising is that he’s actually transformed into a competent manager and chief executive – and this New York Magazine piece chronicles how he did it.

“Mark has done two things in his twenties,” one colleague told the publication. “He has built a global company, and he has grown up.”

Spending your 20s at the head of a global powerhouse – one that has caused privacy controversies and defined an entire generation of internet users – is a tough way to grow up. But, as the piece describes, he managed to quickly gain experience by hiring good people and firing employees when the time was right.

“Appalled at the way he was portrayed in The Social Network, Zuckerberg initially wanted nothing to do with the movie—then, deciding not to let it define him, he rented out theatres in a Mountain View cineplex and bussed the entire company over to see it.”

The piece is full of interesting anecdotes, such as Zuckerberg being “notoriously frugal” with his own spending, that he didn’t like Facebook’s early business efforts and insisted on ads that met his specifications, and that he has adopted some of his own interviewing techniques from Apple chief Steve Jobs.

But Zuckerberg is also aware of the trend in Silicon Valley of companies which abandon the original CEO in favour of someone more experienced in business. These companies have all, according to the story, “lost their way”.

Zuckerberg is adamant he maintains control. And the only way to do that is learn on the job. One way he’s done that is through being “really, really good at firing”, according to one unnamed colleague.

“We made some hires that weren’t the right ones. And we were pretty good at correcting that quickly. Mark deserves the credit for identifying and following through with that.”

One of Zuckerberg’s best moves has been hiring Sheryl Sandberg as chief operating officer, with the publication noting the duo has been so successful that revenue has skyrocketed from $150 million to $4 billion – and that companies are now looking at the idea of complementing a young CEO with a business-savvy supervising COO.

Facebook is about to go public. But perhaps the bigger story is how Zuckerberg managed to even get to this point at all – and become a better chief executive in the process.

Amazon moving into the fashion game

Amazon has been dominating the entire internet, moving into cloud computing, general retail, and now – high end fashion. The company is so serious about its fashion efforts that it’s even hired high quality photographers to take pictures of models wearing high-end brands for its latest venture.

“It’s day one in the category,” chief executive Jeff Bezos told the New York Times, adding the company is making a “significant” investment in fashion in order to convince the bigger brands to jump on board.

Just like the publishing industry is fighting against Amazon, the fashion market is preparing for a similar battle.

“It has the latitude to set prices and charge whatever it wants,” Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, told the publication. “That is a huge threat for brands.”

Is the bubble finally here?

Every few months it seems, another analyst takes a go at judging whether Silicon Valley has hit another bubble. The latest $US1 billion sale of Instagram to Facebook has sparked the latest discussions.

But over at Uncrunched, former TechCrunch editor Mike Arrington has laid bare why he thinks the entire argument is a farce.

“I totally agree that whatever is happening right now is exactly like the late 90s, except not really at all,” he says, in a scathing report that’s worth reading to see how different the current market is from the dot com boom.

Whether there’s a bubble forming or not is anyone’s guess – but it’s definitely one prediction that’s been forming for years with no pay-off just yet.

The decline of Yahoo

Yahoo has been in a tailspin for a while now, shedding revenue and staff for several years. And just last week it entered another controversy after it was discovered the company’s chief executive, Scott Thompson, had mistakenly identified himself as having a computer science degree when he doesn’t have that qualification at all.

It’s only the latest controversy for the company, which was once at the top of its game during the early years of the 2000s. And as this graphic over at Mashable shows, it’s had a very strong fall from grace.

So much so, that during early 2011, Yahoo controlled as much as 2% of all internet page views – now it controls just 1.3%.

The company is currently in a process of restructuring, but it’s probably going to take a while before this internet giant is back on track.


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