Why Facebook's CEO ought to tell Wall Street to Zuck off

The tension between short and long-term thinking leads to very different ideas about how Facebook ought to manage its business.
I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg won't lose any sleep about Wall Street's ongoing hissy fit about Facebook -- nor should he. More about that in a moment.

Following the disappointment over the company's second-quarter earnings, Facebook shares fell another 11.7 percent Friday, despite the market-lifting euphoria over the European Central Bank chief's plans to bolster the Euro.

An extreme sell-off, for sure, but not surprising for a stock that's tumbled almost 38 percent since its star-crossed debut on the NASDAQ in May.

Given how this outsize company has infiltrated popular culture, Facebook's fall from grace has also inspired panic. Some see it as a metaphor for the popping of the social-media investment bubble. Then there's the smug second guessing: Weren't we all dummies to ever believe in a company that does so many things so wrong? The chorus of "Zuck must go" has begun.

Zuckerberg never wanted to take the company public in the first place. Circumstances -- mainly in the form of an antiquated SEC rule -- forced his hand. But that was part of the devil's bargain.
So it was that during the company's earnings conference call with analysts, Zuckerberg and his key lieutenants went through the motions of pretending that what Wall Street has to say about his company matters. He knows that's a fiction -- and so do they.

Wall Street's obsessed with the next quarter and Facebook's thinking about next year.
 The biggest mistake I think we could make is to move too quickly and to find ourselves in a situation where we're having an impact on user engagement that we didn't anticipate or is hard for us to manage. (CFO David Ebersman)

We're not TV, we're not search, we are a third medium...But it took a long time for the TV market and advertising to be truly understood. It took a long time for search. And I think we're still in that learning curve with a lot of our clients. (COO Sheryl Sanderg)
We believe one of the biggest opportunities we have is to create the identity and social layer that all new apps and Web sites can be built on top of. We think almost every product is better when you can experience it with the people you care about. So over time, we expect almost all of these products should naturally become social. (Zuckerberg)

Not the sort of answers you'll get from a quick-buck shyster doing a shuck-and-jive routine to jack the stock price. The suits surely wanted to hear more about what Facebook will do to reverse big slowdowns in payments growth, user growth (in the West), and U.S. ad impressions.

 It wasn't going to happen. Zuckerberg's refusal to play that game is hurting Facebook's credibility with a constituency that he's now stuck with. It's an uneasy marriage, but the two sides have no choice other than to get used to each other. It's not as if shareholders can force Zuckerberg out. He structured the company specifically so he can build at his pace and not take his cues from investors, whether venture capitals or Wall Street.
Zuckberg's strategic mindset has helped Facebook attract some 955 million monthly users. As has been well chronicled elsewhere, Zuckerberg has had myriad opportunities to sell out. He didn't take the earlier offers because he wanted to build a business that stands the test of time.

Walter Isaacson's biography last year revealed how Steve Jobs admired Zuckerberg for not selling out. With Jobs no longer around, Zuckerberg can find a kindred spirit in Jeff Bezos, another tech executive who continues to defy Wall Street and do what he knows is in the long-term interest of his company.

Quarter after quarter, year after year, Wall Street complains about how much Amazon spends on infrastructure. The criticism falls on deaf ears. Bezos is thinking years ahead, planning on extending Amazon's reach far beyond its current borders. If he gets slammed by the bean counters, well, that goes with the job description.

Ditto for Zuckerberg. He's a big boy and presumably has grown a thick enough skin to ignore the investing class' periodic tantrums. He's brought Facebook this far. No reason why he can't lead it to bigger things in the future -- if he stays true to himself.

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22 April 2024

21 04 2024