June 1, 2017

Insights from Randi Zuckerburg at the World Business Forum

Former Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg shares her views on why everyone is an entrepreneur, why every company should do hackathons and why failure is just the start of success.

Lessons from Silicon Valley: Former Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg on entrepreneurship, Katy Perry, and why failure is the birthplace of success.  

Why Facebook became so successful

When I started at Facebook we were maybe 20 people, we were the underdog. When I left it was a public company with tens of thousands of employees around the world. People ask me why it became so successful, and I’d say three things.

  1. We launched with exclusivity

We live in a world with endless noise. It’s harder than ever for our content to be noticed. But with Facebook we rolled out to just a few colleges, then a few more, and a few more. We’d wait to see who asked us the most questions about Facebook and we’d open up there so we knew we’d be successful.

  1. We used real identities

In 2004 people used pseudonyms on the internet. Nobody used their real name. But when people are anonymous and hide behind a screen, they become the worst version of themselves. We decided we’d do something different, and suddenly the site became a place where people actually behaved.

  1. We focused on our company culture

Most of the companies I advise spend their time thinking about their next client, their next win –they’re external facing. But in Silicon Valley you’re only as good as the talent that works for your company, and if your talent leaves that’s everything you’ve got. So in Silicon Valley I learned to focus as much internally as externally.

Hackathons are powerful, and they work

Early at Facebook we started doing all-night hackathons. What happened was that not only did people feel free to be their most creative selves, but the best ideas were never from senior management. It was always junior employees or people returning from a leave of absence.

At hackathons, people felt like a good idea can come from anywhere. They feel they can wait for the next hackathon to invent their next job at the company. Today, most of the things you see on Facebook came from hackathons.

Me, Katy Perry and Facebook Live

One of our concepts at a hackathon was Facebook Live. I thought it was just a small idea. Until one day out of the blue I got a call from Katy Perry’s manager saying she wants to go on your Facebook show and launch her next world tour. Facebook Live was very small at the time. I said, ‘Sure, we’re the right platform to launch Katy Perry’s next world tour.’ Luckily for me, there were a lot of engineers at Facebook who wanted to meet Katy Perry and, from there, Facebook live exploded.

One year ago, Facebook rolled out a Facebook Live button to 1.5 billion people in the world. Any of us put in an environment that encourages creative thinking, that encourages new thinking and not being afraid to fail, can achieve great things.

Failure is inevitable, and leads to success

After I left Facebook I started Zuckerberg Media with the goal of putting smart, tech-savvy women in the eye of popular media to inspire the next generation of women into technology careers. There was a ton of buzz about it, we spent two years filing it – and it got cancelled after two episodes. It was a failure. I thought, ‘How am I going to scrape myself off the floor?’ It was my first project after Facebook.

Fast-forward a year or two and I came out with Dot, my children’s book. NBC bought it and we’re now three seasons in. What looks like a failure on the surface can actually be the foundation for success; you just may not recognise it at the time.

Five lessons learned

Entrepreneurs fail. As an entrepreneur, you have to be okay with failure. In a world of digital that’s what you have to do, that’s what you have to be comfortable with. You have to be able be launch 10 projects knowing nine may fail.

We are all entrepreneurs today. The lines are now so blurred. In today’s world of digital even if you work in a big corporation you need to be thinking like an entrepreneur – and if you work for yourself you need to think like you’re part of a bigger network.

Every company should host hackathons. We host a hackathon once a month at Zuckerberg Media. Even if you do just one hour, you will astound yourself what people come up with when allowed to think without fear of failure.

Be mindful of the on-demand economy. Our new reality is on-demand. You can book an igloo right now from your seat at the touch of a button; it’s an on-demand economy we’re all participating in. But I worry that in five years time everyone will either be serving or being served. Whenever we’re getting something fast, quick, cheap or easily someone is paying, and we need to be mindful of that.

Unplug sometimes. Technology has entered all facets of our lives – our health, our fitness, our passions. We’re so excited to be reachable all the time but I think it’s just as important to unplug. From my experience, working with some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world, no one ever saved a major problem while glued to a screen answering emails.