Sheryl Sandberg: We ‘Ruthlessly Prioritize’

Facebook's COO on phone rumors, advertising

What does Sheryl Sandberg think about former employer Google’s latest foray into social networking?

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” she said. “Google+ is flattering.”

During an interview with Business Insider editor-in-chief and CEO Henry Blodget at the news site’s Ignition conference Thursday, Facebook COO Sandberg said that while there may be increased competition, Facebook thinks it can find success with a tight focus on building social technology and “ruthlessly” prioritizing.

While Blodget observed that Facebook has appeared Google-like in its attempts to launch (and then, subsequently, close) trendy products, such as Groupon-type daily deals and Foursquare-esque check-ins, Sandberg said Facebook and Google couldn’t be more far apart.

“Our product strategy is about as different from Google’s as two tech companies can get,” she said, adding as an example of their differences that highly resourced Google has about twice as many job openings as Facebook has jobs.

When asked about recent rumors of a so-called Facebook phone, Sandberg declined to indulge the speculation. Instead, she said, “Our strategy, really, is that we want to be a social layer on every device.”

Sandberg also said that while the company doesn’t have immediate plans to use its vast data resources to roll out advertising products outside of Facebook, it is something that they’ve discussed.

“It’s something that might be a good idea at some point in the future,” she said. “[But with] limited resources, running the company to, as I said, ruthlessly prioritize, when we make a list of things we can work on, it hasn’t made the list.”

Emphasizing Facebook’s benefits to advertisers, she said the site lets marketers “fish where the fish are.” While 9 million companies use the site to promote themselves, she said only 2.3 million pay for ads or sponsored stories.

“[Advertisers] want their consumers not just to buy their products but recommend their products to their friends,” she said. “What Facebook does is allow brands . . . to have an authentic and direct relationship with a consumer.”

Noting the quick rises and falls of former tech giants Yahoo and AOL, Blodget asked Sandberg how she’ll avoid “becoming Yahoo.” While she acknowledged that market leadership changes happen faster in the Internet space, Sandberg said Facebook’s goal is to grow a long-lasting company, on par with Procter & Gamble and Coke.


A Topic Close To Her Heart

 

Sandberg also talked about a topic close to her heart: the advancement of women in the workplace. Echoing themes from the popular TED talk she gave last year and her Barnard graduation speech earlier this year, Sandberg said, “We have a stalled revolution for women.”

While women are well-represented in higher education and entry-level positions, she said, that progress isn’t reflected in top positions where women have just 15 percent to 16 percent of executive positions and board seats.

There are plenty of reasons for that imbalance, she said, but encouraged women to “lean in” and “be ambitious” to immediately change the internal reasons.

“[Women] leave before they leave. They make these small little decisions along the way, because they think they’ll need balance later, that lead to a place where they’re not in a great job,” she said. “Balance is important—you need balance. But take the balance and the time off when you need it.”

Early in her career, Sandberg worked for the World Bank and told Blodget that she once thought that she would never work for a private sector company. But when she encountered Google, she realized the power of technology.

Referencing Facebook’s role in the Egyptian revolution and other events overseas, she said, “It’s changing the world.”

Not only is the social network giving individuals a voice, Sandberg said it’s helping the economy by supporting small businesses and creating jobs.

Given her interest and previous experience in the public sector, Blodget asked pointedly if she’d consider running for president.

In response, she laughed and demurred, “There are so many great candidates out there. How could anyone make this election any more interesting than it already is? No, I’m not running for office.”