Think Like Zuck: What We Can Learn From Facebook’s CEO

By Dennis Yu 

Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been one of the most-discussed figures of our time. Some people love him, some criticize him, but most just watching from the sidelines marvel at how a 19-year-old could become the 29th-richest person in the world (according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index) by building a simple social program. Last week, I finished reading Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg by Ekaterina Walter and I found a lot of answers to that very question. So I sat down with her to talk about the book and Facebook in general.

Dennis Yu: Why Think Like Zuck, and what are the five principles that you describe in the book?

Ekaterina Walter: Think Like Zuck is an analogy of a leader who follows his or her passion, leads with purpose, builds great teams, and strives for continued excellence in his/her product (or services). It is a mentality that drives great leaders to building successful business and the approach they use to doing so.

The 5 Ps described in the book are:

  • Passion — Keep your energy and commitment fully charged at all times by pursuing something you believe in.
  • Purpose — Don’t just create a great product, drive a meaningful movement.
  • People — Build powerful teams that can execute your vision.
  • Product — Create a product that is innovative, that breaks all the rules, that changes everything.
  • Partnerships — Build powerful partnerships with people who fuel imagination and energize execution.

Yu: To what degree is luck involved?

Walter: There is some luck involved, absolutely. And there are definitely more factors to consider. For example, timing is important: Are the customers ready to embrace your product? A number of external factors play a big role. But depending on your purpose, you will take advantage or miss the opportunities that are in front of you. Every decision is made through the eyes of an entrepreneur.

Yu: Who should read Think Like Zuck? What should a reader expect to get from the book?

Walter: Anyone who has a passion for innovation and disruption. Those who have an entrepreneurial streak, whether they are an intrapreneur (a person who drives change within a large company) or an entrepreneur (someone who owns his or her own business). And just anyone who wants to learn from other successful leaders.

Packed with examples of Facebook’s success principles in action — as well as those of Zappos, TOMS, Threadless, Dyson, and other companies — Think Like Zuck gives you the inspiration, knowledge, and insight to make your own mark in the world, to build a business that makes a difference, and to lead your organization to long-term profitability and growth.

Yu: Entrepreneurship is painted as a glorious endeavor. How about the dark secret moments of doubt, when there’s not enough to cover payroll, your main customer is threatening to leave you, or Google is creating a competing product. What causes some teams to fail versus succeed?

Walter: You are right; it isn’t a glorious endeavor. As they say, an overnight success takes many years of hard work. I think what distinguishes those who succeeded is their true belief in their purpose and perseverance. It took Steve Jobs nine years to make Pixar successful, but he believed in animation so much that he kept investing. Of course, at that point, he did have personal money to invest. Some businesses don’t have that luxury.

But I also think it is about finding people (not just partners, investors, but employees, as well) who believe in the same mission. That’s why it is important to create a culture where you establish right hiring practices and communicate your purpose out clearly. Tony Hsieh says that when Zappos hit its rough patch, only those employees remained who truly believed in what the company was trying to do, they took the pay cut and worked harder. Sharing a passion for something or believing in singular purpose unites people in the most amazing ways, it bonds them, and it helps them get through the toughest of times.

Yu: Can these principles work for intrapreneurship, too? Not all of us are starting companies in our garages, but perhaps want to make a change inside our companies.

Walter: Absolutely. I am just one example of that. I was privileged to be a part of the small team of people who transformed Intel into a social business. Our team started off just like a startup: Very little budget, mostly our passion for social and a lot of motivation. There is Scott Monty and his team at Ford, who are doing the same thing – leading social transformation. In my career, I’ve watched people within big brands drive change with no team and a very small budget, using the principles outlined in the book. It is truly amazing what we can all do when we are passionate about something.

Yu: What kind of dent on the planet would like to achieve with this book? What does that look like?

Walter: I believe that every single one of us has an inner entrepreneur hidden inside. If I can inspire even one person to look deep within himself or herself and find that one thing that makes them happy, that adds purpose to their lives, to dream and dare to act on their dreams, that in itself is going to be worth writing a book for.

Yu: Facebook has been pushing more options for brands to pay for engagement. Some are not happy about the way the algorithm works and the need to pay if we want more people to see our content.  

Walter: I understand where the frustration is coming from, but the reality is that there is way too much noise on the Web, and the amount of noise will only grow. We have to have filters in place to sort it all out. Plus, it isn’t a new concept. As marketers, we need to work hard on making sure our content stands out and people engage with it regularly. This isn’t any different than what we had to do in traditional advertising to make our ads capture attention. It is our job to produce relevant and engaging content no matter what network we are on. And if the organic exposure isn’t enough, we need to consider supplementing with sponsored stories to ensure some of our critical content is seen by more fans and their friends.

Dennis Yu has helped brands grow and measure their Facebook presences. He has spoken at Search Marketing Expo, Search Engine Strategies, Web 2.0, The American Marketing Association, PubCon, Conversational Commerce Conference, Pacific Conferences, HostingCon, Affiliate Summit, Affiliate Convention, UltraLight Startups, MIVA Merchant, and other venues. Yu has also counseled the Federal Trade Commission on privacy issues for social networks. Yu has held leadership positions at Yahoo and American Airlines. His educational background is finance and economics from Southern Methodist University and London School of Economics.