Mark Zuckerberg Discusses Going Public, NSA Controversy, Home, ‘Moving Fast’ At TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013

By David Cohen 

Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed a variety of topics with TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013 Wednesday, including his advice for Twitter as it prepares to go public, whether Android overlay Home is a failure, and his opinions on how the government handled the aftermath of the reports about the National Security Agency’s Prism initiative.

Zuckerberg was surprisingly candid on the issue of the government requesting access to people’s data from Facebook and other social networks and Internet sources, saying near the end of his session:

It’s our government’s job to protect all of us, and also to protect our freedoms and protect the economy and companies, and I think they did a bad job of balancing those things here. Frankly, I think the government blew it. I think they blew it on communicating the balance of what they were going for with this.

The morning after this started breaking, a bunch of people asked them what they thought, and the government’s comment was, “Oh, don’t worry, basically, we’re not spying on any Americans.” Oh, wonderful. That’s really helpful to companies that are trying to serve people around the world, and it’s really going to inspire confidence in American Internet companies. Thanks for going out there and being really clear about what you’re doing. I think that was really bad.

We aren’t psyched that we had to sue in order to get this (permission to disclose broad numbers about government requests for user data), but we feel like people deserve to know this, and we just take this really seriously.

Amid reports that Twitter is aiming for a 2014 initial public offering, Zuckerberg discussed what he learned from Facebook’s IPO last May:

I’m kind of the person you’d want to ask last how to make a smooth IPO. It’s actually a valuable process. Having gone through what I think most people characterize as an extremely turbulent first year as a public company, I can tell you I don’t really think it was that bad.

I was really worried that people would leave the company and people would get demoralized when the stock price went down, but people have really focused on the mission, and really believe in the products they’re working on, and we haven’t seen a lot of that.

I actually think it’s made our company a lot stronger, because in the process of leading up to going public, you have to know everything about your company, and kind of inside-out, have everything instrumented. I always thought we were a very data-driven company, but the work that (Chief Financial Officer David) Ebersman and crew did to get us ready to be public really took this to the next level, and we run our company a lot better now.

In retrospect, I think I was too afraid of going public, and I’d been very outspoken about staying private as long as possible. I don’t think it’s that necessary to do that.

When Arrington asked Zuckerberg whether he considered Home to be a failure, he replied:

One of the toughest things is determining when something isn’t going to work, versus it just hasn’t worked yet. I definitely think Home is slower in rolling out than I would have hoped. People like the lock screen. They like Cover Feed. They love Chat Heads, so we rolled that out 100 percent.

People want more content than just Facebook content on the lock screen, so we’re taking the time to build that in. In one of the upcoming monthly releases, you’ll be able to get Instagram content and other social content in there, and that will just make it more valuable. I still fully believe this is going to be something that a lot of people want over time. Getting content delivered to your home screen and being aware of what’s going on is a very valuable thing.

Arrington also asked Zuckerberg about Facebook’s “move fast” culture, and he responded:

It gets us into tons of trouble. There are companies that don’t move fast, and they succeed. What I really mean by move fast is that I want to empower people at the company to try things out. I don’t demand that every iteration of what we release be perfect. What it leads us to do is build a ton of infrastructure that enables engineers to try a lot of stuff.

Arrington mentioned a sign at Facebook’s headquarters that reads, “Slow down and fix your shit,” and Zuckerberg explained:

People put stuff all over the campus. I definitely want us to fix our stuff. Sometimes we go too fast and we mess up a bunch of stuff, and we have to fix it.

On Facebook’s strides in mobile over the past year, Zuckerberg said:

We took a lot of shit because we weren’t focused on making money on mobile, and I was focused on making the experience better first, and I think we did it in the right order.

Zuckerberg described his vision for the Facebook platform:

Early social networks tried to do everything themselves. One of the things that we realized was that no one company can do everything. Instead, we should focus on doing a few of the core things, and instead, we should build a platform that would allow other companies to build great social applications. If we can help make it so that the industry overall can build better social apps that are more human by helping them build, grow, and monetize, then I feel really good.

Arrington drew some laughs when he tried to bait Zuckerberg into ripping the much-maligned new Yahoo logo, to which he answered:

Of all the follow-up questions that you could have asked … it seems fine to me, but we’ve had the same logo for almost 10 years.

When asked who he thought should be the next CEO of Microsoft with Steve Ballmer’s announcement that he will step down within the next year, Zuckerberg praised Co-Founder, Chairman, and former CEO Bill Gates, saying:

There are probably a lot of people who can run Microsoft and do a reasonable job. When I was growing up, Bill Gates was my hero. Bill Gates ran one of the most mission-driven companies that I can think of. Right now, I think Microsoft’s mission is less focused than it used to be. Microsoft had a great mission: Put a computer on every desktop in every office, maybe it was every desktop in every home. I think he is one of the greatest visionaries that our industry has ever had.

Readers: What did you think of Zuckerberg’s comments?

Photos by Courtney Rundles.