What Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Mark Zuckerberg

Despite all the criticism that Mark Zuckerberg has taken for his actions in the past, there is one thing that nobody can contest: Zuckerberg is an extremely shrewd business person. He often thinks in terms of decades, not days, weeks, or months, and has built the only site that has ever had the chance to take down (or at least compete with) Google. So what is it that has brought him to this point and what should entrepreneurs take away from his successes?

Think Long-Term

If there is one lesson that every entrepreneur should take away from Mark Zuckerberg, it’s that holding tight to a long-term vision is critical to experiencing massive success. While that vision is subject to adjustments over time, thinking in terms of a 5 to 10, even 20 year horizon while making any business decision, will help guide a company toward long-term stability.

After watching Mark Zuckerberg, I now tell every who discusses entrepreneurship with me the following:

If you think in terms of 2-year visions, you will outperform 95 percent of society. If you think in terms of 5 or 10 year visions, you will rank among the top 0.01 percent.

Granted, not all long-term visions succeed, but thinking with such long horizons, gives you and your organization the ability to tackle problems that no ordinary company would ever be able to accomplish. That’s because the majority of people are short-sighted. We all can become short-sighted (such as when you see a news article that instantly changes your perception), however it is the truly successful entrepreneurs that hold fast to long-term visions.

Have The Confidence To Dream Big

I sold my own company (Social Times Inc, which includes this site) back in December to WebMediaBrands Inc. (Nasdaq: WEBM) and it was the result of a vision which was initially limited. While there was a broad vision which was much longer term, I was too often focused on the day-to-day of things. Getting through this process is something that will be left for a different post, on my personal site, but once you have the luxury of not being concerned with basic survival needs, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to create massive dreams.

I should note that one way of not being worried with basic survival needs is by keeping your job, something I personally didn’t do. Moving on. Having the opportunity to reflect on life’s experiences and dream about the future is a luxury afforded only to a fraction of the world’s population. To those select few (many of whom fall within our reader base), you can create a dream that most people will tell you is absolutely ridiculous.

Rather than getting bogged down in the day-to-day problems, step back and paint a picture of your future, and your organization’s future. Ideally this picture will be physically drawn (in the form of words or images) on a piece of paper, but that’s just part of it. While Mark Zuckerberg may not have had the dream of reaching one billion users on day one, it has become clear to me that in the past year Zuckerberg has begun practicing new exercises which encourage him to think in terms of dreams that are only possible with resources unimaginable to most.

After hearing Mark Zuckerberg mention such exercises to members of the media, and after successfully testing out the theory of turning dreams into reality, I now realize the importance of having big dreams. It requires a significant amount of confidence, but for the few who are capable of dreaming and believing in massive dreams, the world is your oyster.

It didn’t take Mark Zuckerberg alone for me personally to learn this lesson, but his most recent side comments at press events have taught me about the potential for big dreams. Who knows, you may actually build the next Facebook!

A Personal Addendum

On Being Trustworthy

I should add that I do not personally know Mark Zuckerberg well. While I had the opportunity to interview him once, and have interacted with him in a public forum, I do not know him on a personal level very well. Honestly, very few people know him extremely well. While meeting with a leading internet investor the other day, I was asked “Do you trust Mark Zuckerberg?” To that question I cannot respond, because I do not know him personally. However I’ve trusted Facebook since early on, when I was first building a social network of my own from scratch.

When building things you often pretend you are inside the mind of a competitor (or a perceived competitor) and try to think how they will act and what they are considering. Without ever meeting, and even often without knowing the individuals behind the business, you begin to paint a picture of what you believe them to be, and honestly I always viewed them as trustworthy.

The company however has made some missteps which make me, and many others, wonder what Zuckerberg’s intentions are. For example, why is the company so dead set on keeping “Instant Personalization” the way it exists today? It honestly does not make any sense whatsoever.

On Being Visionary

I should also add that I am always extremely hesitant to call anybody a visionary. The reason is that in the context of business, visionary suggests that a person is not only capable of creating the vision, but also capable of selling the vision to others and leading (as a leader) those individuals on the journey to reaching the vision. I have been told on many instances, by many people close to Mark Zuckerberg, that he is indeed a visionary.

To me, that promotes Mark Zuckerberg to the level of Steve Jobs, who is now the King of the technology industry. Journalists, analysts, investors, and most importantly consumers, look to Steve to produce products that will change their lives. It has often been compared to a “cult” but in reality, nobody is more effective at selling a vision to us, the consumers, as Steve Jobs.

Visionaries come in all shapes and sizes, and lead various types businesses, however it is rare that a visionary can have the impact as large as Steve Jobs. Conversely, a product can have as massive of an impact as the iPod, for example, yet still be produced by a company which is not lead by a visionary. Facebook is no doubt one of the most impactful products in decades, if not centuries, but I have personally not yet determined whether the leader behind the product is in fact the Steve Jobs type of visionary that so many have grown to idolize.

I should also add that it’s difficult to hold such comparisons when Mark Zuckerberg is 26 and Steve Jobs is 55.

Forever A Skeptic

As you can probably tell, I am by nature a skeptic. I am in awe of Facebook and I believe the company has the potential to accomplish massive things, that are still currently beyond their reach. Facebook is an incredible company, but I, like any objective observer should, have a healthy dose of skepticism to keep me grounded. While I believe in the potential of Facebook, which is still far beyond what it has currently accomplished, I will also continue to question the company as well as the intentions of Mark Zuckerberg, the incredibly self-guided, shrewd, and aggressive business person.

Image via Gawker.

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