Today Is Just the End of the Beginning for Mark Zuckerberg

By Sarah Lacy , written on May 18, 2012

From The News Desk

I'm at a retreat with (mostly) a bunch of entrepreneurs this week. We were sitting around against the starry sky and red clay mountains in Moab, Utah when one non-entrepreneur said his favorite billionaire was Mark Cuban. His reasoning was that Cuban seems like a guy who knows how to spend money. "I don't care how he made his money. I care how he spends it," he said.

I pretty much believe the exact opposite. He went on to say the difference between someone who builds a company that's worth $50 million and worth $1 billion-plus is all luck.

That is just such bullshit. And I'm keenly aware of what bullshit it is, because Facebook is finally going public today. I have first-hand watched what it has taken to build the company to this point. There has been timing, serendipity, and lightning in a bottle, no doubt. But to say Facebook succeeded where others failed because of luck dramatically disrespects what thousands of people have done over the last eight years to make this company what it is today.

I'm not going to say luck and timing don't play a role here. They unquestionably do. I wrote a book called "Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good" about entrepreneurial angst in the Valley surrounding where luck ends and skill begins. But the idea that the difference between Mark Zuckerberg and Jonathan Abrams is all luck is beyond absurd, "oh, I could have built that" player hating. It fundamentally ignores what this day is all about for the tech world.

Whatever valuation Facebook settles on today may be wildly over-valued. But that's Facebook. That's always been Facebook. It has always been an outlier. This is why -- no matter what CNBC commentators try to tell you today, if the stock soars -- it's not an indication of a bubble. I don't care if Facebook's valuation goes to one gillion. It can go so high we have to make up numbers. It is still not a bubble because there is still not another Facebook in the pipeline.

The thing to watch isn't the price point. It's what Facebook does next. Does it do more mega-acquisitions like Instagram -- a smart move in my view, but not part of the normal Facebook playbook? Or does it continue to opportunistically snap up smart teams as it goes? Does it keep its head down, continuing to innovate and put up solid quarter after solid quarter? And the hardest to control -- the thing that keeps every CEO up the night before an IPO -- does the team look at that newly minted net worth and lose all focus?

To that end, Zuckerberg has done the smartest thing he possibly could: He is going to be in Menlo Park with the team today, not taking his victory moment ringing the opening bell. Think about it: This may well be the only time Zuckerberg will take a company public. That moment of being in New York and ringing that bell is something many entrepreneurs dream about. And he's forgoing it. Instead, he's pulling an all-night hackathon with the team as I write this post. It may be posturing but, if that's the case, it's brilliant posturing.

I've only witnessed one Facebook hackathon, and it was in the early days of the company -- when it only occupied one building in downtown Palo Alto. I hung out that night and came by the next day, and it was a total pig sty. I'm not sure if ideas hit people mid-pizza but there were literally slices face-down on the floor. Fruit flies everywhere. And the engineering crew were sleep deprived, over-stimulated zombies the next day. They could barely tell you their names, let alone what a stock might be trading at.

That's one way to force everyone to stay focused on the product.

As our eBook on Facebook (on sale from Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble!) discusses at length, the genius of Zuckerberg is how many aspects of being a tech CEO he has hacked. If he can keep the team focused for the next week or so while the whole world goes apeshit about the reality of Facebook being a public company, that may be the greatest hack of all.