Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his new COO Sheryl Sandberg fielded questions from Kara Swisher at the D6 conference. The pair stayed on message. Zuckerberg has learned to simply state the company goals in answer to almost any question. It shows focus and the savvy of a budding politician. Sandberg brought serious chops to the monetization and marketing discussion.
Kara asked Zuckerberg why he chose to be the CEO, even as the company has grown to 550 people. He sidestepped the question and talked about the company goals--helping people share information, building products, and creating teams.
Zuckerberg offered up that the Beacon advertising program was a big mistake, but it reinforced the point that Facebook needs to give people complete control of their information. In other words, Facebook takes privacy seriously.
Sandberg talked about value in Facebook applications, including those that are whimsical and fun, such as Slide's SuperPoke. Kara asked how Facebook will change the advertising paradigm in the context of those applications. "The larger part of advertising is in demand creation and traditional brand advertising. Facebook has a really unique opportunity to fulfill that message. Users tell us what they like and what they do, and it provides us an opportunity to work with advertisers to provide things that are great for users. We think we can offer real users engagement."
Zuckerberg thinks of Facebook as a technology company, while Sandberg described Facebook as a media company that connects people and advertisers. The ended up connecting their viewpoints. "Technology can speed up the interaction between advertisers and users, and that's really good for users," Sandberg said. Making privacy and advertising work harmoniously will be a major challenge for the CEO and COO.
Zuckerberg talked about changes to the Facebook platform, especially getting rid of the box mentality--user pages littered with applications in boxes on pages. The net effect of the new Facebook platform is that the more engaging applications and those that users trust more will get more distribution, through feeds instead of boxes, he said.
Kara saved the Microsoft question for last. She asked Zuckerberg if he would sell Facebook to Microsoft for $15 billion. "The goal of the company is to execute on the things we talked about before, become more open, and share more information. The end goal isn't to sell the company or IPO. We evaluate how it will help us along the way," Zuckerberg said. Can they sell company without you?, Kara asked. "I don't think so," Zuckerberg responded. Facebook's VCs may have a different view on Zuckerberg's view on exit strategies, but it is refreshing to talk about building value.
Sandberg, who recently made her first visit to Microsoft, said the two companies had a good partnership. "No company can go it alone. We are a small company with 550 people, four years old and not very big," she said.
Zuckerberg told of Google's Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt coming to his apartment for dinner. He didn't have the proper things to make dinner or enough chairs for his guests to sit. Kara asked him about working with Google. He danced around this question.
"They do a lot of interesting things. It would be good to work with them on something. The thing is Google is such a big company and doing so many things. They are also working social stuff. It would be good to talk to them about some stuff." In other words, we aren't really working with them. However, with all the Google refugees at Facebook, that could change.
Regarding the controversy with Google's Open Social initiative, Zuckerberg said that Facebook is watching how it evolves. "It's really just getting started," he said.