"Just as an architect aspires to construct a building that will stand the test of time, an entrepreneur should build his product considering the three sides of the triangle: Passion, purpose, and people."
When Mark Zuckerburg founded Facebook in 2004, he was a teenaged Harvard student fascinated by the possibilities of using technology to connect people. In 2012, “Zuck” was still firmly at the helm of Facebook, now valued at over $104 billion with over one billion users.
How did “the new Internet Prince” pull off such an amazing feat—and what lessons can aspiring entrepreneurs learn from his story? Intel social media innovator Ekaterina Walter turns her practiced eye to the Facebook phenomenon and shares her insightful analysis in Think Like Zuck. Along the way, she highlights the striking parallels between Zuck and other contemporary entrepreneurial legends, from Apple’s Steve Jobs to Zappos’ Tony Hsieh.
Walter’s advice in a nutshell: Entrepreneurs who hope to create similar social impact and financial wealth need to integrate five critical elements: purpose, passion, product, people, and partnerships.
Put Your Passion at the Heart of Your Business
"Build what you believe in."
Passion must serve as the heart of your business. Everything follows from that, Walter asserts, starting with your own understanding of who you are and what your purpose is. From there you can craft your ideas, define your creations, mold your products, and propel innovation. “Align your business with your personal philosophy,” she advises.
For Zuck, Facebook marks the sweet spot where his dual passions for software and social connections overlap. From that wellspring flow all the continuous innovations in engineering and services that have propelled the company to global dominance in social networking.
Zuckerburg has committed himself to connecting the world, not to getting rich. “We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services,” he declared in his IPO letter. Walters finds that this kind of passion to “make a ding in the universe” (as Steve Jobs once said) characterizes truly great entrepreneurs, naming not only Zuck and Jobs, but also Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and a host of others.
Your passion will provide the perseverance needed to build a great company.
Passion Fuels Purpose
"Great companies don’t just create great products, they create movements."
A purpose with passion will even trump creativity, as Walter’s examples reveal. You can borrow someone else’s idea and improve on it—but you need your own energy resources to push forward despite obstacles, rejections, and mistakes.
Zuck’s first attempt to connect college students via the internet, FaceMash, got him in hot water with Harvard officials for unauthorized use of college photos. Undaunted, he forged ahead, adapting a user-permission policy in his next venture—Facebook.
He embarked on it with a passionate drive for creating great user experiences. That’s the kind of commitment needed to transform an industry and even the world. Consider the impact on our lives of such purpose-driven innovations as the iPod’s “1000 tunes in your pocket,” Southwest Airline fares, Ford cars, Starbucks coffee, Disney cartoons, Zappos’ “wow” customer service, and many more.
Even as the direction may change, the purpose stays the same in a great enterprise. In 2006, Zuck stunned most observers by turning down Yahoo’s purchase offer of one billion dollars. He wanted to stick to his purpose of connecting the world.
Walter invites you to build your passion, whether as an entrepreneur or an “intrapraneur”—and provides role models for every step along the way.
Get the Right People on Board
"Develop smart hiring procedures consistent with your cultural values that bring the right people on board."
Your single most vital capital for sustainable success is human capital. If you can get the right people on board—the ones who share your cultural values—you will multiply the energy that can be leveraged for innovation. Don’t think in in terms of filling slots—get the best talent with the right outlook, and then figure out where to put them. “Hire for attitude,” emphasizes Walter. “Skills can be taught; passion can’t.”
For Southwest Airlines, that means looking for the “warrior spirit,” not airline experience. For the hacker culture that defines Mark Zuckerburg and permeates Facebook, employees must share the commitment to improving user experience as the product is always being upgraded, and redesigned. Experimentation and mistakes are embraced as a necessary part of the process.
Talented people don’t need to be managed, they need to be empowered. Creating an environment of trust unleashes creativity and motivation. The policy of giving employees freedom to pursue their own ideas, pioneered by 3M, has been adopted by other celebrated innovative giants, e.g., Google and Apple. Furthermore, the resulting flat management structures facilitate collaboration.
How much does hiring for cultural values matter? About $1.2 billion, if you go by what Jeff Bezos of Amazon paid to purchase Zappos, renowned for its unique culture committed to delighting customers and employees alike. Estimating $100 million in losses from wrong hires, Zappos began offering newly trained employees $4,000 to quit on the spot.
A great hire can compensate for weaknesses at the top as well. Zuck wooed Sheryl Sandberg of Google to handle the operational side, setting a precedent for young founders of tech start-ups to hire a seasoned COO for balance. Success in business is a team sport, and Walter cites other famous complementary partnerships that generated long-term success: the Warner brothers in film, the Johnson brothers of Johnson & Johnson, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple, and, less well-known, Sears and Roebuck. “Success is a team sport,” Walter observes.
At the end of the day, if you are inspired to create a successful company culture and leadership team, you need to know both your strengths, i.e., the values and commitment you bring, as well as your weaknesses, i.e., areas where you lack expertise or experience.
Can you learn to “think like Zuck” enough to create your entrepreneurial success? Greatness takes passion—and it takes action. Ekaterina Walter offers you ample inspiration, challenge, and advice to help you dare to win.
Where does your passion lie—and with whom would you need to partner to bring it to market?