Asked to reflect on the cultural differences between Google and Facebook, current Facebook COO and former Googler Sheryl Sandberg told Charlie Rose that “Google is fundamentally about algorithms and machine learning . . . We start from a totally different place. We start from an individual: Who are you? What do you want to do? What do you want to share?”
In a joint interview with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sandberg further elaborated that Facebook has as a “culture of very rapid iteration” (vs. others). She explains how Facebook has worked to create a company that permits risk-taking and doesn’t expect perfection of its engineers or its products. ”What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” reads one internal sign she quotes.
Zuckerberg reinforces the point and argues that a culture of nimble and rapid product development will help the company remain vital as it grows into a much larger entity.
Sandberg says later in the interview that unlike its competitors the company only wants to do “one thing incredibly well” — that is: “connect the world.” She says that Facebook has been doing that “one thing” since the early days and is still doing that one thing, whereas others are doing lots of things.
We can debate whether Facebook does one thing or many things. In the broad context of “connecting the world” perhaps the company is still conceptually doing the same thing it always has. But it has many different tools to do so and those have evolved over time. It also has multiple marketing and advertising products — and there will likely be more after an IPO.
Zuckerberg argues that this singular focus has made Facebook fundamentally a “partnership company” and thus different than Amazon, Apple or Google. (He identifies Google as the competitor among the three.) He adds that partnerships are critical to accomplishing Facebook’s ambitions:
If we want to help rethink the way people listen to music or watch movies . . . what do we do? We build a platform on top of which people connect and we enable these different companies . . . to plug in. It’s a really different approach than all these other companies have.
Sandberg adds, “We do this one thing that underlies this huge partnership strategy . . . We can win along with lots of other people winning. We’re not trying to replace everyone or do everything” (an indirect a swipe at her former employer Google).
Zuckerberg goes on to say that Facebook doesn’t think it can do everything equally well because, for example, “building great games is really hard . . .” Zuckerberg repeatedly stresses the focus point, which leads to a conversation about Steve Jobs and Zuckerberg’s questions for and conversations with Jobs.
Zuckerberg says his questions for Jobs revolved around how to build the right team and keep the company focused on its core product and mission. In his intense commitment to Facebook and passionate focus on the product Zuckerberg is probably much more like Jobs than Google’s Page or Amazon’s Bezos or almost any other multi-billion dollar tech company CEO I can think of.
Charlie Rose goes on to discuss several efforts to buy Facebook and Facebook’s own acquisitions (generally for talent). They discuss the function of the Like button and, of course, privacy. In that context Zuckerberg argues that big online ad networks are capturing data and information on people without their knowledge: “way more information than people are sharing on Facebook about themselves.”
The entire interview is about an hour and there’s a great deal more there than I’ve pulled out. The corporate culture and product discussions were most interesting to me, which is why I highlighted them. But you can watch the full interview here.