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Radical Transparency

You Wouldn’t Know It from the Movie


It didn’t come out so clearly in the movie The Social Network, but it does come through strong and clear in David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect, that Mark Zuckerberg is a man on a mission. And that mission is not to make a zillion dollars. He’s already done that and has repeatedly refused to cash in his chips and walk away with enough money to make him the richest kid on the block.

In 2004, Zuckerberg was 20, Facebook was four months old, and a financier offered to buy the company for $10 million.

John Luca

In 2006, Zuckerberg pretty much walked away from a deal for Facebook worth close to $800 million. His sister remembers him saying at that time, “This is a lot of money. This could be really life-changing for a lot of people who work for me. But we have so much more opportunity to change the world than this. I don’t think I’d be doing right by anyone to take this money.”

Facebook is long past being valued in the millions. Based on prices for privately traded shares of its stock, Facebook could presently be worth more than $50 billion dollars. Zuckerberg, now 26, owns about 24 percent of the company. His share could be worth more than $10 billion, yet it seems that in certain respects Zuckerberg could hardly care less about the value of the company—yet having control of the company is non-negotiable for him.

One of Facebook’s longest serving executives, Kevin Colleran, is quoted as citing as one big reason for Facebook’s success that “Mark is not motivated by money.” A vice president, Chris Cox, reportedly said, “Mark would rather see our business fail in an attempt to do what is right and to do something great and meaningful, than be a big, lame company.”

Zuckerberg himself has stated repeatedly over the years, “It’s not about the money,” and his actions support his claim. When, in 2006, Viacom, parent of MTV, wanted to buy Facebook, the highest number bandied about was $2 billion. “Why don’t you just sell to us?” a Viacom executive reportedly asked him. “You’d be very wealthy.”

“You just saw my apartment,” Zuckerberg is said to have replied. “I don’t really need any money.”

Zuckerberg’s apartment was a modest one-bedroom with a mattress on the floor and books scattered in piles throughout his room.

Though the movie The Social Network and the book that the screenplay was based on, Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, cast a shadow on Mark Zuckerberg, it is absolutely clear that nobody but Zuckerberg made Facebook what it is today. Just as Apple has been inseparable from Steve Jobs, Facebook is inseparable from Zuckerberg.

Of course he’s made mistakes along the way, but to think of Zuckerberg as anything less than one of the most driven, focused, forward-thinking visionaries of his generation is to underestimate one of the brightest young men alive. He is at the helm of a company—a utility, as he likes to call it—that serves 500,000,000 people around the globe, and counting. All along the way, when others wanted to sell out or make more money with Facebook advertising, author David Kirkpatrick notes, Zuckerberg, “steadfastly refused to compromise his vision.”

For Zuckerberg, it was always about service. His vision is that Facebook will help people to communicate and will empower the individual. It is about connecting the entire world. Zuckerberg understood that the value of a network grows as more people are served by that network. The logical conclusion is that the most valuable network is one that can serve all the world’s people. That’s where Zuckerberg is going. His vision is the whole world. And before you laugh, remember that in six years, at the ripe old age of 26, Zuckerberg and Facebook have close to 10 percent of the world’s people using their service.

Zuckerberg has stated repeatedly, “We’re going to change the world.” He says, “I think we can make the world a more open place.”

His goal is to make people comfortable with “radical transparency,” a dramatic shift away from what we were formerly comfortable with concerning issues of personal privacy. The idea is that technology is so ubiquitous and personal information so readily available that there is in effect no place to hide. The absence of hiding places is a good thing to Zuckerberg. He feels it leads to an increase in integrity. He may still be young and idealistic, but his vision is that people will become more honest and more transparent as they realize that they are no longer able to lead double or triple lives with secrets in unopened closets.

Again, he may be young and idealistic, but Zuckerberg and his gang are changing the world.

“The question I ask myself like almost every day is ‘Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing? … Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem that I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time. And that’s what this company is.”

“Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?”

Not a bad question to ask yourself now and again. Namaste.

I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572.



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