We should probably call TechCrunch Disrupt the startup Super Bowl, but it’s a little more like a cross between the Rose Bowl and a National Latin Club Convention. Case in point: Today’s interview with Mark Zuckerberg, booked solid but streamed online.
When the livestream cut away from a frenetic tour of the startups launching at the conference, Misters Arrignton and Zuckerberg hadn’t yet taken the stage. And so blog personalities filled the time with casual chitchat that included handicapping the various Startup Battlefield contenders. But then came the word: ”I have to cut you off, we have to go to the stage–it’s time.”
It was time for a bit of stilted ice-breaking banter about the size of the venue and the amount of standing room. (Without straying too deep into hoodie hagiography, we’d say: Zuck, you’re a rich man. Buy some real, grown-up shoes. )
But almost immediately, it was onto the elephant in the room: The shitty state of the company’s stock, which hovers at roughly half the IPO price. Mr. Arrington asked the Zuck whether he’d do anything differently with the benefit of hindsight. Facebook’s wunderkind parried–”Just get right into it!”–but just as quickly launched into a rapid-fire defense of the company and its prospects.
Admitting performance has been “disappointing,” Mr. Zuckerberg once again called attention to their longer-term mission of “making the world more open and connected” before moving onto the topic that’s been haunting the company since the run-up to its debut on the public markets: Mobile.
Mr. Zuckerberg copped totally and without reservation to the increasing importance of mobile. In fact, he claimed to “basically live” on his phone and offered an example:
“You want to hear something pretty funny? The founders letter in the S-1–I wrote that on my phone.”
Arrington: “The lawyers didn’t… “
Zuck: “No, I wrote that.”
Facts and figures came fast and furious. He insisted that Facebook’s mobile footing looks a lot surer than it did six months ago, citing iOS integration and a new Android apps. Also promising for the company is the amount of time users spent on mobile versions of Facebook, as well as how engaged they are. Mobile users are more likely to be daily active users, too. “It’s easy for people out there to underestimate how fundamentally good mobile is for us,” he said, “on a bunch of different levels.”
If he doesn’t pull this off, that’s the quote that’s going in the history books.
All this, by the way, in his first answer. He’s nowhere near as awkward as he used to be, but when he gets nervous Zuck still sounds like an Anthony Michael Hall character trying to talk his way out of a (deserved) detention. Also, the Kermit voice is never going away.
Zuck’s current app-happy crush on mobile was inspired by some hard knocks in Facebook’s past. The company’s greatest failing, he said, was putting all its mobile eggs in the HTML5 basket.
Rather than developing native iOS or Android, it fixated on letting in users through a mobile browser. Thus the company devoted six to eight months building an internal infrastructure clunkily-named “Face Web,” to publish to the mobile web. After four months of poor performance, he realized the error of his ways. “We burnt two years,” Mr. Zuckerberg admitted. “Probably looking back thats probably one of the biggest if not the biggest mistake. But we’re coming out of that.”
Mr. Zuckerberg was equally upbeat on the subject of monetizing all those mobile minutes. “I’m really optimistic because mobile is a lot closer to TV than desktop,” he said, pointing out that right-hand ads have made Facebook a multibillion-dollar company. Mobile ads, however, have to be more integrated, which might end up being an unexpected blessing. “What we’re seeing already is that they’re performing better,” he said.
Well, at least the shareholders are buying in:
fun to watch the real-time after hours share price of FB as zuck talks, almost up to 20.00 share, google.com/finance?q=NASD…
— Kevin Rose (@kevinrose) September 11, 2012
But we can’t help but wonder how Zuck’s handling the wear and tear. Asked whether he was “still having fun,” Zuck outright dodged the question. He told Mr. Arrington that, “for me it’s not really about fun, though–it’s about mission.”
Can we get a fact-check from Sean Parker on that?