My Visit To Facebook’s Original Headquarters
I wrote the article below after visiting Facebook’s original offices in 2010, before they became the social media giant we all know and love today. The company was in the early phases of development during my visit, and its been amazing to watch their massive growth from then to now. Even reading what I wrote during the flight home years ago still ignites my passion for building companies that enable people to earn a living while making a difference. I hope you enjoy the post.
Mickey Mouse and Facebook
My 5 year old daughter Maria has admired Mickey Mouse and the Magic Kingdom for as long as I can remember and there was nothing more exciting for me than to see her pure joy when we went to Disney. She was literally jumping up and down as she approached the princesses and Mickey Mouse outside the castle. What a moment! I don’t know if she will remember it but I will never forget her cute little face. (I put a few photos below)
Adult Disney Land for Entrepreneurs
I could relate to her excitement yesterday when I had a chance to visit Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto. They invited Ralph and I to their offices to discuss their strategy in the automotive industry. We were honored to meet with the team who has changed how the world communicates online. As an entrepreneur there is nothing more exciting for me than to meet and experience the creations of other entrepreneur’s, especially visionaries like Mark Zuckerburg, who built a platform that can change the world for the better. For me, Facebook is an entrepreneur’s Disneyland and I could not have been more excited to visit. Up to this point my impressions of the company have been shaped by the movie (the Social Network), the press and my personal experience as a Facebook user and marketer.
I arrived with many questions about the company’s vision and intentions with their weapon of mass connection -which could be used for good, bad, or everything in between. What mattered most to me was that I left with the impression that the leadership team at Facebook have good intentions, and seek to use the power of the platform for great good. Like my daughter Maria, my expectations were very high for our visit, but like Disneyland, Facebook somehow managed to exceed my expectations. It was such a cool experience I felt compelled to write it down on my flight home to share with all of you.
The day began when Kyle, one of Facebook’s new team members, picked us up at the hotel in Palo Alto. Kyle works in Facebook’s Austin office and we quickly learned that this was his first time visiting the office when we got lost in the back roads of Palo Alto. This made me feel more comfortable because I was hoping that he was as excited as I was. I was trying to play it cool, I didn’t want to act like my 5 year old daughter did approaching the Magic Kingdom.
When we arrived in the parking lot we learned that we were going to have our meetings in the main buildings that Facebook has been in over the last few years. We also learned that they are moving the entire company to a larger campus where Sun Microsystems used to be due to accelerated growth. The building wasn’t fancy at all. It’s got a 70’s look and definitely felt like a startup. I didn’t notice on the way in, but the building has the word “HACK” on one side, which I recognized on my way out of the building after learning what “HACK” meant and experienced one for myself.
From the moment we met the Facebook team we felt right at home; they were genuine, smart, very humble and fun to work with. The day flew by as we discussed many ways to use Facebook to change the way the world buys and owns vehicles. We continued to work through dinner and wrapped up at around 11pm at night. We covered a lot so I want to write down a summary of what I got out of the visit to share with all of you. Below are some of my impressions in different categories:
Mission– Few ventures have the potential to change the world, and Facebook is on their way to making a historic impact even if they are “only 1% finished”, according to them. “Our work is 1% finished” is one of the many phrases they have hanging on their walls and it’s evidence that they recognize their potential and are working hard to realize the other 99%. What’s more exciting than changing the world for the better? Connecting people, friends, families, colleagues, countries, and cultures is only the first part of the potential when someone becomes friends on Facebook. From there they can learn, grow, share, innovate, impact, help, be helped, change and improve themselves as well as their family, their work, their environment, their city, the country and perhaps the world. The potential of their mission vibrates through the walls at Facebook – like the buzz you hear when you are next to a bee hive – where thousands of bees are working in unison to create honey. The buzz is a great background noise and feel for innovation. Is there anything more powerful than a group of people who are unified by a mission that matters? Not just a mission to build a great business that can make money but a mission that can make a difference in people’s lives and in the world. I don’t know of any other company that has more potential to positively impact the world and it’s exciting to see it unfold.
There a lot of wonderful, good intentioned people who work hard every day to make the world a better place, but not all of them have the Vision to realize the full potential of their mission. Facebook’s vision is extraordinary. They created a new channel of communication that changes the way human beings live and connect with one another. From the telephone to the internet, connectivity has become a cornerstone of how we communicate, and now thanks to Facebook millions of people can instantly share thoughts, photos, videos, chat, video conference and more. Facebook’s platform is the best use of the internet to bring people together in a way nobody has done before. There are too many ways to list how people are using this new social channel of communication, but it has reunited long lost friends, family members, connected couples, colleagues, created marriages and more which is as fascinating as it is amazing. What is most exciting is that this new platform is open and available to make the world a better place. Like the internet, Facebook is a like a new canvas that creators can use to paint on, because they are inviting others to help them build this new environment rather than trying to hoard it all for themselves. As a result, the pace of progress is unprecedented and it’s just getting started.
The greatest canvas ever – Painters love canvas because it gives them a platform to create whatever they want. For entrepreneur’s, Facebook’s platform is the ultimate canvas, and the potential for creating businesses within their business is endless. Their vision is open, inclusive, and collaborative. As a result, the platform continues to become more valuable as more people and organizations build on it. One example is Farmville. Facebook has no business partnership with the maker of this game that lives on their platform yet they provide a bridge that allows 50 million fb users to enjoy the game, which increases their loyalty and utilization of Facebook. Before Facebook, how could a group of start up entrepreneurs have access to 700 million people, who can easily share what they like with everyone they know with a click of a button? Pretty cool!
People power – In the early stages, Mark was reluctant to invite advertisers into the platform because he recognized the extraordinary people power that he was unleashing. He didn’t want to contaminate the space with anything that would get in the way. Like most great entrepreneur’s, Mark is consumed with making his product better. Mission-driven entrepreneurs are compulsively seeking ways they can impact people’s lives, more than they are focused on their own personal gain and profits. There is great joy in creating anything that can change the world for the better, and It became obvious to me that Facebook is passionate about making their users experience better, more than signing up advertisers. I think this is a great approach because if the people are happy they will gather and advertisers will always want to be where the people are. However, it requires a strong visionary who is willing to pass up on tempting amounts of money to defend and protect users from overexposure due to advertising that eventually could turn them away and undermine the platform. Because of Facebook, we are just now seeing the power of people when they have the ability to connect, learn, share and grow together. This power has led to the overthrowing of dictators and to countless encounters and connections that are immeasurable.
Passion –Everyone we met was passionate and it was contagious. I am still fired up. While there are many companies that are excited about what they do, I think mission-driven companies who try to make the world a better place have a different type of fire that spreads faster and farther. Some companies may be more like a bonfire that burns big and bright but dies down after a while, like the week after an exciting sales conference. Facebook’s fire seems to be more like a crucible that burns deeper in the belly, fueled by a mission that matters.
My wife is a great cook. She can make a sauce that turns a normal tasteless piece of fish or chicken into an amazing culinary experience. I think a company’s culture is like a sauce that they marinate their employees and customers in. I didn’t learn Facebook’s culture from a PowerPoint or a book they gave out, or the movie. I learned it by being sautéed in it all day; by walking around, talking with their people, learning their vocabulary, seeing all the visuals that reveal their principles, phrases and philosophies. I was sautéed in their culture sauce from the moment I walked in the door. First thing I noticed was a large wall filled with comments, visuals and art left by previous visitors and employees. Immediately, I was invited into their collaborative culture and asked to contribute to the wall before I even met the person I came to see.
The old cliché of “if these walls could speak” is more than relevant at Facebook because their walls are filled with these phrases, pictures and art. As I walked down the hall surrounded by pictures, phrases and artwork the sautéing had begun. Great companies have strong cultures with their own philosophies, principles and vocabulary that become a part of the DNA. These principles and phrases were all over the place. While there were too many to share, here are a few things that left a great taste in my mouth:
“We are only 1% finished”
There was a small 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper on the wall with this simple phrase. At 700+ million users they are “only 1% finished”. This is a fantastic mindset that encourages the entire team to pursue perfection and improvement. It’s also cool that a lot of these sayings are in different forms, some on simple pieces of paper, some in graffiti, some in art work, stuffed animals, plywood boards and more. All of it is organic and a true reflection of the creative and collaborative culture of the people that work there. This is my favorite saying. Although Facebook has had enormous success, everyone realizes they have a long way to finish.
“Hack”, which means to brainstorm ideas with colleagues, partners, visitors… whoever”
At Facebook the teams often “hack”, which means to brainstorm ideas with colleagues, partners, visitors… whoever. The teams spoke about late night hacks until 3am in the morning with excitement and passion. How many companies have employees bragging about late night brainstorming sessions? The focus and work ethic is awesome.
“Lock downs are the times when the team bunkers down and knocks it out”
Whenever there is an urgent project the team goes into lock down, which could be for 24 hours or a few months. This is a time when the team bunkers down and knocks it out. We were told of people bringing in cots and camping out with tents. In my experience these types of “lock-downs” where people come to together to achieve a time sensitive task, are when the greatest things happen. In the end, everyone is exhausted and may pass out due to sleep deprivation. But when they wake up from the coma they have a deep seeded satisfaction because of what they were able to accomplish with other passionate people working together around the clock. No vacation can deliver this unique sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. That’s why workaholics love to work, because they aren’t working, they are living out their mission to its fullest and dinner tastes a lot better when you leave it all on the field.
Environment – Facebook’s offices are a great environment for a fast growing company. Actually, there are no offices. Mark doesn’t even have an office. Everyone is out in the open. Conference rooms have glass walls and everybody is out in the open together. At Facebook, their walls are alive with writings, principles, phrases and and they change daily because employees and visitors are updating them. This could make some CEO’s nervous because you cannot control what is put up there, but it appears to work great because I couldn’t find one thing on the wall that wasn’t of value. Even the silly jokes and quirky comments provide amusement as you digest the wisdom and depth of the rest of the “posts”. After spending the day and part of the night there I left with a better feel of Facebook’s culture because it’s all over their walls – similar to getting a feel for a person by observing their wall on their Facebook page. Another thing I loved was their kitchens. They provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner to their employees and snacks in between. The kitchens have a wide range of snacks, from snickers to granola bars to milk and cereal. We stopped once for a snack break and I had some granola, sparkling water and carrots. It was a perfect way to graze for a bit and then get back to hacking.
Humble leaders – I was shocked by the humility, authenticity, and genuine desire of everyone to learn and grow. We met with a group of executives that have accomplished more at a young age than most do in a lifetime yet they didn’t have the arrogance that young leaders sometimes have. They have a genuine humility and desire to help others that we really enjoyed. There were no egos and stodgy protocols that make people nervous about speaking up. The team of people they have attracted are very sharp and they are eager students who are inquisitive and inclusive. They are great listeners, thoughtful speakers and were a lot of fun to hack with.
Final thoughts – I was honored to spend the day with the Facebook team and walk away with a renewed passion for my mission to build companies that enable people to make a living while making a difference. I believe that Facebook will go down in history as an extraordinary catalyst of change in the world that connected people, countries and cultures in a way that was not possible before. Mark has made a great contribution to the world through Facebook, and he has built an extraordinary team. It was an honor to be a part of it for a day.