Lessons from the world’s youngest self-made billionaire (part 2)

I AM back in Saigon for work and education. And the past three days have been spent in meetings, sessions and exchanges with visionaries, owners and country heads of businesses. As a business coach, it makes real sense to reflect on Zuckerberg’s life and business lessons in a more personal manner. Thus, I will complete this article starting with the third lesson below. As always, having the right people can make a huge difference in running a business.

  1. People

In an article released in http://www.entrepreneur.com, Zuckerberg highlights the need to develop the habit of thinking in terms of the people inside and outside of your business who are responsible for every element of your sales, marketing strategies, and activities.

It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs will work extremely hard to think through every element of the marketing strategy and the marketing mix, and then pay little attention to the fact that every single decision and policy has to be carried out by a specific person, in a specific way. Your ability to select, recruit, hire and retain the proper people, with the skills and abilities to do the job you need to have done, is more important than everything else put together.

In his best-selling book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins discovered the most important factor applied by the best companies was that they first of all “got the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus.” Once these companies had hired the right people, the second step was to “get the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

The most innovative companies allow their employees the freedom to develop their interests and to take risks. Facebook has an interview process that only selects employees who are the right fit for the company’s culture. Once they are in, they take part in intensive training that teaches them the “hacker way” of fast, creative coding that Zuckerberg prizes.

“I think as a company, if you can get those two things right–having a clear direction on what you are trying to do and bringing in great people who can execute on the stuff–then you can do pretty well,” Zuckerberg explains.

Lesson: Get the right people on board and wrong people off the bus. And where possible, hire for attitude, not skills. Skills can be taught, passion can’t.

  1. Product

To students and professionals of marketing out there, Mark has this to say: “To begin with, develop the habit of looking at your product as though you were an outside marketing consultant brought in to help your company decide whether or not it’s in the right business at this time. Ask critical questions such as, ‘Is your current product or service, or mix of products and services, appropriate and suitable for the market and the customers of today?’”

Facebook is utterly committed to its product. Every innovation is to further its goal of connecting people in the simplest way possible. Facebook’s philosophy is to “move fast and break things” and this has ensured the rapid growth that has allowed the company to lead. Zuckerberg’s complete belief in his product has also given him the strength to persevere with some of the most unpopular changes in the face of huge opposition, even within his own company.

When Zuckerberg announced Facebook as a platform, people thought he was crazy. But expansion into a platform has thrust the company into the next stage of successful growth.

Zuckerberg says, “The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete…There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: ‘Code wins arguments.’”

Lesson: Establish a culture that welcomes innovation. And have the courage to stick to your vision and be dedicated to proliferating the culture that helps execute on that vision in the most effective way.

  1. Partnerships

In a http://www.inc.com interview, Mark was very passionate on the need to define each partner’s role explicitly. He went on to say: “You do not want to overlap in your efforts. Before you get started, carve out who is responsible for what. These roles may change over time. But they must be established up front to avoid conflict. Partnerships are a never-ending work in progress. Don’t let issues that arise be swept under the rug. They always bubble to the surface anyway.”

No business leader can run a company all by himself. Success is a team sport. Great leaders recognize their own weaknesses as much as their strengths and bring in the right people to form partnerships that drive success. Whether it is investors, a management team, suppliers, distributors or retail partnerships, partnering with the right people is vital.

At Facebook, Zuckerberg provides the imagination, while Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, provides the execution around his vision. Zuckerberg and Sandberg share the same values, complementary strengths, commitment, mutual trust and the mutual respect needed to continue to drive the company forwards.

“Sheryl has been my partner in running Facebook and has been central to our growth and success over the years.”

Lesson: The right partnership of imagination and execution is at the heart of a successful company.

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