It’s easy to forget that the juggernaut now known as Facebook started just 13 years ago in a Harvard dorm room, where an undergraduate named Mark Zuckerberg set up a system that digitally connected Harvard students to each other. Today, its influence spans the globe through its nearly 2 billion monthly users.
Given the outsized influence that Facebook plays in society today, it would be easy for an insider to write a hagiography of the company. To author Mike Hoefflinger’s credit, his book, Becoming Facebook: The 10 Challenges That Defined the Company That’s Disrupting the World, is neither hagiography nor tell-all. It is a well-written, well-organized how-to book that pulls valuable lessons from the company’s short but consequential history.
The Three Metrics
One chapter, for example, dissects how a social network connecting the students of a single university grew into a global behemoth in little more than a decade. At first, the growth of the new company was meteoric, from its founding in early 2004 to 50 million users by the end of 2007 (after expanding in 2006 from university and high school students to everyone in 2006). At 50 million users, however, the company hit a wall, and it seemed possible that Facebook had reached its peak, even though it still lagged behind market leader MySpace. To jumpstart Facebook’s growth, a core team of strategists focused on three metrics that they labeled the North Star Metric, Magic Moment and Core Product Value.
To avoid people chasing too many goals, Facebook “decided on a single metric that would be the subject of all their growth attention,” Hoefflinger writes. This “North Star Metric” would be engagement — which would not just measure people who signed up, but people who actually found enough value to use Facebook on a regular basis. The exact calculation of engagement would evolve over the years, but the goal remained the same: getting people to be active on Facebook.
According Hoefflinger, the team understood that for people to be active users, they needed to reach what the strategists called the “Magic Moment” — the moment that people are hooked on a product — as quickly as possible. On Facebook, the Magic Moment is reached when users find a large and growing number of friends on their news feed. Facebook’s successful negotiations allowing Facebook users to import their contacts from services such as Yahoo and Gmail was key to helping new users build up their Facebook friends effortlessly.
“After getting people hooked via your Magic Moment, you have to deliver the day-in-and-day-out value that earns loyalty from your users,” Hoefflinger writes. This is where “Core Product Value” comes in. One example was the crowd-sourced-driven translations into 16 languages that transformed Facebook from an English-language “exogenous” platform that attracted internationally minded users in other countries to a local “endogenous” platform that attracted primarily native speakers. “In country after country, when that crossover from exogenous to endogenous connections came, Facebook user growth would kick into a new and sustained gear,” explains Hoefflinger.
Each chapter in the book begins with a clearly stated lesson, such as “Employee engagement is everything: Fit to people’s strengths and ignore weaknesses,” “Speed is a feature,” and “Everybody wins if you democratize something for customers of all sizes.” In each chapter, Hoefflinger covers the topic in detail, bolstering his pragmatic how-to’s with specific Facebook strategies and events, as exemplified in the growth chapter described above (its lesson was, simply, “Know your North Star Metric, Magic Moment and Core Product Value”).
Although not the first business author to write a How-to-Succeed book based on the story of one company, Hoefflinger is effective, in the 10 core chapters, in putting lessons first, and the company history in a supporting role. In some ways, Becoming Facebook is not only about how Zuckerberg’s company became Facebook, but how, perhaps, your company can also strive to become a Facebook itself.