Mark Zuckerberg Goes to Startup School [Video]

10/18/10Follow @wroush

In one of his first major public appearances since the release of The Social Network, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke onstage at Stanford this Saturday about why he started the company, why he moved it to Silicon Valley, and what he thinks about the controversial movie. (The gist of his review: amusing but inaccurate.)

Zuckerberg’s remarks to interviewer Jessica Livingston were part of Startup School 2010, an annual event where the founders of the Y Combinator venture incubator demonstrate their pull by bringing in some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startup founders and investors to share tips with an audience of aspiring entrepreneurs.

This year’s other speakers—who presented to a beyond-overflowing crowd of mostly hungry-looking 20-something males—included Sun Microsystems and Arista Networks founder Andy Bechtolsheim; Y Combinator partner Paul Graham; Groupon founder and CEO Andrew Mason; GitHub founder Tom Preston-Werner; Sequoia Capital partner Greg McAdoo; LinkedIn founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman; “super angel” investor Ron Conway; Quora founder and former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo; Imeem founder Dalton Caldwell; and AirBnB founder Brian Chesky.

Some of the highlights of Zuckerberg’s remarks (with time codes from the video, which is below):

—(3:10) At this point in Facebook’s history, earning massive profits isn’t a big priority—Zuckerberg says starting a company is “the best way to align the incentives of a bunch of really smart people…Any money we are making we might as well invest in something that will make users’ lives better, developers’ lives better, or our business partners’ lives better.”

—(5:48) Facebook’s biggest technical mistake: the way it originally architected the Facebook Platform, the company’s programming interface for outside developers. “We got it completely inverted and we’re still paying the cost of this years later…It was all about developers doing some kind of visual representation through markup and not at all about the social graph or the connections behind it.”

—(9:00) The era of Web-only development is over. If Zuckerberg were starting over with Facebook, he’d make it easy to use on Web browsers and a variety of mobile devices. “It’s going to be a pretty big trend for the next five years, not building an app in one place but building what we call these multi-headed apps that people experience in many places.”

—(9:50) How Zuckerberg came up with his estimate, in a presentation to investor Ron Conway, that Facebook would eventually have 300 million users.

—(10:45) Why Zuckerberg left Harvard and moved Facebook from Cambridge, MA, to Palo Alto, CA. Turns out it wasn’t part of some grand strategic plan—the longer the early players in Facebook stayed in California, the less sense it made to go back to Harvard. “If you just work on stuff that you like and you’re passionate about it, if it’s doing well you don’t have to have some master plan for how it’s going to play out.”

—(15:10) What the makers of The Social Network got right and what they got wrong. “It’s interesting what they focused on getting right in the movie. Every single shirt and fleece in the movie is an actual fleece that I have.” The most interesting thing the filmmakers got wrong, Zuckerberg said, was the implication that he built Facebook because he was chasing a girl or wanted to get into a social club. His biggest applause line of the day: “It’s such a big disconnect from the way that people make movies think about what we do in Silicon Valley, building stuff. They just can’t wrap their head around the idea that somebody might build something because they love building things.”

—(17:40) The lessons Zuckerberg took from his college psychology classes: how little we understand about the human brain. “The best solutions to a large class of problems are ones where humans do the thinking they are best at and we can get computers to do what computers are tuned for…The human brain is orders of magnitude more powerful than we think and it’s really interesting to design software that takes into account the things that we do know about psychology in the brain…For example, there are whole parts of the brain totally tuned toward processing facial expressions.”

—(20:26) The pros and cons of building a startup in Silicon Valley. “One of the best things about Silicon Valley is it’s such a dense environment. It’s like instant startup mix. Everything you could possibly need to think about starting your company—there are all these resources here,” from legal to accounting to payroll. One downside: the valley is “somewhat insular, in some ways very short-term focused. A lot of the blogs focus on what’s happening this week as if it’s never going to change, but the world changes really quickly.”

—(23:10) How Zuckerberg thinks about Facebook’s expansion into China.

Mark Zuckerberg at Startup School from Wade Roush on Vimeo.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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