The gloves are off, and Facebook‘s current and former executives are now engaged in an open war of words.
The Facebook executive David Marcus published a lengthy blog post on Wednesday attacking his former colleague Brian Acton, calling him “a whole new standard of low-class” and accusing him of working to slow down certain business objectives while he was at the company.
The bizarre public squabble comes on the heels of an explosive interview with Acton, the cofounder of WhatsApp who left Facebook a year ago. In the interview with Forbes, published earlier Wednesday, Acton broke with convention and spoke candidly about disagreements he had with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg before his departure.
The series of executive departures over the past few years has raised questions about Facebook’s ability to retain talent and about the future of some of its popular products like WhatsApp and Instagram.
Marcus, who is one of Facebook’s most powerful executives and heads up the company’s blockchain efforts, insisted that no one at Facebook had asked him to write the post. He said he read statements in Acton’s Forbes interview that “differ greatly from the reality I witnessed first-hand” and “felt compelled to write about the actual facts.”
It’s worth noting that Marcus was for years the head of Facebook Messenger, the company’s home-built messaging product that in some way competes with WhatsApp, a messaging app that Facebook acquired in 2014 for a whopping $US19 billion.
“Call me old fashioned. But I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class,” Marcus wrote of Acton. “It’s actually a whole new standard of low-class.”
‘Don’t be passive-aggressive about it’
Marcus sought to portray Acton and the WhatsApp group as a persnickety and ungrateful team within Facebook that received special treatment on everything from office layouts to private conference rooms that were off-limits to other nearby Facebook staffers.
Marcus said Zuckerberg “personally shields founders from what typically frustrates them in larger companies, giving them unprecedented autonomy,” even when doing so comes at a cost to the company.
More importantly, Marcus appeared to accuse Acton of deliberately slow-walking plans to monetise the WhatsApp messaging app.
“It became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it,” Marcus wrote.
“In my view, if you’re passionate about a certain path – in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it – and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value,” he continued. “Don’t be passive-aggressive about it.”
[Disclaimer: no one at Facebook asked me to post this. I just had to do it. And these are my personal views exclusively.]
Today Forbes published an interview of Brian Acton that contained statements, and recollection of events that differ greatly from the reality I witnessed first-hand. As a result, I felt compelled to write about the actual facts.
First – there are few companies out there that empower and retain founders and their teams for as long as Facebook does. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger thrived at Facebook for six years, Jan Koum and Brian Acton over four and three years, respectively. For some of them, Facebook is the place they did their best work, and had the most impact in the world. The main reason is because Mark personally shields founders from what typically frustrates them in larger companies, giving them unprecedented autonomy. This attitude towards supporting founders and their teams sometimes comes at a cost to the company. For example, WhatsApp founders requested a completely different office layout when their team moved on campus. Much larger desks and personal space, a policy of not speaking out loud in the space, and conference rooms made unavailable to fellow Facebookers nearby. This irritated people at Facebook, but Mark personally supported and defended it.
Second – on encryption. The global roll-out of end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp happened after the acquisition, and with Mark’s full support. Yes, Jan Koum played a key role in convincing Mark of the importance of encryption, but from that point on, it was never questioned. I witnessed Mark defending it a number of internal meetings where there was pushback – never for advertising or data collection reasons but for concerns about safety – and even in Board Meetings. Mark’s view was that WhatsApp was a private messaging app, and encryption helped ensure that people’s messages were truly private.
Third – on the business model. I was present in a lot of these meetings. Again, Mark protected WhatsApp for a very long period of time. And you have to put this in the context of a large organisation with businesses knocking on our door to have the ability to engage and communicate with their customers on WhatsApp the same way they were doing it on Messenger. During this time, it became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it. In my view, if you’re passionate about a certain path – in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it – and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value. Don’t be passive-aggressive about it. And by the way the paid messaging that WhatsApp is rolling out now sounds pretty similar to metered messaging from my point of view…
Lastly – call me old fashioned. But I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class. It’s actually a whole new standard of low-class.
I’ll close by saying that as far as I’m concerned, and as a former lifelong entrepreneur and founder, there’s no other large company I’d work at, and no other leader I’d work for. I want to work on hard problems that positively impact the lives of billions of people around the world. And Facebook is truly the only company that’s singularly about people. Not about selling devices. Not about delivering goods with less friction. Not about entertaining you. Not about helping you find information. Just about people. It makes it hard sometimes because people don’t always behave in predictable ways (algorithms do), but it’s so worth it. Because connecting people is a noble mission, and the bad is far outweighed by the good.
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