Josh Iverson was one of Facebook’s very first ad sales people. In 2004, as a media seller at Y2M, he had the job of representing Facebook to companies like Ford and Nickelodeon, which were experimenting with ads on Mark Zuckerberg’s college-based network, which had only 1.5 million users at the time.
He also sent an early email to Zuckerberg outlining a vision of how Facebook could automate ads sales — an idea that Facebook adopted en masse years later.
But he passed on an opportunity to become one of Facebook’s earliest employees, in part because of a scheduling problem over a meeting with Sean Parker, a Facebook investor.
Iverson got an early look inside Facebook as it struggled with its transition from dorm-room startup to big media business.
“It was a very hard sell,” Iverson told Business Insider. Facebook had an advantage with advertisers, Iverson recalls: “Some advertisers just wanted to hit schools.” But that was often outweighed by the fact that the small user base generated billions of pageviews. By clicking a lot on Facebook’s content users proved that “basically, they were totally ignoring the ads,” Iverson says.
And many advertisers don’t like to try untested media: “We were telling them, ‘you’ve got to try Facebook’ but it was a new thing and they often didn’t want to try new things.”
Facebook did benefit when Iverson met clients with older kids, however. CEOs would say, “My kid in college told me I should advertise on it.” That, it turns out, is a powerful mover of ad sales dollars.
Iverson soon realised that having humans sell ad campaigns individually to clients was inefficient. He also knew that Zuckerberg disliked advertising, and that Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s former CFO, was not a natural ad sales guy.
So he began thinking about how it could be improved.
“I knew Mark Zuckerberg didn’t like advertising. I knew Eduardo wanted to be a banker. … Zuckerberg was passionate about programming. Eduardo — he wasn’t a closer. He was clear about going to Goldman [Sachs] to do his internship at Goldman. If he had said come on board I might have done it.”
In hindsight, that seems surreal. Facebook makes $US6 billion a year in revenues now, and Saverin’s “job” at Facebook was to figure out the finances — yet neither Zuckerberg nor Saverin was focused on how big the potential sales opportunity was.
Didn’t they know it was going to be huge?
“I don’t think they did,” Iverson says. “Tricia [Black] was the only one who knew it was going to be huge.” Black was one of Facebook’s earliest employees. She had worked with Iverson at Y2M and joined Facebook as its first VP of ad sales.
In the meantime, Iverson began exchanging emails with Zuckerberg about advertising. “I met him. I don’t know if he would remember me now.” Most of Zuckerberg’s emails revolved around things like “This creative is ugly,” or “this Spongebob material is ridiculous,” Iverson says. (He did not keep copies.)
Eventually, Iverson proposed to Zuckerberg that media sellers be given direct access to Facebook’s platform, so that independent media selling teams could plug ads directly into Facebook and earn commission off them.
“You should go self-serve,” Iverson says he told Zuckerberg. “I detailed it in a way that said, this could be really big. … one seller can make a lot of money calling on pizza joints.” But, “I don’t know if he ever saw my email.”
Of course, Facebook eventually did exactly that — opening its Ads API to companies that place ads on behalf of clients. It’s not quite the same as teams of salespeople cold-calling pizza joints — the scale is vastly greater — but in principle the way Facebook works now is very similar to Iverson’s proposal.
So why didn’t Iverson go to work for Facebook, like Black?
Turns out it was just a missed connection.
Iverson flew out to Silicon Valley. “I was meeting Dave Morin [Facebook’s former platform developer, who was transitioning from Apple to Facebook at the time]. I was trying to fit my meeting with Sean [Parker] between sales calls. So we never connected.”
But even if Parker had asked Iverson to join, he still may have said no. “If he would have offered me the job I don’t know if I would have taken it.”
“People forget that [in 2004] Google and Facebook were post dot-com bust. It was not, the success these companies had just didn’t exist. … people just grouped Facebook with the dot-coms of the internet.”