Early Facebook investor said his first awkward meeting with Mark Zuckerberg was 'unlike any I've ever been in'

  • Early Facebook investor, Roger McNamee details his experience as a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg in his new book “Zucked.”
  • McNamee first met Zuckerberg in 2006 and said it was “a meeting unlike any I’ve ever been in.”
  • Business Insider talked to McNamee about how the tech CEO has changed since their first awkward meeting.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Kif: I wanna get to Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg because they’re immensely powerful people.

Roger: Yeah, I’ve noticed.

Kif: So you know them both.

Roger: Yeah.

Kif: How did you meet Mark Zuckerberg?

Roger: So 2006, I got an email from a guy named Chris Kelly. He was the Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook. He says, “My boss has a huge business issue, and he doesn’t know how to solve it, and he needs to talk to somebody who’s been around a long time but has no conflicts. Would you take a meeting?”

Now, Facebook was 2 years old. Mark was 22. I was 50. And they had $US9 million in sales the year before, and they got it basically from, you know, pizza ads. They didn’t even have News Feed yet. They were still just college campuses and high school students. But it was already obvious that he’d broken the code on social.

I take the meeting. He comes in my office. I go, “Look, you don’t know me, I don’t know you, I need to tell you something.” I said, “If it hasn’t already happened, either Microsoft or Yahoo is gonna offer a billion for the company.” And I gave him a whole bunch of explanations about what’s gonna happen, like your management team, your parents, the board directors, everybody’s gonna tell you take the money.

It turns out the reason he was coming to see me was Yahoo had just offered a billion dollars for Facebook. I basically hypothesized precisely what was going on.

Kif: But he hit you with silence, right? This is 23-year-old…

Roger: 22-year-old.

Kif: 22-year-old. He’s CEO, the hottest thing in the Valley. What did the silence feel like? What were you thinking in that moment?

Roger McNameeHollis Johnson/Business InsiderRoger McNamee.

Roger: So… I described this in some detail in the book because it was a meeting unlike any I’ve ever been in, and I don’t know how many people have ever had this experience of being one-on-one in a conference room that’s set up like a living room. So we’re in sort of comfy chairs, but we’re no further apart than you and I are. And I described this thing to Mark, and he hasn’t said anything yet. I mean, he’s introduced himself, and that’s it. There then ensues a silence that lasted almost five minutes.

I challenge you to be one-on-one with somebody and have them pantomiming thinker poses for five minutes and you not be on the verge of screaming. I mean, at about the three-minute mark, my fingernails were implanted in the cushions of the side of the couch. And at the four-minute mark, I’m literally thinking, “I’m gonna scream if he doesn’t say something.”

And when he finally relaxes and says something, I mean, I have no idea what’s just been happening. I’ve never been in a meeting where anybody ever did that before, but it’s also in some ways really amazingly cool because I’ve said something, and he’s thinking so hard about it and trying to decide, “Do I trust this guy I’ve never met before?”

So when he relaxes and starts talking to me, he’s paying me a huge compliment. And that part’s really obvious. It was obvious that this was… His first reflex was not to blurt out what was going on, and I’m looking that as, “Wow, in an entrepreneur who’s only 22, that’s a really good sign.” That level of caution, that level of listening, that level of thinking, I mean, I was already impressed before he came in, but after that, I’m going, “Wow, he is really one in a billion.”

So I ask him, “Do you wanna sell it?” And he said, “No, I don’t.”

Kif: Yeah, how have Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg changed since then?

Roger: I wonder because I don’t get to talk to them anymore. My last interaction with either one of them was October of 2016, and the last interaction with anybody at Facebook was February 2017, and they have very consciously not communicated with me since. So I can’t be certain.

All I can tell is from what I see. The Mark that I knew was really idealistic. He had this vision of connecting everyone in the world. The same way Google had a vision of collecting all the world’s information. He was gonna connect everybody, and he was so convinced of the merit of that idea that I think he truly believed that any means necessary to get there was appropriate.

And in the early days, when he had authenticated ID, when he had real privacy protection, that was likely to work. But once 2011 happened and they started to go to this business model of surveillance and really trying to manipulate attention, and 2013 when they started to embed data from outside of Facebook so the targeting got really good, well, authenticated ID started to feel like friction.

Roger McNameeHollis Johnson/Business InsiderRoger McNamee.

So they basically said, “You know what, we’re not gonna actually police this anymore. We’ll let the people who use the product do the policing.” And privacy starting in, what, 2009? They start trading data in a limited way, and they have the consent decree in 2011, and that clearly didn’t slow them down at all.

So my impression is that Zynga basically hacked Facebook in 2007, 2008, 2009. They realised, “Oh, my God, friends lists are the key to increasing time on site. So we’re gonna move things forward.”

And you look and go, wow. I wish I’d hung around just a little bit longer so I’d seen that because that part’s really scary. And that was a conscious choice, right? They basically said, “Our goal is so important that the personal information of the people who use our platform is just something we’re gonna trade for competitive advantage.”

And they stopped… I’m not sure they ever looked at the people who used the platform as people, but from that moment forward they for sure didn’t, and they were for sure looking at them as a metric, and that’s unhealthy.

Kif: Yeah.

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