For a long time, Facebook was the most dramatic, exciting company in Silicon Valley, if not the world.
Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was a global icon thanks to his remarkably young age.
Before 23, he became a subject of intense scrutiny and hero-worship.
This all happened for several good reasons.
Facebook was a global phenomenon with users. It grew from a few thousand users at Harvard to a few million at college campuses around the country to more than a billion people in about five years.
As a business, its growth floored people. Revenues reached a billion dollars in half a decade, all while Facebook's valuation soared past a billion, stunned people at $15 billion, and just kept going.
Meanwhile, the stories about Facebook's founding in a college dorm room were so wild with betrayal, greed, and cunning that they made a movie about them.
Then, in May 2012, Facebook finally went public at a $100 billion valuation. That seemed like it would be the climax to the story, but it wasn't, because despite all the hype, Facebook stock halved by August.
We had a train wreck on our hands!
But now, suddenly, Facebook is a lot like many other public companies in the tech industry.
Yesterday, for example, a very normal thing happened to Facebook.
It reported decent earnings, posting accelerating revenues and a growing profit margin.
It beat analyst expectations, but didn't have the "whisper" numbers that actual traders were hoping for, and so the stock declined a little.
On the earnings call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about how he wants to optimize Facebook ads with better targeting.
Zuckerberg's most exciting hint about the future of Facebook was that it might get into video ads. For good measure, he poo-pooed the idea of a Facebook phone.
The truth is, Facebook has become a perfectly good company with solid management and smart, realistic plans for the future.
But its ambitions suddenly seem limited. It's not going to re-invent TV like Apple or put a computer on your face like Google. It's not going to give away smartphones or take the shipping delay out of online shopping like Amazon. It's not even copying all those ideas like Microsoft.
It's just kind of doing its thing. It built a half-baked search engine. It's optimizing ads.
Which is fine! And smart!
But not very dramatic, or that much fun to pay attention to.
So … is the era of Mark Zuckerberg over?
Far before any of us thought it would be?
Influential people in Silicon Valley are already asking.
The biggest voice to do so, so far, is Hunter Walk, a Google/YouTube executive who is perhaps best known for a blog that industry insiders pay very close attention to.
Yesterday, Walk wrote a post titled: "Have We Reached "Peak Hoodie?"
For the past few years, he says, Zuckerberg has held the "most sway" with those types of people.
"He's of the same generation, he dresses like them (or more specifically, they dress like him) and they all want to respect the Hacker's Way. This gets turned into mantras like "the best code wins," and "move fast and break things." From The Social Network some have learned that you should sometimes play loose with the rules and that you need to navigate around or bull through the stupid folks who seek to slow inevitable disruption, whether they be wealthy twins, Harvard administrators or dead weight co-founders."
"But," asks Walk, "have we reached Peak Hoodie?"
"That is, are we past the halfway point on Zuck as main influence for a generation of technologists?"
The thing about the era of Zuckerberg drawing to a close so soon, is that if it really is, no one would be happier about the prospect than Zuckerberg.
He's never been comfortable in the spotlight. It makes him sweat. Literally!
But it has also made him rich, powerful, and able to do some good.
So … maybe he'll miss it when it's gone.
And if Zuckerberg does, it won't be so hard for him to bring the glory back.
He's just got to return to his roots.
There's a model for this.
Page, who co-invented Google, spent years behind the scenes at the company, allowing people he trusted to turn it into the Internet's most impressive money-making machine.
Then, a couple years ago, he grasped control of Google, and began spending big money (see: $12 billion on Motorola) to pursue crazy exciting goals.
Now, people like Walk are wondering if Page is the new icon. He writes: " Will they be someone we don't know yet or seeing a familiar face in a new light such as Larry Page?"
You can imagine Zuckerberg following a similar path.
Certainly, the Zuckerberg we heard on yesterday's earnings call is not the one we're used to.
Way back in early 2004, just as TheFacebook.com was about to be launched, Zuckerberg sent an instant message to a friend about his first investor, Eduardo Saverin:
Zuckerberg: Eduardo is paying for my servers.
Friend: A sucker born every day.
Zuckerberg: Nah, he thinks it will make money.
Friend: What do you think?
Zuckerberg: Well I don't know business stuff
Zuckerberg: I'm content to make something cool.
Back then, 19-year-old Zuckerberg wasn't thinking about video ads that could be rolled out by third quarter or bold cost projections that might make analysts unhappy in the short term but would lay the groundwork for the future.
But maybe 28-year-old Zuckerberg isn't thinking about his 19-year-old self.
Maybe he's looking across town at Larry Page, and thinking about what he could do at 38.
Maybe the era of Zuckerberg isn't over. Maybe it's just lying in wait.
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