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Facebook top exec reveals surprising ways it plans to grow

·Editor in Chief

Carolyn Everson has one of the biggest—and maybe one of the coolest—jobs in corporate America.

As vice president of global marketing solutions at Facebook (FB), she’s the head of sales of the social network behemoth, which of course is growing like crazy these days. To give you an idea: In 2007, Facebook had sales of a mere $153 million. Fast-forward 8 years, and the company just did nearly $16 billion in sales over the past 12 months. (Can you say more than 100X!)

Everson, 43, who grew up on Long Island and graduated from Villanova and Harvard Business School, has been leading this effort since 2011, a period in which sales have more than tripled. While CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg get most of the headlines when it comes to building the amazing growth machine that is Facebook, Everson (pronounced E-vehr-son) deserves some credit too.

It sounds like Sandberg agrees with that notion. “Carolyn has built an incredible global team that focuses on solving our partners’ business objectives,” she says. “She makes all of us better listeners and more creative problem solvers. Carolyn brings her whole self to work—and encourages everyone she works with to do the same.”

One of Facebook’s biggest successes of late has been transitioning to mobile. You may remember that only a few years ago, analysts were suggesting that Facebook "couldn’t do mobile." Now the company is in the mobile driver’s seat. (Sorry, Twitter [TWTR].) It was a huge change for Facebook, Everson said to me in a recent interview, reminding me that while its Instagram platform was mobile first, the rest of the company wasn’t.

“We had to go through that transition,” she says. “We were a desktop company when Mark started Facebook. We had to shift our entire company to be mobile first—and mobile best—which required us to rebuild our mobile apps. They weren't very good 3-plus years ago. We had to build a native IOS and Android and build a mobile ad business. So we went through this transformation ourselves.”

Today, Everson says some 2.5 million advertisers are now using Facebook, mobile and desktop, to connect to the company’s mind-blowing 1.55 billion users.

And speaking of those 1.55 billion users, some people suggest that Facebook has become so big that there is nowhere left to for the business to grow. But Everson says the company has room to grow in several ways, pointing out that WhatsApp, a messaging app that’s hugely popular overseas with some 900 million users, carries no advertising as of yet. The company is testing potential ways Facebook Messenger, which the company took out of it main app last year—and its 700 million plus userscould be monetized in the future by experimenting with messages between users and companies.

“We're just in the earliest stages of figuring out how people and businesses want to connect via messaging services,” says Everson. “We have some test cases with companies like Zulily (ZU) and Everlane where you can make a purchase on Everlane.com and Zulily. You can click a box that says you want to communicate with that brand via Facebook Messenger. Your shipping confirmation will come via Messenger. You can actually make adjustments to your order via Messenger.”

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 Even with such a massive audience, Facebookers insist there are still plenty more potential users out there.

“Getting more people connected to the Internet is a huge priority for us. Today only 40 percent of the world's population is connected to the Internet. So while we are proud of the fact that we do get a billion people a day [users on the site], there are still over 4 billion people that do not have access to the Internet,” she says.

“Some of the most exciting growth areas for the company absolutely include the regions of APAC [Asia-Pacific] where we are seeing tremendous growth, not only new users but marketers, both in Asia trying to reach consumers outside and of course global marketers looking at their next billion consumers. We also just hired somebody to run our Africa operation, and she is now based in the new office in South Africa. And we see tremendous growth on the African continent. And I just got back from Brazil. Latin America is an incredibly important market overall for Facebook. Outside of the United States, Brazil is the second-largest market for Instagram. And it is the third largest market for Facebook. So we see opportunities around the globe.”

And what about China? “Well Mark [ Zuckerberg] has been incredibly inspirational with the fact that he's first and foremost learned the language,” she says. “Look, we want to connect the world, and China is very important, so we're going to continue to try to work on that objective, but we have no news to report that that's happening anytime soon. But we do have marketers and advertisers based in greater China that actually want to reach consumers outside of China, particularly in e-commerce."

Not unlike Google (GOOGL), Facebook also has some over-the-horizon projects it hopes to capitalize on.

“Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. We have a variety of different strategies to achieve that objective,” Everson says. “[We are] exploring some really forward-thinking [ideas] in technology. In 2016, we will be putting up a satellite to provide connectivity to sub-Saharan Africa. We have been working on an unmanned aircraft vehicle named Aquila, the Latin word for 'eagle,' and that should be going up for a test flight. It flies 60,000 to 90,000 feet above commercial airspace, and it will be able to beam connectivity down 11 miles away and stay up for 3 months."

“We also are investing in virtual reality with a company we purchased called Oculus,” she says. “The belief there is that we think that can be the next operating system for the future. So as much as we are completely invested right now in mobile being the core operating platform, we are also building towards the future.”

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Update: A previous version of this story said that 'ads are just beginning to come to Facebook Messenger...'  The story now reads. 'The company is testing potential ways Facebook Messenger, which the company took out of it main app last year—and its 700 million plus users---could be monetized in the future by experimenting with messages between users and companies.