The Wit and Wisdom of Sheryl Sandberg: 10 Insights from IGNITION

The Business Insider IGNITION conference just wrapped up this week. The height of the event, of course, came on the second morning, at 9 am, when Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, was interviewed by Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget. Here’s are the high points:

1. What scares Mark Zuckerberg

“Mark’s biggest fear is the lack of innovation,” Sandberg told Blodget. The company is perpetually petrified of losing its edge in this area, and doing so would cost the company everything.

2. Aesthetic technology

Sandberg described Facebook’s new “timeline” product as “beautiful”.

3. World domination

Blodget asked Sandberg point blank: “Is the ultimate vision to control everything?” When you look at Facebook’s user adoption, stickiness and reach off-platform (i.e., through Facebook Connect), it’s a natural question. Rather than reply with an evil chortle, Sandberg played it straight, replying that Facebook’s vision is that “most things are social,” realizing that there are some aspects of your life you’ll want to keep private. Facebook wants to be the driving force behind the social aspects. “We think things are better with your friends,” Sandberg noted before drawing a distinction between “the wisdom of crowds” and “the wisdom of friends”.

4. Why Facebook gives it away

Facebook Connect could be an interesting revenue stream for a company that only has a handful of ways to make money. When asked why Facebook continues to give away Facebook Connect (rather than “tax” it, as Blodget put it), Sandberg explained that it continues to increase the company’s reach and grow its community (yawn).

And, it looks like a revenue stream from Facebook Connect isn’t in the cards. It’s “not how we’ll make money.” Instead, “everyone benefits” from it, Sandberg said, adding, “we are a very deep partner company.”

5. Anonymity

Sandberg concedes that there’s a place for anonymity on the web – Facebook just isn’t that place. Blodget opened by explaining that blog commenters who speak through Facebook’s comments tool, which provides no anonymity, are “blowing smoke up each other’s ass,” while those who comment through other tools anonymously tend to be much more entertaining.

Sandberg replied, that Facebook is “not trying to stamp out anonymity around the web.” Rather, it’s built its own business on “real identity” and it has decided to stick with the model. If you want to be anonymous, you can do it elsewhere.

6. Product strategy

Facebook’s last few products haven’t lived up to expectations. It’s Groupon-killer and Foursquare-killer fell flat, according to Blodget (Sandberg didn’t agree). So, he asked, “What is the Facebook product strategy?” Is it the Google model, he continued, or is it “make huge bets and stand behind them?

Sandberg replied, “Our product strategy is as different from Google as two companies can get,” continuing, “Google has twice as many job openings as we have jobs.” Against this backdrop, Sandberg told Blodget, “We usually make big, bold bets,” using the timeline and upgrades to the News Feed as examples.

7. Can’t do it all

Facebook has been beaten up in the press a bit for its alleged poor execution on a phone, weak mobile strategy in general and lack of blockbuster new features. According Sandberg, there are limits to what Facebook can accomplish because of limited resources. “We try to ruthlessly prioritize,” she said. “The other things, including check-ins, are just iterations.”

8. Trillion-dollar promise

There was a rumor circulating the web that Mark Zuckerberg calls Facebook a trillion-dollar company when into his recruiting pitch. According to Sandberg: “I’ve never heard mark say that. I’ve never heard anybody say that.”

9. Is Google scared?

Blodget announced to Sandberg and IGNITION: “Your former employer is completely freaked out by your success,” before asking, “what’s it like competing with Google [her former employer]?” Sandberg had a little fun on this one, replying, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery. And Google+ is flattering.” She added, “The fact that they got to one [a version] that looks and feels more like us is not surprising.” Yet, she noted “There’s going to be a lot of competition out there,” and that Facebook will need to stay focused to win.

10. Is Google evil?

“Is Google evil? You have perspective now that you’ve left,” Blodget asked.

Sandberg: “No, I don’t think Google’s evil.”

Photo: jurvetson via Flickr

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