When TheFacebook.com launched in the spring semester of my freshman year of college it immediately became all the rage on campus. It was a new way for us to keep in touch with friends from class, the dorms and various clubs and was great for organizing groups and sending messages related to classwork.
It was a closed system open to only a few universities and made us feel special to be part of its exclusiveness. Facebook had a clean design and few features and didn’t seem like a startup that had its sights set high.
Six-and-a-half years later, Facebook is a platform that is open to everyone, has over 500 million active users and is estimated to be worth over $24 billion.
The latest rumors are about when the company will go public, which will probably be in 2012, after the company has acquired more users and CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg gains more experience.
While it is impressive that Zuckerberg, who is only 26, has been able to grow the company over the years, it is even more impressive that he was able to do so during its most critical early stages without having a business strategy.
Facebook’s success despite its lacking a strategy, along with the successes and failures of other startups, was part of a discussion that took place last night when 40-plus Israeli female entrepreneurs met to discuss how startups can avoid strategic mistakes in the early stages. The event was the latest one organized by Yazamiyot, a business networking forum for Israeli female entrepreneurs, and was led by Yair Snir, a lecturer at the joint MBA program of the Wharton School of Business and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC).
Yazamiyot members discuss business strategy.
Snir went through the different steps that go into a good strategy (summed up as “Where do we want to get to and how do we want to get there”) and gave examples of successful companies ranging from McDonald’s to Lego. He concluded his presentation by stating that no strategy can guarantee success, to which a stunned participant asked if there’s any conclusive evidence out there for finding out what works.
The answer given last night was no, but one only has to look at Facebook to see that the answer should be yes. In a way. Although the business strategy lays out the long-term plans of a company it is not a one-time thing that you figure out and then lock away in some file cabinet never to return to. As with the rest of the business plan, it is dynamic and needs to be constantly updated based on changes in the industry and market trends. It is a guide to follow but not to the “T”.
To support this, when asked in an interview last year what advice he had for entrepreneurs, Bob Rosenschein, the founder and CEO of Answers.com, responded that entrepreneurs should be flexible. By being flexible, Rosenschein has been able to keep Answers.com afloat through the hard times and to grow it into the successful Top 20 website that it is today.
In the case of Facebook, by morphing over the years and staying attuned to what users want, it has been able to grow at a phenomenal rate.
Even though there is no way to guarantee success from the onset, by constantly doing research and being flexible, entrepreneurs can better ensure the success of their companies.