10 Things I Learned During My First Year At Facebook

At Facebook we celebrate Faceversaries, the day you joined Facebook. Last weekend I celebrated my 1st Facerverary.

The reason I love this tradition is that it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the contribution of each person to the success of the company and of the team he belongs to, and also a good excuse to ponder about not just your achievements during the year but also what you learned.

So what did I learn in my first year at Facebook?   Here are 10 things:

  1. Working with great people is an amazing experience. It’s hard to explain how challenging, and fun, it is to lead a team of talented people, each in their own domain. To work with people who push you to succeed, not by pushing you from behind but running in front of you. To learn, to listen, to grow. 
  2. It’s all about high standards. Everything done in Facebook is of the highest standard. Without compromise. It starts from recruiting, open position the can remain open for months but no one will dare to compromise on a candidate that is not a perfect fit. Everything we do is of the highest standard. Even the food (oh, the food!), everything. During this year I had to apologize, in a few occasions, during the production of various events, that we simply don’t know how to organize something that is not 100% perfect. For a long time I told myself this just privilege. But when you take a good look at successful companies, when hear those entrepreneurs discuss their learnings, you realize there is no other way.
  3. Transparency is power, not a problem. Almost everything on Facebook is transparent. To any employee. It enables anyone to give feedback, state an opinion, suggest a solution. During the weeks I joined Facebook there was a vicious attack of leaks, that naturally were filled with negative incidents without context. During the weekly Q&A, which I attended, Mark was asked whether it was time to restrict the transparency to stop the leaks. He answerd: “We recruit the best people in the world. Not giving them all the information is like tying one of their hands behind their back.”
  4. Feedback is a gift. You hear it a lot when you’re at Facebook. It’s hard to explain how essential feedback is in the company culture. It means everyone, and that means any one, is expected to give feedback when there is any, to any one. I remember a few friends in pilot training who told me how embarrassing it was to give feedback to a high commanding officer flying with them. At Facebook you give your manager feedback twice a year, you give peer feedback, you give feedback to the people you collaborate with. It comes from the right place, of constructive feedback, and with respect. People give feedback to others who give them service, to the chefs in the cafeteria. People learn to receive feedback, to learn from it, to improve. To realize it is indeed a gift.
  5. “The best way to complain is to build things.”. This James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) quote appears on many Facebook walls around the world. Everyone knows that people in tech like to complain. At Facebook you’re expected to do something about it. And it works great. Tools being developed by frustrated employees, team offsites, sport classes, meetups. They are all being built and organized by those who care, by those who want it to happen. 
  6. “At Facebook nothing is somebody else’s problem”. This is another mantra that you can find on many Facebook walls. Pretty soon you realize you have no one to complain to. Realized there’s a problem?  It’s partly your responsibility. To inform, to sort out, sometimes to solve, to organize. Add that to the James Murphy quote above, and you wind up with an organization where the employees are greatly responsible for their quality of lives, for their work environment, for the culture of the site, of the company. Yes, without any “well-being department”, HR, operations or anyone else you normally blame or throw the responsibility at. 
  7. You can dream big inside a company. I’m an entrepreneur. In the last decade I realized it’s in my DNA. All of the above would have been a little meaningless for me, if the place I work in wouldn’t allow anyone to dream big and pursuit their dream. Each with his own interests, each with his own domain, and what they like to experience, to achieve. As long as you are willing to make those dreams a reality, of course. You got that part already, right?   And so I found myself many times during this year working on making my dreams reality, with loads of support from the great people around me. And boy, this is the best feeling ever, when you see your dream materialize, together with awesome people who help you along the way.
  8. Trust your employees and great things will happen. A lot of things are being done differently at Facebook. I’ve run a few companies already, and I know I would have been extremely cautious about running such an open culture that is based on fully trusting your employees in any aspect of their job. It’s basically “we trust you, do whatever you feel makes sense”, and it applies to everything. And in return you get a work environment where employees invest a lot more than anywhere else, care about their work and their team, feel that they belong, strive to be the best and do their best work. Because they are trusted.
  9. With great power comes great responsibility. Sorry for being a bit of a cliche. I didn’t mention any challenges or hardship, so here goes. Leading a product at Facebook means getting great power. You literally can influence the lives of millions. And as such it comes with great responsibility. Not just because of the extreme level of scrutiny, but also because knowing what your decisions impact is a significant burden. It really helps to be surrounded by people who are focused on doing the right thing. And when you do the right thing, it’s much more enjoyable to succeed.
  10. Say thanks. I did learn to say thanks even before Facebook. But here also it is amazing to see how hard the organization is working to get thanks inside the culture, the day-to-day life. In how many organizations do you see employees thanking the culinary team for the feed they ate today (yeah, food. It’s a big deal here)?  They thank the organizers of an event they attended, that person who helped them fix some problem, a team mate who gave them the right tip or invested valuable time in helping them. There’s even a #thanks bot that counters the thanks and informs your manager when someone thanks you 🙂

Last point is a great opportunity to thank the many people who made this year so unique and so awesome.

One year at Facebook. I learned so much. Can’t wait to continue and learn next year!

Jay Z and the Exclusive Content Myth

Pasted_Image_5_13_15__10_54_AM“The tide is high, but I’m holding on
I’m gonna be your number one…”
(John Holt)

The tide was high last week when Jay Z launched his new (=recently acquired) music streaming service Tidal. ICYMI, Jay Z – superstar producer, entrepreneur, billionaire, Beyonce’s husband – acquired Swedish music company Aspiro for $56 Million 3 months ago with hopes of challenging Spotify and taking the streaming music market by a storm.

However when the tide went out,  there seemed to not be much under the Tidal hood but a £20 a month price tag. Yes, there was this noble vision of giving more revenue back to the artists, and the promise of lossless streaming (won’t even get into this one…), but at the end of the day – how does Jay Z plan to justify the pricey subscription fee and beat the competition?  Exclusive content.

Yep, you heard it right – exclusive content. The same weapon that every Spotify rival has tried before, including the exclusive content masterminds of Apple, the clever folks at YouTube/Google and many others. Has any service won on exclusive content?  No!

Has anyone joined Tidal because Beyonce released her new song exclusively there?  I seriously doubt that.  Has anyone left Spotify for the competition becauseTaylor Swift took her catalog off the service?  A few fans maybe.  Has anyone bought an iPhone to get U2’s latest album for free?  Pffff.   You see, the harsh truth is that there is no such thing as exclusive content, and that with a practically limitless catalog no one really cares about a little exclusivity here and there.

It’s 2015, folks. Every song, by any artist, is available to stream and/or download online within seconds for the average Google-using Joe. Artists have pretty much given up the fight against piracy, and are actively trying to use it for their own benefit (promote their music, grow their fan base, etc.). You can’t really keep anything exclusive once it goes online, and – as Madonna recently learned – many times even before that.

And if something is exclusive, do we really care?  3 years ago Andy Baid compared two of my favorite streaming services, Spotify and Rdio, by their content. He found out, for instance, that Rdio had 12 Bob Dylan albums streaming exclusively (at least back then), while Spotify had 3 from Underworld and 3 from Katatonia. Would that make anyone leave their favorite music service, forget their listening habits, let go of their valuable playlists, playing history, friends?   Maybe some die hard Dylan fan would, but not the majority of users. In fact, I argue that as most people stream only the most popular songs anyway, the majority of subscribers won’t even notice that this or that album is missing.

Hence the need for PR. “Beyonce is streaming exclusively” is a perfect title for a marketing campaign, but other than the entertainment press, no one cares. Because everyone is streaming it already on YouTube, and because it’s simply not enough for me to leave my trusted music service, with its mobile app that I love, and social graph I have built. You want to take your content off my music service?  Well, go ahead. I’ll just look for it elsewhere (if I will look for it at all).

Newsflash: If you’re a music artist in 2015, you need to be everywhere. On every service. In every device. Madonna, who can teach marketing classes to many of the young and inspiring music stars of this day, just released her new music video,Ghosttown, on live video sensation Meerkat as well as old school VEVO, on Jimmy Fallon and on Tidal, and of course on YouTube. Wherever you are, whatever you’re using to listen to music, Madonna will play it for you. Because Madonna knows exclusive content is a myth.

And it’s time to say it out loud, even if it puts us users in a kind of a shady light. Spotify and Netflix have proven that many of us will pay a reasonable monthly subscription fee to get all the content we want. But they’ve also proven that most of us will consume the content we want, even if it is missing on these “legit” services, in any way possible, each according to his own skills, and we won’t hold for anyone. Not even for Beyonce.

“Drink in your summer, gather your corn
The dreams of the night time will vanish by dawn
And time waits for no one…”
(Mick Jagger)

Headline photo by Photosteve101.
Thanks to my good friend Yael Beeri for going over this post and making sense out of it.

5 EASY Things Twitter Needs To Fix ASAP

So everybody’s writing about Twitter these days. Most our writing about it on Twitter. As MG Siegler wrote, if your platform is pronounced dead using your platform, you’re probably doing quite OK.

Having said that it’s clear that something is wrong with Twitter in a sense that users, avid users, feel that the Twitter team is not listening. And by team they mean whomever is in charge of product decisions in Twitter. And by not listening they mean that sometimes (hell, most time) it fells as if those who are part of “the flock” are simply not eating their own dog food.

It’s probably the hardest job in the world to be in charge of product in a company that has at least a million product people as users. And this is definitely going to sound like one of those people’s rants, but I’ll write it anyway. Mainly because I really believe that these 5 (!) EASY (!!) things that twitter needs to fix ASAP (!!!) will not only truly improve the user experience dramatically, but also show that Twitter cares. And understands.

So here we go:

1. Bring back Quote

Retweet is great, but we’re not just product minded people here, we’re minded in general. And we want to add our own comments to people’s tweets. And we want to change those tweets, edit them, mix and remix them. It’s part of the Twitter magic. So why take it away?

Retweet is one thing, Quote (or Retweet with Comment) is another. Don’t force us to Retweet. Don’t force us to do all kinds of hacks (my favorite is definitely the Buffer extension). Bring the Quote back home.

2. Reply to Myself

Telling your story in 140 characters is great. It is what made (and still makes) Twitter a magical platform. But…

There are cases where 140 characters are not enough. And in that case you want to writeanother tweet, and link it to the previous one. How? you simply reply to yourself. Which works great, but has this pesky annoyance in the form of “@yourself” in the beginning.

Now why would I want to mention myself? It really serves no purpose, and is totally not required in today’s UI, where anyone can clearly see this new tweet relates to a previous tweet. Only things this achieves is wasting valuable characters and annoying the user (who now needs to delete the mention).

Time to lose the self mention, Twitter. Nobody needs it.
3. It’s a Conversational Tool

Surprise, surprise: Twitter is a great platform for multiple participant conversations. It starts with an innocent (or not) tweet, and then multiple people reply, and before you know it you’re trying to reply to everyone and run out of characters with all those @mentions taking all the valuable tweet space.

Wouldn’t it be great if I can reply to a tweet (or even compose a new one), select a bunch of people I follow or who follow me, and they will be “tagged” as part of the reply and notified when I post this tweet?

Sure, it’s a bit more complicated then simply mentioning them, but even you guys understand that something is not really working with @mentions. So here’s a great place to solve this, and kill two birds (no pun intended!) with one fix.

4. DM Search

Twitter seems to be taking Direct Messages seriously. After all it’s a great engagement tool. And it’s quite useful too. Well, it’s useful as long as you don’t care about previous messages, because, well, it’s a nightmare to look for them.

Adding a basic search, where I can look for all the messages from/to a friend, is really an essential element for any messaging service. Let me find that DM I sent my good friend a week ago, Twitter, or else I would just use the other messaging services out there. And I really don’t want to do that, you know.

5. Pinned tweet

I was really tolerant towards the new profile page. I even changed mine as soon as I could. But seriously now – Pinned Tweet? You are, at least the last time I checked, a real-timeplatform, which is exactly how we like you. If I open someone’s profile, I want to see their latest tweets, not some old tweet that they thought would look cool on top of their profile.

I can (maybe) understand the use-case for brands. I honestly can’t find any use for it for individuals. Especially those who tweet often.

Instead, if you really want to make a user’s profile more enjoyable to me, a fellow user, how about showing me their most retweeted tweets, or those who got the most replies, or most favorites (or a combination of those)? That would be a valuable addition. Pinned tweet? lose it.

* * *

And there you have it, Twitter. @Jack once said his goal was “to simplify complexity”, and these 5 easy fixes are doing exactly that. And they will make us simply happier as well.

Like All Good Things The Greatest Hits Take Time

I really need to thank Joel for this – this blog post and this blog (comeback?). His great blogging and amazing content curation have got me back to blogging. Specifically a post by Adii Pienaar titled “The Greatest Hits Are Obvoius“. You know – music, technology… who can resist that?!

Adii writes about how some songs have obvious hit qualities, and how our mind makes a decision that a song is a hit before you can logically and objectively come to the same conclusion.

He himself is puzzled with the conclusion, but still notes that “the greatest hits were obvious“. More specifically (and after explaining the relation between working on a song and working on a startup):

Great ideas remain great ideas. And the greatest ideas are obviously great at first sight.


A Few Tiny, Perfect Examples That Will Blow Your Mind

As a music buff, let me start off with a few well-known examples*:

#1: The Blowers’ Daughter by Damien Rice

In 2001 a young Irish musician called Damien Rice released a song called “The Blower’s Daughter”. The song made the top 40 chart, but didn’t become a great hit.
Over the next year Rice continued to record his debut album, O. Released in 2002, the album was quite successful, as the songs “Cannonball” and “Volcano” becoming hits in the UK.In 2004 “The Blower’s Daughter” was included in “Closer“, a Mike Nichols box office hit. The rest is history.

#2: Perfect Day by Lou Reed

Originally recorded in 1972, and featured on Lou Reed’s album Transformer, “Perfect Day” remained hidden from the public eye for almost 25 years, until it was featured on the 1996 classic “Trainspotting”, and blasted through the roof with record sales, cover versions and fame.

#3: Tiny Dancer by Elton John

Released originally in 1971, “Tiny Dancer” appeared on Elton John’s 4th album, “Madman Across The Water”. It was released as a single in 1972, but reached only #41 on the U.S pop chart, and so was not even released in the UK.
The song slowly became popular, mainly due to air time on adult contemporary and rock radio stations, and finally received its break on the 2000 Cameron Crowe film “Almost Famous”.
It finally reached Gold in 2005, and Platinum in 2011. It is now one of Elton John’s most famous and well-recognized hits.


So Are Greatest Hits Obvious?

Well, some hits are obvious. But as a music lover I would have to say that most of the songs that have remained with me for a long time seem to be songs that took time to grow on me. And those monster hits, you know the ones – those who rise straight to #1 and stay there for a few weeks – well, most of the time I grow tired of them just as quickly.

As a music critic I know of a few cases where I missed a great song, album even, in real-time. In fact that is the main reason I decided not to write about an album (or song) the same day (or even week) I get it, and I forced myself to listen to it for a while before expressing my opinion on it.

Some great ideas, great songs, great albums remain great. Some of the greatest ideas/songs/albums are obviously great from first sight (or listen). But there are too many cases where intuition is not right, cases where it takes time to fully understand and decipher the magic, that I have learned not to pass judgment too early in the game.


OK, Enough About Music. What About Startups?

As Adii well noted – same thing. Some of the greatest hits were obvious. Angry Birds, for instance. But some have disappeared just as quickly as they sky rocketed. Anyone wants to play Draw Something?

And those “obvious” hits, which wowed me at first, like Path for instance, or Google+, have been abandoned by me along the way, with all due respect to their great ideas and execution.

Other services, less obvious at first, became my 2nd nature. Like Twitter, for example. I would love to say that as soon as I joined (2008) I got it and fell in love with it, but that is not true. It grew on me. Instagram?  Same story for me.  Evernote?  Took even longer, but now I can’t live without it.

So you see – I’m grateful to have learned patience, and to allow new ideas to take their time. And as someone who has been working full time for a long time now on my own disruptive startup, I remind myself that every time I look at the metrics, and – just like Adii – wonder.

Intuition is important. I myself give it a lot of credit, too much even. But you owe yourself, and those great ideas, to wait a little and let your intuition do its magic – not just at first sight, or first experience, but also after the fifth or tenth time.

Do people spend the time to appreciate ideas that take a while to grow on you?  I am not sure. We’ve grown to be impatient, and as such we miss a lot of great hits just because they are not obvious. I hope we won’t regret it. I know I have, at least a few times.


* I thank Boaz Cohen for his help with the examples.