By Josh Constine
Would you prefer a CEO who's in the trenches making his company worth more, or one who sings and dances for potential investors? In Facebook's case, having Mark Zuckerberg remain the visionary rather than become a celebrity salesman will be crucial to the company staying on top. Zuckerberg's steered Facebook (FB) around so many pitfalls. And his dedication to the product is so inspiring to his employees that the social network risks disruption and demoralization if the IPO attempts to sew a business suit on the hoodie-clad 27 year old.
Now CNBC reports that Zuckerburg has been so busy running the company and making huge acquisitions like the $1 billion+ buy of Instagram that it could force Facebook to delay its IPO from the May 17th date we've heard from multiple sources, to late May or even early June. The pre-IPO roadshow would have to be pushed back as well. Potential investors might groan, but one day they might be smiling all the way to the bank.
This isn't about giving investors a big say in Facebook's decisions. By all indications and a proxy voting rights arrangement that gives Zuckerberg 56% control of the company despite owning 28% of the shares, they're not going to get it. Honestly I think that's good for them and Facebook. The company is entrenched due to the network effect of its interconnected user base and market share. It has to think long-term and not sell itself short for quick profit like greedy investors might want. In the end, the investors who stick with Facebook could do very well.
But that long-term approach only works if Zuckerberg can focus on keeping the product fun and accessible, boxing out or buying up threats, and motivating his team to think big. There are plenty of ways Facebook could stagnate or get picked apart by agile startups. Case in point: Instagram. With multiple acquirers circling and the photo sharing service getting more popular by the day, if Zuckerberg had been on the road wooing investors or preparing to do so, he might not have had a whole weekend to spend convincing Instagram founder Kevin Systrom to sell to Facebook. Investors having more face time with Zuck could have led Twitter or Google (GOOG) to snap up the hip social photo network, or allowed Instagram to remain independent and pick away at Facebook's key engagement driver - photo sharing.
Zuckerberg already skipped a meeting with analysts last month, leaving his more business-focused lieutenants COO Sheryl Sandberg and CFO David Ebersman in charge. Really, Sheryl is much better fit to be the face of the IPO than Zuckerberg. She's well known, widely-respected for being level-headed, and can sell.
She should step up as much as possible to make Zuckerberg's absence less glaring.
Zuckerberg should still put in token time and appearances. When the IPO is about to happen he should be visible, and exude confidence while not seeming overzealous. Post-IPO he should speak on earnings calls and possibly appear at future Facebook Marketing Conferences in New York (he skipped the inaugural FMC this year). But overall, Facebook, and investors serious about sticking with the company, should want him dreaming up the next news feed, photo tagging, or Open Graph app platform - products that will do the work of seducing investors for him.