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Why is Facebook so Successful?

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This morning I thought I’d do some digging to try and find what people think about why Facebook became so successful. Most answers that I found didn’t really capture what I thought about the issue (not even Zuckerberg’s own opinion), so I decided to give a bit of an alternative perspective on it.

The One Thing We Learn From History…

As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in Outliers, someone’s success is not independent of their history. For example, Bill Gates had already built up over 10,000 hours’ experience by the time the opportunity to start Microsoft came along, and there are probably a number of examples of people who had similar experience to Gates but were just “one year too early or late”. Success is obviously a combination of both hard work and opportunity.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me state why I think Facebook’s strategy was so successful – I’ll get to why Google+ wasn’t. The closest answer to mine that I could find was this one on Quora (see point 1 of Todd Perry’s answer relating to “attacking hubs”). Yes, Zuckerberg had the right amount of technical expertise, but that isn’t the chief reason why their strategy was successful – many people have similar or even greater levels of technical expertise, but haven’t started Facebook. Yes, the owners have been aggressive about growing the site – show me someone who isn’t aggressive about growing their business. Yes, Facebook appeals to a side of ourselves that struggled to find expression prior to the existence of social media – MySpace, Friendster and countless others (including Google+) all do similar things, yet where are they today, really, in comparison to Facebook?

Zen and the Art (and Science) of Business Strategy

The answer, in my opinion, can be best articulated using terminology from Lila, the sequel to the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, as well as an understanding of social influence (power). This is a bit philosophical (abstract) at points, but I guarantee you it’s worth understanding if you’re in business.

In Lila, Pirsig divides reality into four “levels” of patterning: inorganic, biological, social and intellectual. Biological patterning (such as cells) cannot exist without inorganic patterning (the molecules that make up those cells). Social patterning (immediate, pre-intellectual gestures and responses between biological organisms, and social influence/power) cannot exist without biological patterning. Intellectual patterning cannot exist without social patterning (for a discussion of how we think mind emerges only from social interaction, see this article).

One thing we’ve been missing out on in our understanding of business is a thorough understanding of power and its role in society, and my opinion is that Facebook inherently managed to leverage the right amount of social influence at the right times to slingshot them to success.

How exactly did they do it? It was both easy and difficult (easy for Zuckerberg, difficult for the rest of us). Think about it: the first institution whose members were up on Facebook was Harvard – one of the most powerful, influential institutions in the world, with their students being incredibly influential people in society. Several other influential institutions followed, and before they knew it, everybody who was anybody was on Facebook. It was only a matter of time before the nobodies (such as myself) were on Facebook. (By the way, I’ve since deactivated my account, for a variety of reasons).

Where Google+ Went Wrong

According to this perspective, therefore, I (being a nobody) should not have received an invite to the Google+ Beta version, but I did! Who the heck am I in the bigger scheme of things? Apart from being a few years too late to jump onto the social bandwagon, this was Google+’ single biggest failing. Their entry strategy was flawed from the beginning. According to this article, Facebook has around 850 million users at the moment – Google+ has around 10% of that (90 million – and even that might be an optimistic estimate). (And no, I’m not on Google+ either, for a variety of reasons).

Conclusion

I am not at all discounting the value of incredible technical skill – it’s an essential component to getting your business up and running, and is mission- critical for high-tech businesses. You simply cannot afford, as a small start- up, to have your site/application fall over just when people start liking it, because then, just as quickly, they stop liking it. Also, I am not at all discounting the value of getting the right amount of start-up capital, if you can’t bootstrap your business, at the right time, or addressing the real customer need/desire, or having the right people, etc. Facebook certainly got a lot of those things right too.

What I am saying is that a successful strategy seems to be one that also takes into account social influence. Start off by convincing the right users – those with the most social influence – to use your product/service, and you’ll find it’ll be much easier to convince everybody else to do the same. That could be an incredibly easy or hard task, depending on how connected you currently are, and Zuckerberg was fortunate enough (this is the “opportunity” component of the opportunity/hard work mix about which Gladwell talks) to have direct access to some of the most influential people in the world to promote Facebook for him.

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About the Author

This article was written by Thane Thomson, who is currently working for DStv Digital Media in research and development.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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