One Reason for the Facebook IPO Mess: Zuckerberg Didn't Care

Agenda-Setting Financial Insight.
May 23 2012 12:51 PM

One Reason for the Facebook IPO Mess: Zuckerberg Didn't Care

Mark Zuckerberg
From the get-go, Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s not very sociable founder, made clear he had little interest in welcoming public shareholders.

Photo by YURIKO NAKAO/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook has reminded investors of a simple lesson: Avoid companies whose bosses don’t care about you. From the get-go, Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s not very sociable founder, made clear he had little interest in welcoming public shareholders. That indifference set a tone for his executives, venture capitalists and bankers that arguably contributed to the glaring flaws in Facebook’s initial public offering last week. 

True, the company’s earlier backers, who were able to unload more than $10 billion of stock at the highest possible price, may consider the deal worthy of high-fives and Cristal. But the combination of a stock already trading well below its offer price, annoyed retail investors - many of them Facebook users - and regulatory probes constitutes a botched deal. And that’s without mentioning trading glitches, which were presumably beyond the company’s control. 

There’s also the impact on Facebook’s reputation and morale. Where the Silicon Valley titan was once viewed as a benign force connecting people, albeit with occasional privacy concerns, it now risks being synonymous with Wall Street money-grubbing. That’s bad for a product dependent on consumers. It’s also harmful for morale internally and, along with a listless stock price, for recruitment. 

The irony is that these issues - along with the lawsuits now piling up on Hacker Way - may be exactly what Zuckerberg hoped to avoid by keeping his company private for so long. As he made plain in his letter to prospective investors, “we’re going public for our employees and our investors.” 

Contrast his hands-off approach with the attitude of Microsoft’s Bill Gates back in 1986. Gates insisted the company’s IPO underwriters set a lower price range than they thought achievable, according to a Fortune story on the process, settling on $21 a share. That helped make the IPO an easy hit for incoming investors, even in the early days of trading. 

By all accounts, Zuckerberg is Steve Jobsian in his attention to detail when it comes to coding for his internet creation. But the vacuum created by his distance from the IPO allowed underlings to make decisions - for instance in pricing and allowing early VC investors to ratchet up their sales - that may have damaged Facebook. In this respect, Zuckerberg has failed an early test as the CEO of a public company. 

Read more at Reuters Breakingviews.

Rob Cox helped establish breakingviews in 2000 in London. From 2004 he spearheaded the firm's expansion in the U.S. and edited its American edition, including the daily breakingviews column in the New York Times. Prior to joining breakingviews, Rob held senior editorial positions at Bloomberg News in London, Milan, and New York.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

You Might Not Be Crazy if You Think You Can Hear the Earth Humming

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 6:39 PM Spoiler Special: Transparent
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?