Sunday, June 6, 2010

Originators vs. Mega-improvers - @scobleizer vs. @1938media on Mark Zuckerberg and Carol Bartz

Robert Scoble wrote a Sunday post entitled Why Mark Zuckerberg should have a Carol Bartz moment. Without going into the soap opera details, let's just say that Scoble thinks that Zuckerberg should nor worry about his detractors. (As for Scoble's main point that Zuckerberg should perhaps concentrate on behind the scenes tasks, see my Disqus comment at Scoble's post.)

In the course of his post, Scoble compared Zuckerberg to others in an attempt to put Zuckerberg's achievements into perspective. This is what he said.

1. He has — in less than seven years — created a company that has hired more than 1,000 people. How many other USA companies have hired 1,000 people in Silicon Valley in the past five years?
2. His company has been valued at many billions of dollars.
3. His company has created a platform that supports, among many companies, Zynga, which also has hired 800 employees (it’s only two years old) and my friends are throwing around valuations of billions for Zynga.
4. His company has 500 million people using it around the world and most love it a lot. My wife still is effusive with love over Facebook.

He’s done 100x more in his few years of running Facebook than Carol Bartz has AT ANY COMPANY! In her entire career!

Enter Loren Feldman, who (and again I'll avoid most of the soap opera) is not necessarily Robert Scoble's biggest fan. After reading the post, Feldman tweeted a few items, of which this one is most relevant:

Did Scoble REALLY say Zuck has done more that Bartz?

This prompted me to ask Feldman to flesh out his thoughts.

@1938media What measures would you use to say Bartz has done more than Zuckerberg?

Feldman replied:

@empoprises Dollars earned for her companies, products shipped, years in business, anything else?

Let's look at one of Feldman's points - dollars earned. As it turns out the Wall Street Journal recently looked at this:

By revenue, Facebook has a long way to go to catch up to its more established rivals. The social-networking site earned more than $500 million in revenue in 2009 and is forecasting revenue of more than $1 billion in 2010, according to people familiar with the matter. Yahoo earned $6.5 billion in revenue in 2009, mostly from advertising.

So it's obvious that Bartz today is producing more than Zuckerberg today. And clearly Bartz has the advantage of the "number of years in business" measurement.

But there's one difference that the numbers don't show. Look at Carol Bartz's biography. Kara Swisher links to another Wall Street Journal article, this one from 1992. Before commenting on the new CEO of Autodesk, Bartz, the WSJ writer stated the following:

Though the world's sixth largest PC software company, Autodesk is hardly a household name for a couple of reasons. One is that it dominates a niche: software that allows relatively inexpensive personal computers to produce powerful models for engineers, architects and other professional designers.

The other reason is Autodesk's founding genius, John Walker, a reclusive programmer who doesn't allow the company to distribute his picture or publish it in its annual report. In a rare interview granted for this article, a prickly Mr. Walker insisted that a reporter sit in front of a video camera, declared that Autodesk claimed a copyright on the ensuing discussion and debated the meaning of each question.

Just as Microsoft Corp., the world's largest software supplier, is an extension of the personality of William Gates III, Autodesk is largely a creature of Mr. Walker.

Stanford University notes what happened next, when Bartz ran the show:

During her tenure, the company diversified its product line and grew revenues from $285 million to $1.523 billion in FY06.

However, before Bartz arrived, Autodesk was already making $285 million a year. By definition, Facebook was making $0 a year before Zuckerberg. Again, Bartz's accomplishments at Yahoo will build upon those who have come before her. There are many people - Thomas J. Watson Jr., Thomas J. Watson Sr., Meg Whitman - who have made their employers much stronger, but they were able to start from something that already existed.

Regardless of who actually created Facebook, it's undeniable that Mark Zuckerberg was the one who had the drive to make Facebook a success. In that sense, you can claim that Zuckerberg - along with similar people such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs - created something out of nothing. Compare that to Carol Bartz, the Watsons, Meg Whitman, and others who created something big out of something small.

Which is more important?

If you're an accountant, you'd rather have a mega-improver like Bartz. (For Feldman, who concentrates on the bottom line for his clients, this makes sense.)

If you're a futurist, you'd rather have an originator like Zuckerberg. (Scoble, the admitted shiny new toy lover, is also looking for for businesses and ways in which they can improve - this means looking at brand new stuff.)

Which would you rather have?
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