Facebook and the New Coke Problem
by Tony Kontzer
To: Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook brain trust
From: Tony Kontzer
Re: Potential IPO
I read with interest the latest news that your CFO, Gideon Yu, has resigned, reportedly under pressure, so you could hire a replacement with public company experience in preparation for a hotly anticipated IPO.
I won't pretend to understand Yu's strengths and weaknesses, or what other qualities Facebook seeks in a CFO. But I do understand that the products with the strongest consumer affinity are those that develop a familiar air, a comforting consistency that makes customers feel warm and fuzzy. Think Coca-Cola, Starbucks coffee, the iPod--all have fanatical followings. And all are well served by giving those followings exactly what they expect.
Remember when New Coke was introduced? How'd that work out? And imagine if Apple tweaked the iPod interface. Half of the country would start suffering involuntary convulsions.
Which brings me to your formerly wonderful social networking service. I say "formerly" because you tinkered with it recently, and the results have been massive displeasure, high emotions, and mobilized legions of Facebook users who are so upset they're ready to scale the castle walls. At least you're saying you plan to address these complaints, although how far you'll revert isn't yet clear.
I understand you've done this before. I wouldn't know, as I've only been a Facebook member for about 10 weeks. But in that time, I'd grown to be amazed by the ease of the interface, the logic of the layout, and the simple beauty of the platform. And I was getting the watered down version.
My point is, if you want the public markets to get behind you -- and, more importantly, stay behind you -- then you've got to resist the urge to mess with a good thing. You want people to crave their Facebook time like they do a Coke or a cup of coffee. You want them to covet their Facebook lives the way they do their iPods. You want them to feel like they're home.
Or, you could make changes to the interface seemingly for the sake of making changes; force them upon your users; and sit back, laughing heartily when those users realize you've got permanent rights to so much of their data that they have no choice but to stick around.
But be forewarned: If you push your user base away with senseless changes to a beloved product, you lose everything, because Facebook IS its user base. You don't just need them. You need them happy.
I'm concerned that your new CFO requirements indicate you're more focused on a cash grab than you are on maintaining a great user interface. If that's true, we may look upon this period as the juncture at which Facebook lost sight of its core mission. But I do believe you can have your cake and eat it, too--all you have to do is keep in mind what people love about your service, and stick with that, IPO or not. I'm pretty sure that's what the new CFO will want.