It’s not a great time to be Mark Zuckerberg right now.
On Friday, The New York Times wrote that Facebook essentially opened its doors to the government and its thirst for personal data through PRISM, a charge he is flatly denying, but which is likely to stick around for a while. Facebook’s stock is down to $24 per share from its IPO opening of $38 per share last May, and Zuckerberg’s immigration reform group is losing key support.
And on Tuesday, the company held its first annual shareholder meeting, where the pressures of becoming a public company over the past year were clear. Not only did Zuckerberg have to respond to questions about PRISM and Facebook’s stock price (while environmental protesters were outside), he also faced questions from average people who just wanted to know when Facebook will start making more money. As well as how to make Facebook, well, work.
“I had heard a lot of Facebook. I do not know how to use Facebook, but I own stock,” one female stockholder said. “So I listen to business reports every day, and some analysts negative comments of Facebook. But I know you’re trying hard to make the business keep going.”
The meeting was open to anyone who held Facebook stock. Which is to say, plenty of people who are not professional investors or even skilled users of Facebook.com:
In attendance were Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Board of Directors members Marc Andreessen, Erskine B. Bowles, Susan Desmond-Hellmann, and Don Graham, and Zuckerberg and Sandberg took questions.
The morning reminded me of the West Wing episode with the block of cheese day, where anyone is allowed to pitch their project to the government, no matter how crazy. But it’s also a good reminder that being a public company comes with a remarkable number of distractions — just Tuesday, the co-founder of Waze said he preferred selling his company to Google rather than embracing public markets, as he wrote in a blog post.
Executives at companies like Twitter or Box have to be bracing for their own turn before the public, should they be preparing their IPOs as we speak.
You can hear the full shareholder’s meeting audio, which is available on Facebook’s investor relations site. It’s definitely a good listen.