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Chamath Palihapitiya On International Growth

Chamath Palihapitiya - today - is best known as founder of Social Capital (investors in Box, Carta, Greenhouse, Intercom, Slack, SurveyMonkey, and more), and as shareholder and board member of the Golden State Warriors. If that wasn't enough for one person, he's Chairman at Virgin Galactic.

I had never heard of him before I joined Facebook. He left a year before I showed up, but his influence was sprinkled everywhere. One of those influential sprinklings was a recorded All Hands talk - actually, more of a rant - that he gave when Facebook was still based in Palo Alto.

At the time, things were going rather well. User growth was off the charts. Facebook's Advertising business was starting to scale quickly. Yet, some cultural challenges were emerging. People were complaining about the quality of free food and snacks. When RipStiks were banned from the office, some people went completely crazy. Chamath thought it best to remind people why they were there.

The talk, later titled "One of us" was a reminder to all about the cultural values Facebook cared most about. Everyone listened. Everyone agreed. Everyone got back to work.

Obviously there's no publicly available version of that talk. This talk, however, comes close.

In it, Chamath touches on the values, frameworks and tactics that guided him to grow Winamp (remember that?) beyond 100 million users, with a team of 7 people. And - of course - the values, frameworks, and tactics that guided Facebook to grow to a billion-plus users.

Here's a few points he touches on in the talk:

  • Virality is not a strategy. If you don't know what attracts users, what gets them to their "aha" moment, or how to deliver core product value to them as quickly as possible, thinking about virality will lead you down a value-less dead end.

  • Don't believe the bullshit. In a successful, fast growing company, it's easy to get caught up in the success you're seeing today. Success is never guaranteed. AOL and Yahoo! are great examples of that. Being relatively cynical can be a good thing.

  • Don't focus on short term value and ROI. Optimising for the short term compounds negatively over the long term. Meteoric rises usually create massive churn and fall off. Focus on and optimise for variables that live in the context of larger, longer term strategy.

  • Measure, try, test. Literally the three things that Facebook's growth team focused on. Complexity, expressed in simplicity, can be extremely useful. Invalidate lore fast - hype kills products. Don't alienate people who already use the product. Listen, test, invent.

  • Localisation and local context is important. The relative value of a dollar is different all over the world. Just like the relative value of product features. Know what you don't know. Find local people in local markets to help you understand. In Japan, Facebook eventually added "blood type" as a profile field - but that didn't make sense to people in Palo Alto. "We don't know what we don't know."

  • Abstractions, through Platforms, provide operational leverage. Allow people to customise your product, and develop things that appeal to specific sets of them. If you think something works, it probably doesn't work for everyone. Expose value in different ways, to different people, in different situations.

  • Magic metrics matter. Facebook's core focus and growth metric for several years was this: get any individual to 7 friends in 10 days. Hundreds of people ramped Facebook to a billion users based on that one metric.

I highly recommend watching the talk - more than once. I guarantee you'll learn a lot from it.

Here's his slides. And, follow Chamath on Twitter.