5 big bets Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made for the future

Facebook then and now

Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg will turn 32 years old Saturday and for the young media mogul, there's plenty in his professional history to celebrate.

He heads a social media empire that has more than 13,000 employees and is used by more than a billion users every day, but a little more than a decade ago, he only intended the network to serve 400 to 500 people.

"Harvard didn't have a Facebook, so that's the gap we were trying to fill," Zuckerberg said in a CNBC interview in 2004, the year the company launched. "We have 100,000 people, so who knows where we're going next."

Mark Zuckerberg
Lluis Gene | AFP | Getty Images

Launching a social networking site with a skeleton team and dropping out of an Ivy League college were definitely risks. Quite a few bets have paid off. Here are some of the biggest moves Zuckerberg has made for the future:

Facebook's IPO

In one of the most hotly anticipated IPOs this decade, Facebook debuted in 2012. While going public allows investors to cash in and companies to raise money, it also comes with increased scrutiny — a trade-off for start-ups. Since Facebook's IPO, shares have jumped from an opening price of $42.05 to about $120. Its market cap currently stands at $344 billion.

Facebook buys Instagram

In April 2012, not long before its IPO, Facebook announced it would pay $1 billion for Instagram in cash and stock. At the time, Instagram had 30 million users. It was also a significant move for Facebook, which had previously focused on acquisitions smaller than $100 million, according to The New York Times.

Last September, Instagram celebrated reaching 400 million users on its network, outpacing Twitter.

Zuckerberg calls mobile the 'future'

Sensing a shift from desktop to mobile, Facebook has bet big on it. In October 2012, Zuckerberg told NBC, "the future is really going to be about about mobile."

Today, 80 percent of Facebook's advertising revenue comes from mobile.

Facebook buys WhatsApp

Think Instagram was a big buy? Facebook seized the opportunity to grow even bigger when it bought messaging app WhatsApp for a whopping $19 billion in 2014. At the time, the app had 450 million monthly active users.

Critics were swift to take jabs at the company's acquisition, calling the buy "desperate." An industry watcher said Facebook "massively overpaid." Even investors seemed underwhelmed, pushing shares down that day.

Things change quickly in the social world. WhatsApp hit a major milestone this February when it hit 1 billion users.

Facebook buys Oculus

Zuckerberg has made bets on what the future holds before, so he did it again.

In 2014, the company bought virtual reality company Oculus for $2 billion to use virtual and augmented reality to connect users around the world.

"Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction," he wrote on his Facebook page. "But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones."

The $599 Oculus Rift was made available for preorders in January. It sold out on the very first day.

Clues that Facebook is taking a deeper dive into this sector have also emerged. The company planned to add 1,200 employees this year, a key area for growth being virtual reality, Reuters reported.

But whether or not either of the two aforementioned acquisitions will pay off for the company is yet to be determined. Richard Greenfield, BTIG media and tech analyst, says WhatsApp has generated zero monetization for Facebook and Oculus is still early in shipping.

"It's too early to tell," he said. "Are they key assets for the future? Absolutely."