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What Mark Zuckerberg learned from ‘his hardest time leading Facebook’

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

When Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in February 2004, he was, famously, a student at Harvard. He dropped out his sophomore year to build the company. So at an age when many people have not yet had their first full-time job, Zuckerberg was running a tech company that had very quickly gone from dorm-room project to the darling of Silicon Valley.

Zuckerberg, however, didn't grow as a manager quite as quickly as the business he was running scaled.

That became obvious in July 2006, when Facebook got billion a dollar buyout offer from Yahoo.

Zuckerberg said, "No, thanks." He had a dream and a vision and he wanted to see it through.

"We were building the first News Feed, and I thought if we could just launch this, it could change how we learn about the world," he says in the commencement speech he recently delivered at Harvard.

The problem was, as CEO, Zuckerberg had not clearly communicated Facebook's mission to his team to get them on board. It was a leadership mistake. And as a result, they were furious he had turned down the cash cow.

"Without a sense of higher purpose" the Yahoo offer was "the start-up dream come true," explains Zuckerberg.

"It tore our company apart," he remembers. "After one tense argument, an advisor told me if I didn't agree to sell, I would regret the decision for the rest of my life. Relationships were so frayed that within a year or so, every single person on the management team was gone.

"That was my hardest time leading Facebook," he says.

"After one tense argument, an advisor told me if I didn't agree to sell, I would regret the decision for the rest of my life." -Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

"I believed in what we were doing, but I felt alone. And worse, it was my fault," says Zuckerberg. "I wondered if I was just wrong, an imposter, a 22-year-old kid who had no idea how the world worked."

More than a decade later, 33-year-old Zuckerberg has become a better communicator, thanks in part to some professional mentorship from the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's Chief Operating Officer.

"Now, years later, I understand that is how things work with no sense of higher purpose," he says. "It's up to us to create it so we can all keep moving forward together."

In February this year, Zuckerberg penned and published what some have called a manifesto. He communicated his vision for a global, connected future and why that's important in a nearly 6,000-word essay.

"Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community," he writes in the mission statement. "In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us."

"We have a generational challenge: to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose." -Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

Mission is so important, according to Zuckerberg, that everyone should have the chance to find their own.

"Finding your purpose isn't enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose," he says. "To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge: to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose."

See also:

Mark Zuckerberg: Success comes from 'the freedom to fail,' so billionaires like me should pay you to do that

Mark Zuckerberg: 'The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie'

What Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is more afraid of than screwing up his $438 billion company