Feb 282012
 

Last night I had the opportunity to meet Randi Zuckerberg: former Marketing Director at Facebook, recent appointee to the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council, and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Social Media. And, oh yeah, she is also Mark Zuckerberg’s sister. Truth be told, meeting Randi was an opportunity available to anyone in the Triangle. She was in town to accept the 2012 Woman of Achievement Award from Meredith College.

A missed opportunity, for some

The event was hosted on campus at Meredith College and completely open to the public. I arrived about 25 minutes early and was surprised to find myself being able to choose between a seat on either the first or second row, both of which were completely open. Fortunately by 7pm, when the event was scheduled was to start, the small auditorium was mostly filled. Randi was pleased to see a large audience of young women — something she is unaccustomed to finding in the typical tech circles. It truly was a fantastic opportunity to hear directly from one of the most important figures (female or not)  in the world’s social media and startup ecosystems. Sadly, I could tell that representation from the Triangle’s own startup ecosystem was largely absent.

I am not sure why this event flew under the radar but I will certainly take a share of the blame. I heard about the opportunity several weeks ago and failed to do my part to spread the word. Local news organizations and journalists also seemed to have missed the boat. A quick search on Google News simply brings up results from Meredith’s own website. At one point, I even considered skipping out on the event myself in order to go home and “do more work”. I am extremely glad I went, however, and would like to share a few notes on the experience.

The event

After receiving the Woman of Achievement Award, Randi gave a nearly hour-long speech covering everything from her time at Facebook to her views on current social media trends.  The speech was fun and personal, and she set the tone early by saying,  “I graduated from Harvard — unlike my sibling.” Here are some other highlights and takeaways:

  • Randi was not shy about discussing both the positive and negative impacts of social media. For example,  while showing a slide of her newborn son, she explained how social media and excessive sharing will in some ways complicate his life.
  • “Social sometimes trumps everything, including product”. Her main point was that social and viral features can often lead to more success than having an overall better product. A good example is how Facebook photos took off even though there were much better photo services available.
  • Working at Facebook provided a lot “a-ha” moments on how social media is transforming the world. Randi specifically pointed out the Virginia Tech shootings as a pivotal moment in which Facebook realized that they have a greater responsibility to the world than being just a place for college kids to flirt.
  • Perhaps the best moment of the night came from an audience question asking Randi what she would have done differently, looking back, during her time at Facebook. Her answer, “Ask for more stock.”

The pitch

All in all, I found Randi to be an extremely lively, down-to-earth, and approachable person. After the speech, Meredith hosted a reception where they cut a cake and we all sang Happy Birthday. It was the eve of Randi’s 30th birthday. Those of us who decided to stick around then had the opportunity to meet and take pictures with Randi. Here was this significant figure, from possibly the most important technology company of our time (yes I said it) , and who by the way shares an un-contestable amount of DNA with the world’s second youngest billionaire,  available to meet with anyone who chose to show up. I decided to do what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do: I pitched.

When it came time to take our picture, I introduced myself as a Facebook developer. I then handed her a card for TheFriendMail,  a free Facebook-to-email app I develop on the side. I explained how a large number of blind users utilize TheFriendMail to stay connected to Facebook because it is difficult for them to navigate the actual Facebook interface. She smiled, said “That’s awesome!” (about the app), and told me she would check it out.

It was a small and simple exchange, but I was happy to have the chance to leave an impression with someone who is such a prominent figure in the social media and technology industry. I did not actually give her my name, so if she remembers me, it will be as “the Facebook developer” who  decided to show up that night.