We saved the best for last. Below is our interview with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week. Sandberg, who says this is her first video interview since joining Facebook in March 2008, talks with me for about nine minutes about the conference and the state of Facebook.
Sandberg has attended six World Economic Forum events at Davos over the years, including four as part of the Clinton administration. This year was a more somber event than normal, she says.
We spoke briefly about the impact that the Facebook community had on the event through the polls created by Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Director of Marketing. During one panel, 120,000 Facebook users weighed in on the U.S. economic stimulus package.
Sandberg on her first year at Facebook: “It’s been great. Facebook is a really exciting place trying to do something really important that I really believe in. And it matters. You go to different things from users to marketers to people like Obama running for office, who really want to connect with people and want a more authentic way to communicate and to listen and I think we are one of the forces and in some ways the leading force helping to provide that and that’s just a really exciting thing to be a part of.”
On the fact that 1 in 5 worldwide Internet users are on Facebook: “So we have 4 in 5 more to go. To get everyone connected. Joking aside, we want everyone in the world to be connected. Through Facebook, through technology, not just through us. But we really believe in enabling people to be their authentic selves on the web, and enabling people to communicate directly with each other in a very personal way.”
Sandberg also promised that users would be able to add more than 5,000 friends sometime soon (something we first wrote about last year). She said “I’m not going to give you a specific date, but I will reinforce the message that this is coming, and more importantly tell you why we think it’s important. Because you have these friend requests because people genuinely want to hear from you and genuinely want to connect with you. We’re not providing that functionality and we think that’s important so we are working on this and we’re working on it currently. We look forward to your having 80,000 friends… 100,000 friends.”
Our other interviews from Davos: Chris DeWolfe (MySpace), Robert Kalin (Etsy), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Ed Sanders/Amit Sood (YouTube/Google Earth). You can also watch the panel I moderated with Chad Hurley (YouTube), Craig Mundie (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Shananu Narayen (Adobe), Hamid Akhvan (T-Mobile) and Eric Clemons (Wharton) here.
Michael Arrington: I am here with Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and we’re at the end of the World Economic Forum at Davos. So, how was Davos for you this year?
Sheryl Sandberg: Interesting. I’ve been here before so you can kind of feel the different moods. I’d say this is the most somber Davos I’ve been to.
Michael Arrington: How many have you been to?
Sheryl Sandberg: Six I believe – four, a long time ago when I was working in the Clinton government, and last year. During the Clinton years there was an Asian financial crisis and I would say the mood then was not as up, but the pessimism was constrained to one part of the economic sphere, which was really Asia and some of the Latin American countries.
Michael Arrington: The NASDAQ was still way up then..
Sheryl Sandberg: Here there’s a real pessimism, and I think it’s earned – where is the economy going to bottom out? What don’t we understand?
Michael Arrington: This is your first Davos as a Facebook executive. Is it any different? Are people approaching you for different things? To talk about different things? What is this community giving you? What is this community giving you, what are you giving back, to this community?
Sheryl Sandberg: At Facebook we feel a lot of affinity not just for this community but for any community that is trying to do what Davos is trying to do, which is to share information. And Davos is doing it in a particular way – I think the Facebook approach is obviously more broad-based, we’re trying to include everyone in the world. But the goal is the same: bring people together, to share information and make the world more connected, and have people have a deeper understanding of themselves, others, the communities of which they want to be a part and can be a part. This has been a great year at Davos for Facebook. We’ve done a bunch of things including some polls from the stage, which has been really exciting.
Michael Arrington: Randi Zuckerberg did a poll that had around 500 responses in a matter of seconds..
Sheryl Sandberg: Yeah, I think the most compelling thing we had was there was a panel here which was on the situation in Congress with the US. And the panelists were talking about the stimulus package, and the assumption on the panel was that people were for it, and it would pass, there’s some tinkering to do. And Randi did a poll from the stage in twenty minutes, 120,000 responses, 70% of whom were against it. They said, “I don’t believe in the stimulus package”.
Michael Arrington: This was during the panel..
Sheryl Sandberg: During the panel, real live, 120,000 responses. Now it’s not a representative full sampling of the US population, but that’s a lot of responses. It completely changed the panel… The panel then were talking about, “wow, a lot of people are against this, what are we going to do?” And I think that’s exciting because Davos is a pretty exclusive thing. And the voice of people who were not invited – while everyone is always trying to get it in here, I don’t know how much you can do that.
Michael Arrington: Yeah, but you inserted it directly into a panel.
Sheryl Sandberg: Yeah, and the times I’ve been here [it was] the most direct voice of the people I’ve seen inserted into a panel so I think that was pretty exciting.
Michael Arrington: Was that an on-the-record panel with the video up on the site?
Sheryl Sandberg: I don’t know… It’s pretty exciting to take real people living in the real world, their opinions, and have people have to react to that. As opposed to their perceptions of what people are thinking, which are often very different.
Michael Arrington: So how was your first year at Facebook? We’re coming up on the one year mark in March.
Sheryl Sandberg: Yes, coming up on the one year mark. It’s been great. Facebook is a really exciting place trying to do something really important that I really believe in. And it matters. You go to different things from users to marketers to people like Obama running for office, who really want to connect with people and want a more authentic way to communicate and to listen and I think we are one of the forces and in some ways the leading force helping to provide that and that’s just a really exciting thing to be a part of.
Michael Arrington: How many users do you have now? 150 million?
Sheryl Sandberg: 150 million..
Michael Arrington: But it’s actually above that, you just don’t announce it. Every few months..
Sheryl Sandberg: *Laughs* We update it regularly.
Michael Arrington: Why does Comscore say 200 million people visit the site every month? Is it just Comscore is off or…
Sheryl Sandberg: An active user for us is someone who comes every month, at least once a month. I don’t know exactly how Comscore is measuring it.
Michael Arrington: You realize it’s like 1 in 5 people in the world that are on the internet visit Facebook.
Sheryl Sandberg: So we have 4 in 5 more to go. To get everyone connected. Joking aside, we want everyone in the world to be connected. Through Facebook, through technology, not just through us. But we really believe in enabling people to be their authentic selves on the web, and enabling people to communicate directly with each other in a very personal way.
Michael Arrington: So.. Revenue. You own revenue in the company, is that right?
Sheryl Sandberg: I definitely work on revenue, have responsibility for revenue.
Michael Arrington: So what’s monthly revenue now?
Sheryl Sandberg: Oh, you know, three dollars. $3.52 precisely.
Michael Arrington: How do you feel about revenue, where do you feel the big growth opportunities are? Do you have any new products? Micropayments for the developers, anything like that that you’re willing to talk about now?
Sheryl Sandberg: No product announcements on this video, that will disappoint but not surprise you. But you know it’s funny, a lot of people will say, “what’s Facebook’s business model?” I always find that a kind of funny question. Our business model is out there, which is: we monetize largely through advertising and a little bit through the gift revenue, the virtual gifts we have on our site. I think those continue to be the most promising avenues going forward. I think what you will see from us – you’ve seen from us some last year but you’ll see a lot this year – are the evolution of the advertising products so that they can be more targeted for advertisers and provide useful interactions for users. And I think we’re actually having a good year so far, a good quarter, and looking forward to more growth.
Michael Arrington: So you have direct ad sales, you have a team, and then you have the self-serve ads and we’ve actually looked at the self serve ads quite a bit and advertisers seem to love that. You said you have virtual gifts, but what about that micropayments platform for developers, I mean that’s a way for you to make additional money and they’re begging for it.
Sheryl Sandberg: Nothing to announce today.
Michael Arrington: Didn’t you guys already announce it a year ago?
Sheryl Sandberg: Yeah, we did do that… We haven’t updated that announcement and part of being a startup is, you know you announce things, you try to get there… not going to give anything else. Other than the $3.52. Obviously a very specific announcement.
Michael Arrington: Give me one thing then, give me more than 5,000 friends, this was promised to me personally not a year ago but close. And they’re just piling up. The friend requests are just piling up. And I know it’s only a small percentage of users have that need for more than 5,000 friends, but I’m one of them. When do I get that?
Sheryl Sandberg: I’m not going to give you a specific date, but I will reinforce the message that this is coming, and more importantly tell you why we think it’s important. Because you have these friend requests because people genuinely want to hear from you and genuinely want to connect with you. We’re not providing that functionality and we think that’s important so we are working on this and we’re working on it currently. We look forward to your having 80,000 friends… 100,000 friends.
Michael Arrington: I want to be friends with everyone that wants to be friends with TechCrunch. I don’t know if they really want to be friends with me or if they want to be friends with TechCrunch. But I want to add everyone, right now they’re piling up. What do you think of your hotel? I forgot to ask you that.. I’ve asked everyone that. It’s a 2 star hotel at a 5 star price.
Sheryl Sandberg: Yeah, it’s not the nicest hotel I’ve stayed at this year. I was a little scared at first because I walked into the room and there was no bed. I have a Murphy bed.