Home Ahead of IPO, Zuckerberg’s Independent Streak Rattles Would-Be Investors

Ahead of IPO, Zuckerberg’s Independent Streak Rattles Would-Be Investors

For Silicon Valley innovators and tech workers, the Wall Street Journal article with all the inside details of Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram is, by and large, fodder for fantasy. But on the other coast, where investors and hedge fund managers are considering whether or not to purchase Facebook shares in next month’s initial public offering, the article raises a single, pressing question: Can they stomach big investments in a company where a CEO who is not quite 28 controls 57% of the voting shares?

“This was an obvious power play by Zuckerberg; the pre-IPO timing is no coincidence,” said Jordan Hudgens of software design firm MCW Services. “With all the commentary surrounding the reasons why Facebook has taken so long to go public, the number one factor for the delay has always been Zuckerberg’s reluctance to give up control. It’s clear that he is not relenting on his belief – and rightfully so – that he is the best person to lead his company.”

By now, the backstory to Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram is becoming the stuff of M&A legend, complete with an initial asking price of $2 billion, and the latest revelation that Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg negotiated the deal over a three-day period with almost no influence from his company’s board of directors.

“The board, according to one person familiar with the matter, ‘Was told, not consulted’,” the Journal article said.

Factor in that, for as long as most of us have known his name, Zuckerberg has publicly stated he is more interested in connecting everyone in the world than worrying about profit-and-loss statements – and that he shunned the idea of going on the pre-IPO roadshows – and the idea of a Facebook investment becomes even more worrisome for investors who are used to dealing with traditional CEOs.

Traditional CEOs, notes Steve Leach, founder of Bigmouthmedia and chairman of the social agency Outside Line, are part politician and part diplomat. They rarely have as big of a hands-on approach as Zuckerberg has with Facebook.

“For me, Zuckerberg is certainly a bigger risk than your stereotype MBA CEO, but with risk can come great reward,” said Leach, who is planning to purchase Facebook shares following the IPO.

Still, Leach would be more comfortable if Zuckerberg didn’t take on the role of post-IPO CEO.

“It could rapidly kick the drive and enthusiasm out of him and ultimately his product,” he said. “After all, on a voting level, he will remain the overall decision maker without having to take any of the post-IPO heat.”

While the approach Zuckerberg took to acquire Instagram may have unsettled investors in traditional companies, many in Silicon Valley like the approach given the sector’s unique corporate culture. The approach keeps Web firms nimble, and according to the Journal, the acquisition may not have gone through if Zuckerberg had approached Instagram founder Kevin Systrom with a team of M&A lawyers instead of as a peer.

There are also precedents suggesting the Zuckerberg approach works. Startup expert Don Rainey of Grotech Ventures is on the board of LivingSocial, HelloWallet and other tech companies. He pointed to Zappos and CEO Tony Hsieh. Hsieh, Rainey said, is almost as famous for saying “If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff – like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers – will happen naturally on its own” as he is for selling shoes.

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