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Zuckerberg will need more engineering help, and fast
The departure of Benjamin Ling from Facebook, just as developers are starting to build apps for the social network's revamped platform, is a blow for the company no matter how Facebook tries to spin it.
Ling, who came from Google less than a year ago, said he's leaving to pursue a great opportunity.
But the fact is he obviously saw the opportunity at Facebook as something less than that.
This leaves three major holes at the executive level just under CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as the company is also lacking VPs for product and for engineering after the departures of Matt Cohler and Adam D'Angelo.
Last month, the company put its developer platform under the management of Elliot Schrage, a former Google public policy exec with no engineering training.
Multiple departures of top executives at any company signal either disarray or a change in direction.
Given Facebook's size, valuation and growth, the changes will put an inordinate amount of pressure on Zuckerber.
First off, the company's rich pre-IPO valuation has dulled the attractiveness of owning Facebook options for current or prospective executives, which will make recruiting them more difficult, as we first said back in December.
It's clear that the company isn't worth the $15 billion valuation that Microsoft and Facebook used when Microsoft made its investment last fall.
The company calculated an internal valuation of around $3.75 billion for the IRS and recent stock sales by employees have been made at around that same level.
But that valuation range is still monstrously large for a private startup, and it translates into a lower IPO payday for any new executives that Zuckerberg tries to hire. That means Facebook will likely have to come up with more cash for salaries to fill key positions.
Second, there's little precedent for a company of its size being led by a 24-year-old without a co-founding partner.
Jeff Filo and Jerry Yang were a formidable team, as were Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and the founders of Yahoo and of Google were all in their mid-20s when they founded their companies. It wasn't for several years that they found themselves in charge of companies with several hundred million in revenue.
Zuckerberg, on the other hand, is flying solo.
And while what Facebook is today is a product of his vision, he has no experience running a large company. Of course, you could say the same thing of Bill Gates and Michael Dell. But those entrepreneurs-turned-CEOs weren't performing in the pressure cooker of Silicon Valley's hottest startup.
At a news conference following the f8 developer event in July, Schrage answered a good portion of the questions asked, and Zuckerberg looked to Ling to answer several about the company's platform.
At the end of the event, after answering additional questions from myself and other journalists, one of the Facebook staff asked Zuckerburg where he was headed.
"I want to go see my parents. My mom's here," he said enthusiastically.
This isn't meant as a put-down for those remarks, but merely to point out Zuckerberg's youth.
Some might argue that gives him more energy. He'll need it, because Zuckerberg now has direct responsibility for several key areas of operations.
All this happens as Facebook is growing like crazy. In the last few months, it has surpassed MySpace to become the largest social network in the world thanks to explosive growth overseas.
In a presentation leaked earlier this year, Zuckerberg said Facebook broke even on $150 million of revenue in 2007 and expects to at least double revenue this year.
If Facebook's board wants to manage the company's growth, rather than be buffeted by it, they need to get their youthful CEO some help -- especially on the engineering side -- and fast.
(Source for main page image: Searchviews.com)
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