In First Post-IPO Appearance, Mark Zuckerberg Plays Defense

By
Photo: Scott Olson/2011 Getty Images

By all objective measures, Mark Zuckerberg – who, at 28, could fill the Marianas Trench with dollar bills – should have no insecurity whatsoever. But as he took the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF this afternoon, the Facebook CEO looked and sounded like a middle schooler talking his way out of detention.

Zuckerberg was addressing the public for the first time since the social network’s belly flop of an IPO. And in an interview with cantankerous TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington in front of an overflow crowd of thousands of enraptured start-up founders, the beleaguered CEO talked a mile a minute as he explained in nervous, clipped tones that he was shrugging off Facebook’s “stock price fluctuations,” as he called them, and focusing on the future.

“We’re a mission-driven company,” Zuckerberg said. “We’re going to do the things we believe are going to add value in the long term.”

Never mind Zuckerberg’s insouciance as he explained away a loss of $50 billion in market value since Facebook’s IPO. What surprised us about his appearance was the extent to which Facebook’s rough encounter with the public markets seemed to have shaken his preternatural confidence.

"It’s easy for folks to underestimate how fundamentally good mobile is for us," Zuckerberg said, speaking at machine-gun speed as he furiously careened away from questions about the company's stock price to ones more in his bailiwick.

Arrington mostly obliged, allowing Zuckerberg to speak the language of tech rather than the patois of a public corporation. He fielded softballs about the social network's mobile push, its acquisition of Instagram, and whether it's considering building a phone. (It's not.)

And as the shadow of Wall Street receded, Zuckerberg came out of his shell.

When asked if Facebook would challenge Google by building a more robust search engine, Zuckerberg replied that it could easily do so, saying with characteristic cockiness: "We do a billion queries a day, and we’re basically not even trying."

The audience tittered. After a few months of hibernation, the Zuck they knew was back.