2016 AC Day 1: Randi Zuckerberg Shares Her Career Highlights, Key Tech Trends, and Why They’re So Dot Complicated

By Ari Pinkus posted 02-26-2016 01:28 AM


Randi Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, gave an electrifying presentation about her background in the tech sector. She highlighted several key tech trends and the complications that ensue from their prevalence.

Randi’s Credentials

Randi is a multifaceted media professional with a bunch of credits to her name: author of the children’s book Dot and the book Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives, host of the radio show “Dot Complicated” on SiriusXM, and past performer in Rock of Ages on Broadway.

Randi, who is sister to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said she will have failed in this presentation “if you leave thinking that you got sloppy seconds because I’m not Mark Zuckerberg.”

How Randi Started Out

She relayed how depressed she was when she started at Ogilvy & Mather in the digital and interactive marketing department while her friends were working with very cool celebrity clients. “I cried that I’m in a dead career.” But then she began leading a team in digital and interactive marketing while her friends were still getting coffee for celebrities, she said.  

Mark called her to ask if she would come out to California to work with him. Her first thought: “I would never work for my little brother’s stupid company. I’m living in Manhattan. Why would I ever want to do that?” Then Mark said he would buy her a Jet Blue plane ticket, and she headed West.

When Randi arrived in “Silicone Valley” as she pronounced it then, she was amazed at the chaos and habits she found among the workers at her brother’s company. “I think they ate only Red Bull and Twinkies.” What motivated her was their belief that “they were changing the way all of us communicate and changing the world.”

Randi noted that she began her career at Facebook and held almost every position over six years. When she started, the company consisted of a dozen people working above a Chinese restaurant. When she left, Facebook was a public company with thousands of people working in 40 offices worldwide.

Why Facebook Has Thrived

What set Facebook apart from the other social networking sites, including MySpace and Friendster, in Randi’s words:

  • We launched with a bit of exclusivity. We rolled out to few schools, and waited until schools approached us. That way we knew there would be demand when we moved in.
  • We used real identities. In anonymity, people say terrible things about others. When they used their real names, suddenly they were a lot more thoughtful. Before long, there were millions of people on the site and over half posted their mobile phone number.
  • We focused on our company culture. Randi said that even if your company consists of just two people, it’s vital to think about this. It connotes the image that you’re projecting to the world, how you work with clients, etc.
  • We cultivated a hacker, entrepreneurial culture. It worked this way: Every month we pulled an all-nighter. The rule was you couldn’t work on something that you were working on in your day job. You presented to everyone in the company after the event was over.

People developed some offbeat ideas. One involved hooking up an iPhone to a trampoline and people needed to recreate the same jump to get back into their phone. People were jumping all night. At that point, no one feared failure because, whatever you were doing, you just remembered that the guy next to you was hooking up an iPhone to a trampoline.

These hackathons often turned up ideas that became features on Facebook. It was never the most senior people who came up with a good idea. It was the new intern, the entry-level employee, or the person who just returned from maternity leave and now saw the world in a new way.

The Humble Beginnings and Sudden Success of Facebook Live with Randi Zuckerberg

In that same entrepreneurial vein, Randi described starting Facebook Live with Randi Zuckerberg. “Two people watched: my parents,” she recalled in laughter.

Then she got a call from Katy Perry’s manager who wanted to launch Katy’s tour on her show. She was tempted to apologize and say that the show was not the best venue. Then she thought: What would my male colleagues do? She called the manager back and said launching the tour on the show was an excellent idea.

Although Randi was initially worried that no one would tune in, millions of people did. Soon politicians sought to be part of the new show. The prime minster of Tunisia wanted to talk to the people of Facebook during the Arab Spring. While she was dining with her husband, she got a call from the White House that President Obama wished to have a national town hall meeting on Facebook Live. This was just four months after the launch.

She summed up her experience, “You don’t have to be a coder to be a hacker.”

Top Tech Trends from Randi’s Vantage Point

Randi spent the remainder of her time describing key tech trends that are shaping and will continue to shape our world.

A New Workplace

The lines have been blurred between employee and entrepreneur. Even if you work for a company, having entrepreneurial qualities is very valuable. She flashed photos of people in various roles to convey this point. For example, a man kneeling next to a woman by the pool turned out to be an employee of manservant.com. And the audience was left to wonder whether the female senior citizen driving a car was retired or an Uber driver.

The new workplace is creative. You can have a hackathon in any industry. Some employers are asking for six-word resumes, as an example of thinking outside the box.

The new workplace is mobile and on demand. It’s not at the beach, but more like working in PJs at home.

The new workplace creates a dot complicated effect. Everyone is seen through the prism of being served or serving. We need to think about the costs that society is incurring as a result of that lens.

Important to Communicate like a Media Company

Because all of us can be content creators, every school, student, etc. has to think like a media company. We need to educate students about how to achieve that in a smart way.

STEM Education

Randi noted that she’s a big believer in starting STEM education at a young age and lamented the fact that women aren’t running tech companies. As she put it, “Eenie, meenie, minie, mode, teach your toddler how to code…Give them some tech but don’t go too wild.”

To that end, Randi wrote the children’s book Dot about a techy girl who finds balance in her life. She referenced the fear many have about employing tech in the classroom, but said there’s lots of ways to introduce tech creatively without being so fixated on screens.

The Maker Movement

In China, people are creating houses with 3D printers. And with Etsy, anyone can be a maker, she said.

Randi went to renaissance fairs with her parents; today she takes her children to maker faires where they fly drones and build robots.

Virtual Reality (VR)

What it is: An artificial world that consists of images and sounds created by a computer and that is affected by the actions of a person who is experiencing it.

VR has been used to teach CPR and cure PTSD phobias. A doctor performed open heart surgery on a fetus because he trained in virtual reality. Hollywood is making VR movies; you start out being kidnapped, and you have to find your way home.

But VR is dot complicated, Randi said. For years we’ve been talking about violent video games; VR will take that debate up 10 levels.

The Drone Phenomenon

Drones can deliver medical supplies; they can spy on people. The selfie drone will even follow you. Amazon Prime will allow you to order something under five pounds and be delivered right to your doorstop. The taco copter, invented by a group from MIT, orders tacos to be delivered by drone.

Drones have their own dot complicated effects. They have crashed into the U.S. Open and the Empire State Building and they could well get lost regularly.

Tech Lifestyle: Fitbits and FuelBands

Colleges are handing out Fitbits and FuelBands to students to track the steps and health of their student body.

The dot complicated effect: A ticker can count down the seconds left in your life.

Gamification for Motivation

More and more people are building tech tools to promote health and well-being.

When going for a run, you can pull up an app that when you hit like, you’ll hear applause in your ear. What’s dot complicated: the Gym Shamer that texts your friends if you don’t go to the gym… and the scale that tweets your weight.

Final Trend: Unplug to Refresh

Randi said she wants her children to grow up in a world where they have a healthy relationship with tech. Something for parents to be aware of: Just because your child Skypes regularly with grandpa does not mean grandpa lives in the computer. She noted that hotels now offer digital detox packages, which would have been unheard of not long ago. No Wi-Fi, pay extra, she commented.

She flashed a photo of a beer glass that won’t stand up straight unless a phone is docked under it.

Randi closed by singing her own lyrics to the song “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. “I love to live life more offline… I want to go where the people go… bookstores or somewhere that’s still existent…Somewhere where tinder means only wood. I wish I could be part of that world.”