Michael Brown ’97, senior manager of corporate development at Facebook, said he “walks a tight rope” in his work at the famous social networking company, which, he added, requires discretion.
Still, Brown was open about his experiences at Facebook at a panel discussion before a crowd of about 40 students, many of them aspiring entrepreneurs, this Tuesday. Brown took questions throughout the evening about how Facebook works and how students can go on to start successful businesses.
“If you have a good idea and you are resourceful, you can get what you want,” Brown said. “Different folks have different spikes.”
After working for Facebook for two-and-a-half years, Brown said, he has developed a “smell and taste” for the company’s mechanics. Brown said he believes that Facebook connects people on a deeper level than other social networking sites, since its users can fully “share their identity.”
Another feature that sets Facebook apart is that “Zuck [Mark Zuckerberg] is always willing to take risks,” Brown said. “He likes fixings fonts and colors. He takes responsibility.”
Brown said Facebook aims to have 1 billion users very soon, and a large part of their strategy will involve promoting Facebook for mobile phones. Between 250 and 350 million people already use the website on their phones, he added. When asked what 2021 will look like for Facebook, Brown answered that the company “will continue to take risks and innovate; otherwise, we’ll become like Yahoo.”
Several students asked Brown what qualities make a successful entrepreneur, as well as what he looks for in a team at Facebook.
Brown replied that students aiming to enter the business world simply need to find honest people to rely upon as they build their careers, and powerful people who believe in their work.
“Silicon Valley is very different from New Haven,” Brown said, adding that the contacts and talent Mark Zuckerberg found in Palo Alto, Calif., in the film “The Social Network” are true to life. “The contacts in the Valley are free. You don’t need money. If you have a good idea you’ll get the job.”
Once a person’s career is established, Brown said it is important to have trust in one’s colleagues. When asked about problems Facebook has faced as it has evolved, and the “mistakes” the company as made, Brown only said it is the company’s intent to “do the right thing.”
Before Brown launched his own career, he was a student in Branford College. Audience members asked about his experiences at Yale, where he said he studied economics instead of pursuing Chinese like he wanted to.
“Don’t sit in the library on a Saturday night,” Brown advised a group of students at the end of the panel. “Take Chinese if that’s what interests you. Drink a beer, watch some football. You won’t get this time back.”
Lec Maj, a computing manager at the Center for British Art, said Brown’s advice is extremely valuable to students.
All five students interviewed after the panel said they thought Brown was a dynamic speaker.
“I thought he was extremely valuable,” said Jessica Cole ’12. “I appreciated his willingness to be candid.”