“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
— Benjamin Franklin
“Money it’s a hit / Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit”
— Pink Floyd
“If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.”
— Fake Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network
The bomb dropped last week. Facebook bought messaging giant WhatsApp for a cool $19 billion. No, that’s not a typo. The deal is $12 billion in Facebook stock, $4 billion cash and $3 billion in restricted stock — but you catch my drift. It’s astronomically huge, man. The talking point du jour — WhatsApp is now worth more than UNITED AIRLINES. It’s bigger than THE GAP or SONY. In Silicon Valley math, it’s the equivalent of 19 INSTAGRAMS or 6 SNAPCHATS. This is bigger than Lebron James joining the Miami Heat. This is bigger than Jesus. Say whaaaaaaaaaat?? (WhatsApp, that’s what! Cue rim shot.)
The number is so Lovecraftian unfathomable that it’s blown minds and caused more than a few folks to ask: “What the hell is WhatsApp?” This question is immediately followed by the $19 billion dollar question: “Is it worth it?”
Let’s put things in perspective. Through this acquisition, Facebook is getting 450 million daily active users who rely on WhatsApp to communicate on their smart and not-so-smart phones (it’s available on older phones too). Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, thinks that the WhatsApp user base is going to reach 1 BILLION very soon, and it’s expanding into all parts of the world. Facebook messaging is already huge, but not world-beater huge. Remember Facebook’s failed attempt to build a Snapchat clone? Facebook knows it needs to step up its messaging game. And if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. With this move, Facebook is poised to crush the global messaging market. For those players still competing with Facebook in the messaging market? Fuhgeddaboudit. Game over man, game over.
Side note: Special shout-out to China for being unaffected. Messaging in China is impenetrable by Facebook for two reasons — the Chinese government actively blocks Facebook traffic and WeChat has completely decimated all hopes for its competitors. Carry on.
What’s really interesting right now are the various reactions and attempts to rationalize the deal. Smarter minds than I are coming out of the woodwork, asking questions like:
Is it worth the money?
Is it wise for Facebook to sink a tenth of their total value on WhatsApp?
How does this help Facebook earn revenue if WhatsApp doesn’t monetize its users?
Could Facebook have bought another messaging solution to grow its market share?
All great questions, but ultimately missing the point. Let me explain.
In the end, it’s not about the money (unfathomable!) or the 450 million daily active users (can I get a “hell yeah?”). It’s also not about the 400 million photos that WhatsApp users send on a daily basis, or the scores of attractive metrics that Facebook can place on their glossy press release. It’s not even about Facebook making up for its lack of a mobile operating system, or a dozen other tangentially important things.
No. It’s about you.
That’s right, I’m looking at you, Smartphone Addict. You’re reading this on your mobile phone, the same phone that you pick up and touch about 3,459 times a day. You like Facebook — a lot. You’re probably using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage or any number of messaging apps installed on your phone to communicate with your friends. You just put up a selfie on Instagram. You do this willingly every minute of every day with no breaks. Every notification alert and Facebook comment triggers the stimuli developed deep within your soul. You must respond to that tweet or comment within the next 30 seconds. You simply must.
That’s your life, and it’s also mine. Facebook and these other companies are waging one battle — the battle to win your undivided attention. All of these companies want to own you — or more specifically, everything that you do.
You know what else the deal is about? It’s about feeding the ego of The Zuck. To really understand the deal, we need to get inside the head of the dealmaker.
Zuckerberg is Facebook, in the same way that Steve Jobs was Apple. He’s the face of the company and the brand — the founder, creator, divine hacker, prodigy and divine prophet all-in-one. Zuckerberg owns a majority stake in the company. When he speaks, the Facebook board of directors listen.
Imagine you’re Zuckerberg for a moment. You’re fantastically wealthy, to the point that you’re oblivious to how much tangible money is in your bank account. More precisely, you’re distanced from the money. It’s not something you feel anymore because you’ve moved past such worldly matters. You can always make more. What you’re really worried about, and what keeps you up at night, is your Legacy.
And what’s Zuck’s Legacy? Winning the internet. Winning mobile. Winning the battle for users’ undivided attention.
What’s going to be a blow to Zuck’s Legacy? Losing the WhatsApp deal to Google, who purportedly offered more money. Hearing people whisper that Facebook can’t close deals. Recall that Facebook already missed out on buying Tumblr and Snapchat — does Zuckerberg really want to be known as the man who also missed out on WhatsApp? Wouldn’t he pursue greatness, at any cost?
No, Zuckerberg absolutely can’t let this one slide. It’s bigger than him because it’s about winning.
Because it’s about owning everything that we do.
Michael Lewis wrote in Liar’s Poker that “Those who say don’t know, and those who know don’t say.” Who really knows what goes on in Mr. Zuckerberg’s head, other than the man himself? All I can postulate is that if I were him, I’d be very focused on building the Facebook New World Order. The eagle has landed, ladies and gentlemen, and the road ahead is about to get very interesting.