How Mark Zuckerberg's Success Influenced a Generation of Entrepreneurs

It’s hard to believe only two years have passed since the “Like” feature was created. Think about all of the news, photos, and causes you’ve learned about by the increased viewership of shared information. 

Now, consider how many of your friends choose to “work on a startup” rather than pursue corporate careers. Or how the meteoric ascent of a college dropout influenced your views on technology, entrepreneurship, and creativity. 

What was it about the Facebook narrative that stirred young adults, and empowered our generation?

I believe the Facebook success story captured the attention of Generation Y because, at its core, Facebook’s product and vision speak to what Millennials do best: share with peers, innovate in teams, and relate to one another.

Sharing and the Power of “Like” 

Millennials form a collaboration nation, and we embrace the power of doing things together. Sharing our stories is not only what we pride ourselves on, but also how we mark our independence. Facebook’s founders enabled that Generation Y tendency in cyberspace, and as users, we ran with it. 

While I’m not convinced that the positive externalities that followed from this intersection were wholly anticipated, the fast adaption by both Facebook engineers and users to broaden awareness through digital sharing has had a remarkable effect. Young journalists now reach their targeted readership more easily, small businesses stage advertising operations, and not-for-profit organizations source philanthropic campaigns online.

It’s inspiring to me that a tool that harnesses what we do best, can enable us to be at our best.

Innovation and Risk 

On the individual level, the success of Facebook showed millennials that we could create something valuable and scalable, and be acknowledged for it. As corporate careers no longer provide the same job safety, entrepreneurship awoke our generation to a new means of confronting social and economic problems. Now those enticed by challenge, risk, and reward can become their own boss, control their own schedules, and disrupt industries. 

Even further, the relationship between Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg proved that millennials with great ideas could collaborate and win over the ranks of Generation X. Facebook’s transition to a public entity only perpetuates this cultural validation of the innovation community – the company has the dual potential to impact the ranks Silicon Valley and Wall Street. 

Their success gave us access to the road less traveled, and provided us a few directions and pointers on how to navigate that path.

Meet My Friend Mark, the Relatable Billionaire

For me, what truly sets this success story apart is Mark Zuckerberg’s relatable profile. 

Perhaps it’s the rebel factor. Perhaps it’s the geek factor. But ultimately, the college-educated suburban kid chasing an idea at 20 years old elicits a millennial camaraderie and prompts us to believe “hey, I could give this a shot”.

In fact, what Zuckerberg’s relatable nature creates is an accessible dream rather than an inspiring story.  As our contemporary, he’s hasn’t made the journey look easy, and he hasn’t matured gracefully in the public eye.

His narrative did not suggest, “I nailed it, you can do it too.” But instead, “I took a chance and you can as well.”

Harvard Business School professor Gianpiero Petriglieri put it well when he wrote, “[Facebook] is a story of ambition and genius that meet opportunity; of impeccable timing and ruthless focus; of the geek that becomes a star; of the once marginal that makes it to the top. It is a story known by many as "the American dream," and regarded with as much reverence”

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have disrupted industries by mobilizing a generation steeped in technology to share their knowledge, to propose alternative solutions, and to take chances. Yet as a public company, will Facebook continue to be the social tool and professional manual of our generation? Will Zuckerberg be able to maintain the values and aspirations of millennials when the focus of his company is not only about the user, but also about the shareholder? 

I think so. That is, as long as we continue to relate to this story, rather than revere it.