Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t usually observe sentimental anniversaries. This year he’s confronted by three of them. On Feb. 4, Facebook (FB), the company he co-founded in a Harvard University dorm, turns 10 years old. The prodigy himself turns 30 in May. It’s also been a decade since his first date with Priscilla Chan, now his wife, whom he first met in line for the bathroom at a Harvard fraternity party.
So last fall, Zuckerberg began typing up dozens of pages of musings, often pecking out the words on his phone. He shaped his thoughts into 3-, 5-, and 10-year plans. He also gave himself a specific goal for 2014. He’s fond of annual challenges, and in previous years he’s vowed to learn Mandarin (2010), to eat only animals he slaughtered himself (2011), and to meet someone new each day (2013). For this year he intends to write at least one well-considered thank-you note every day, via e-mail or handwritten letter.
“It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person,” he says at Facebook’s sprawling corporate campus in Menlo Park, Calif. “I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built. But if you look at this objectively, we’re doing so well on so many of these things. I think it’s important to have gratitude for that.” He’s still unnaturally boyish and is wearing his customary uniform: hoodie, gray T-shirt, and jeans. No Adidas shower sandals, though; in what could be construed as a sign of creeping maturity, he’s wearing black Nike sneakers.
Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chairman and chief executive officer, has many reasons to be grateful. His social network is used by 1.23 billion people around the world. The company is worth around $135 billion and will probably become the fastest in history to reach $150 billion. Its recent financial results have impressed Wall Street, in part with the success of its shift to mobile phones. In the fourth-quarter earnings report it filed on Jan. 29, Facebook disclosed that for the first time sales from ads on mobile phones and tablets exceeded revenue from traditional PCs. The shift to mobile was “not as quick as it should have been,” Zuckerberg says, but “one of the things that characterizes our company is that we are pretty strong-willed.”
Photograph by Ryan BradleyZuckerberg and co-founder Dustin Moskovitz in Palo Alto, 2004
Facebook’s challenge is to keep growing. With almost half the world’s Internet-connected population using the service, the company is facing the immutable law of large numbers and simply can’t keep adding users at its previously torrid rate. At the same time, Facebook must defend its highly profitable business against several threatening trends. Internet users—particularly young ones—crave different kinds of online experiences and new ways of connecting with one another. Many lead online lives that begin and end without Facebook. Rivals such as Twitter(TWTR) and Snapchat, with their embrace of pseudonyms and different ways of sharing publicly and privately, have grown up outside the once-inexorable Facebook ecosystem. Silicon Valley’s smartest product developers, who used to make games and other diversions that lived on Facebook, are instead applying their talents to creating apps that compete with it. “No one individually has quite yet displaced Facebook,” says Keith Rabois, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Khosla Ventures. “But as more and more people choose another social platform as their primary hub, it’s a real problem. They could be losing one segment at a time.”
Zuckerberg says companies often lose their way during major transitions. His company hasn’t, he says, so “we’re really at this point where we can take a step back and think about the next big things that we want to do.”
Early in 2012, Zuckerberg called an all-hands meeting and dramatically declared that the company would be “mobile first.” He then reinforced that focus by unceremoniously ending any meeting where employees began their presentations talking about computers rather than smartphones. And his three-year plan remains all about strengthening Facebook’s presence in mobile. “Mark had to learn how to run a mobile-first company in the last two years, which meant thinking differently about how he ran teams, how products were built, and which engineering skills we needed,” says Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “He made that shift so quickly.”
Stone is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in San Francisco. He is the author ofThe Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Little, Brown; October 2013). Follow him on Twitter @BradStone.