Zuckerberg Isn’t About the Money

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t focused on the company’s $15 billion valuation. He just “doesn’t think about it,” the Facebook CEO said in an interview with Sarah Lacy today at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Instead, he’s focused on building a platform on which people can communicate efficiently and maintain and develop connections. (Watch video)

Efficiency and connectedness were certainly the words of the hour from Zuckerberg. Maybe it was his audience of users and Facebook developers in the packed ballroom of the Austin Convention Center, but his message was tailored more to the Facebook vision rather than any substantive talk about where the platform may go next in terms of features and monetization.

It’s the kind of starry-eyed idealism that is either patently untrue or shows how much Zuckerberg still needs to learn about running a company. I’m all for staying focused on your business rather than chasing every dollar, but at the end of the day a company whose CEO is focused on communicating a message rather than figuring out how to turn a profit is delusional. Sure, sometimes the Field-of-Dreams approach works, but sometimes it just ends up like Kozmo or Webvan.

When it comes to monetization, some type of endorsement-style advertising is in the works, but Zuckerberg didn’t get into details about what it would look like. However, given the more granular privacy controls he’s promising, it’s hard to see how people won’t be able to opt out of obvious advertising. And while marketers might relish positive word-of-mouth advertising; if they’re paying for it they’re going to want to control it, making endorsements a hard sell.

On the financial side, Zuckerberg said, “We’re running the business around breakeven; we’re not throwing off a ton of money.” He also dodged questions about Microsoft being unhappy with the state of banner advertising on Facebook.

As for features, the crowd asked for a better messaging system that if implemented, will look a lot like e-mail. Zuckerberg agreed that a feature like that would be on the way. But when asked about plans for a Facebook music service, his answer was simply, “We have nothing to talk about right now.”

The interview changed none of my thoughts on Facebook or Zuckerberg, but I’m still willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt. As Zuckerberg points out, “Revenue and valuation of a company are a trailing indicators of the value you are building.”

But if no one will pay for it, then how valuable can the Facebook platform be? I think we’ve heard this tune before.