30 Life Lessons To Take From Mark Zuckerberg On His 30th Birthday

by Kevin Smith

Today is Mark Zuckerberg's 30th birthday.

Whether you love or hate him, you have to admit that Zuck has done a great deal for the Internet.

At just 30 years old, he's worth more than $24.5 billion, making him the youngest billionaire in the world. But all of his success didn't come without hard work, dedication and a ton of mistakes. To celebrate Zuck's 30th, here are 30 lessons you can learn from Facebook's founder:

1. Passion over everything

Zuckerberg is famous for saying, “Find that thing you are super passionate about. A lot of founding principles of Facebook are that if people have access to more information and are more connected, it will make the world better; people will have more understanding, more empathy.

That’s the guiding principle for me. On hard days, I really just step back, and that’s the thing that keeps me going.”

2. Do the most important thing you could be doing

Zuckerberg constantly worries about whether he's doing the most important thing he could be doing. He says, “the question I ask myself like almost every day is, ‘Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?’… Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem that I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time. And that’s what this company [Facebook] is.”

3. Remember, success doesn't come first

Before Zuckerberg left Harvard, he created "Facesmash," a site that judged how attractive students were based on their dorm directory photos. It didn't really go over well with the students and faculty, but catalyzed Zuck's drive to try something new with Facebook.

4. Never accept the first offer

Before Zuckerberg took Facebook public in 2012, he had many, many opportunities to sell the company. He stuck to his guns and believed in what he was doing. This dedication propelled him into the successful businessman he is today.

5. Be prepared to take criticism

Facebook hasn't been free from setbacks. There have been countless lawsuits, bans in certain countries and other negative feedback that would have scared off even the shrewdest of CEOs. Not Zuckerberg. 

Through determination and thick skin, Zuckerberg and his team have remained strong in the face of adversity, mindful of the hazards and hopeful in their ability to maneuver around any challenge that comes their way.

6. Set personal challenges for yourself

Each year Zuck sets a personal challenge for himself. In 2010, he learned Mandarin Chinese so he could communicate with his then-girlfriend's family. In 2011, he pledged only to eat animals that he slaughtered himself. This year, he's pledged to write a thank you note every day.

7. If you aren't breaking things, you aren't moving fast enough

Before Facebook "grew up," the company's motto was, "Move fast and break things." Zuck says, “We place a really big premium on moving quickly. One of the big theories that I had about that, was that all technology companies, and probably all companies, just slow down dramatically as they grow.

But if we can focus at every step along the way on moving quicker … then we’ll move as quickly as a company that only has 500 people, because we’ve invested so much in building up the infrastructure and tools and also the culture that tells people to take risks and try things out.

8. Let people underestimate you

 Zuckerberg said, "This is a perverse thing, personally, but I would rather be in the cycle where people are underestimating us. It gives us latitude to go out and make big bets that excite and amaze people."

9. Stay humble

Despite being the youngest billionaire, Zuck didn't just run out and buy fancy things. Instead, he focused on growing his company. Up until very recently, Zuck drove a relatively inexpensive Acura and didn't splurge on a multi-million dollar home, he opted for a place close to Facebook's campus.

10. Partner with people that complement your skills

Back when Zuck used to personally hire people at Facebook, he said, “We look for people who are passionate about something. In a way, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about. What we really look for when we’re interviewing people is what they’ve shown an initiative to do on their own.”

11. Give back

In 2013, Zuckerberg was the top philanthropist of the year, donating $990 million to charity.

12. Dream big

Not many believe that their college dorm side project will turn into one of the biggest sites on the Internet. Today, Facebook has over one billion users and is a huge part of millions of people's lives. If you don't dream big, you'll never achieve your goals.

13. Be exclusive

Exclusivity is a good thing. When Facebook first launched in 2004, it was only available to students at ivy league schools. This caused students at other colleges from all over the country to want to become part of this exclusive club.

By keeping the site exclusive, Zuck made sure that supply was never larger than demand and that Facebook remained a highly sought after prize.

14. Don't be intimidated by competition

Back when Facebook first launched, it had a ton of competition. All of the competitors were in a better position than Facebook, Myspace had five million users and Friendster has just raised $13 million. Instead of giving up, Zuck continued to work hard and improve his platform. In the end, look who came out on top.

15. Think long term

“Zuckerberg understands the power of passion and the right attitude. Sometimes Facebook hires people just to have the right talent on board, and later on matches up their passions to the projects that they are best suited to work on,” says Ekaterina Walter, author of "Think Like Zuck."

16. Don't give up

During Facebook's first summer, before investors, Zuckerberg needed money to keep going. His parents encouraged him to not give up and pitched in $85,000 to keep the startup afloat.

17. Make mistakes

Zuckerberg said, "So many businesses get worried about looking like they might make a mistake, they become afraid to take any risk.

Companies are set up so that people judge each other on failure. I am not going to get fired if we have a bad year. Or a bad five years. I don’t have to worry about making things look good if they’re not. I can actually set up the company to create value.”

18. Take risks

Typically, when you first start a company, you'll meet and talk with anyone who will listen. Zuckerberg did the opposite when he was first raising money for Facebook. He shunned major investors, ignored phone calls and canceled meetings, just to drive up demand.

Eventually, he had 12 large investment companies, all fighting to fund his site. While most people would have been too scared of missing out on an opportunity, Zuckerberg and the rest of the Facebook team believed in their product enough to wait it out.

19. Hire people you would work for yourself

Zuckerberg has learned a lot about picking good people to work for him. He says, "overtime what I figured out was that the only actual way to let someone analyze whether someone was really good was if they would work for that person ..."

20. Money isn't everything

Before Facebook began making money, Zuckerberg said, “Simply put, we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.”

21. Build a good team

Zuckerberg on teamwork: “One definition that I have for a good team is a group of people that makes better decisions as a whole than would individually make as a sum of the parts.” Zuckerberg adds that “when building a team you want to think about the dynamics so that way you can maintain this property that the team makes better decisions as a group than any individual would.”

22. Lockdown when you think the competition is getting ahead of you.

In Facebook's earlier years Zuckerberg said, “whenever any other company gets ahead of us on something that we think is strategic to us ... we literally did not leave the house until we had addressed the problem, now it’s a little looser of an interpretation … we don’t literally lock everyone inside the office, but about as close to that as we can legally get.

It’s like ‘alright there’s some competitor that has something that we feel like we really need we’re going into lockdown to get this thing because we’re not going to let (a competitor or disrupter) get ahead of us.”

23. You're not as good or as bad as people say

Keep in mind that you’re not as good as people say, and you’re not as bad as people say. Zuckerberg has said in the past that if Facebook is hitting a rough patch with the media and outsiders, he’ll remind the member of his team that they're not as bad as the press says they is.

When Facebook is being praised, he’ll remind his team members that they’re not as good as people say they are. Find the equilibrium.

24. Don't get talked out of anything you strongly believe in

Remember when Facebook Newsfeed first launched? Everyone hated it. The backlash upset many Facebook users. Instead of caving and returning things to the way they were, Zuckerberg stood his ground. Today, Newsfeed is one of the most important Facebook features.

25. Stay on top of your industry

Zuckerberg pays close attention to what's going on in the tech industry. He's constantly researching and always has his eye out for ways to make Facebook better.

Instead of always making products in-house, sometimes he has to buy companies. That's what happened when he got Instagram for $1 billion and WhatsApp for $19 billion.

26. Treat the people working for you well

Zuck understands that if people aren't happy, they won't want to work hard. At Facebook HQ, employees get a lot of perks. From free food, to free computer accessories and even an on-site barber shop, Facebook is packed with goodies that make employees never want to leave.

27. Stand up to pressure, both internal and external

Zuck has a rare entrepreneurial skill that allows him to have an amazing vision. His courage to stand up to the pressures, both internal and external, helps keep him on course and never steers him away from his goals.

28. Don't rest even when you're ahead

"Creating the culture of urgency, staying in the state of permanent beta, not resting on [and] its laurels. That is something a lot of leaders are struggling with, especially once they reach some level of success. The hacker culture that Zuck created is the key to its continuous innovation and fluid adaptability,” says Ekaterina Walter, author of "Think Like Zuck."

29. Be fearless

Zuckerberg's youth allows him to promote an environment of fearlessness. This empowers Facebook employees to innovate and execute on their ideas. It also fosters passion, curiosity and creativity. Both believing in the impossible and not dismissing ideas have greatly contributed to Facebook's success.

30. Finishing is more important that perfection

Zuckerberg famously said, “Done is better than perfect." A great CEO acknowledges that no one is perfect, but finishing something is paramount. If you finish something, you can always go back and improve on it, but doing your best is what counts.

Photo Credit: Getty Images