In March 2008, when Sheryl Sandberg joined Facebook as its chief operating officer, the company was still a startup. And then, in September 2008, one of the largest investment banks in America suddenly collapsed. The world was rapidly thrust into a recession.
It had launched just four years earlier as a service for Harvard students, created by a group of Harvard students, and was still years away from becoming the behemoth that it is today.
In 2008, it was a major milestone for Facebook when it hit 100 million users. The company now has 2.9 billion users. In 2008, the company brought in $272 million in revenue, but lost $56 million. In 2019, the company reported $71 billion in revenue and brought in $7.3 billion in net income.
“We had a very small business,” Sandberg told Business Insider EIC Alyson Shontell in an interview published Wednesday, “but we were worried.”
So, how did a small startup like Facebook weather the storm and become a behemoth?
Sandberg pointed to a crucial question the company’s leadership had to ask itself: “What is your core business, and what is the core service you’re providing?”
For Facebook, the answer was adapting the company’s core business — advertising — to the moment.
“We took a very hard look at our ad products and redid them,” Sandberg said. “We really changed the pricing. We changed the ad products.”
Now it’s facing a different set of headwinds as the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the globe. Advertisers are spending less on advertising as people stay home and buy fewer consumer goods, which assuredly impacts Facebook’s bottom line, and the company’s thousands of employees are working from home.
The big difference now, of course, is how Facebook is able to respond. The social media giant has a half-trillion-dollar market capitalization, and it can use its billions to help far more effectively. “We’re in a different phase now,” Sandberg said. “We are a large, established business. We have the ability to help, and now we are both really focused on keeping our services up and running, but also doing as much good as we can do.”
To that end, Facebook has thus far donated hundreds of millions to various causes related to coronavirus relief efforts — something it couldn’t have done back in 2008.
Sandberg is grateful for this, she said, and has high hopes for the startups out there worried about the current crisis: “If you do this well, you’re going to be in a position to give back.”