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Zuckerberg Is on a Mission to Save the Metaverse
On the slim chance you haven’t heard it, this is Meta’s year of efficiency. Based on recent comments, it appears Zuckerberg has made the goal personal. I believe one of the driving reasons is for him to continue the pursuit of the metaverse he needs to improve Meta’s profitably, which will give him breathing room to invest in tech to build the metaverse and keep investors happy at the same time. Historically, it pays to bet on Zuckerberg’s mission.

Key Takeaways

Zuckerberg has made good on two of his last three investor goals.
This is personal to Zuckerberg, and its outcome will be part of his legacy.
The plan – improve profitability by cutting middle management and spend money on tech to drive growth.

The goals

From 2009 – 2019, Zuckerberg made his annual personal goals public. They ranged from learning Mandarin to talking to someone in every state. In 2020 he stopped the practice and shifted his attention to what he wanted his life and the world to look like in ten years.

Outside of his annual personal goals, he’s made three goals to appeal to investors.

2009 was the year the company got serious. Result: success.

  • It was four years after he dropped out of Harvard to focus on Facebook and three years before the company went public. At the time the company had about 200m DAUs (a tenth of the current total) and was attracting serious venture capital that wanted to see its founder graduate from his hoodie to a tie. Zuckerberg made good on getting serious, in part by wearing a tie every day for a year.

2013 was the year of mobile. Result: success.

  • The company went public in May of 2012 and hit a wall as engagement was quickly shifting from desktop to mobile. At the time, Facebook lacked the tools to monetize the growing platform. The stock declined just over 50% in the three months following the IPO. Zuckerberg made good on growing mobile, and in the fourth quarter of 2013 mobile advertising revenue represented 53% of advertising revenue for the up from 23% in the fourth quarter of 2012.

2021 was the year of the metaverse. Result: to date, it’s been a failure.

  • The splash around the shift in focus was the October announcement that the company was changing its name to Meta. In December of that year, the company began reporting its VR hardware business and metaverse development within the Reality Labs (RL) segment. Investors were not impressed upon seeing the company lost $10.2B within the RL segment, up from a loss of $6.6B in 2020 and $4.5B in 2019. If you’re curious, Meta lost $13.7B in RL in 2022, which laid the groundwork for Meta’s 2023 goal. I consider this a failure because, despite the $34B the company has lost in RL over the past four years, adoption remains nascent.

2023 is the year of efficiency.

  • In the company’s December 2022 earnings call, management mentioned the word efficiency 16 times and it came up another 17 times in the Q&A section of the call. Then in March of 2022, more layoffs were announced. It’s clear Meta’s goal has shifted to efficiency.

This is personal to Zuckerberg

Since the company changed its name to Meta late in 2021, investors have been skeptical about the potential of the metaverse. That view is understandable given there is still a vague understanding of what the metaverse will become. In October of 2022, Zuckerberg outlined his vision of the metaverse grouped into four platforms:

  1. Social metaverse platform: it’s available today in an early version with Meta’s Horizon platform along with the company’s avatar system.
  2. VR metaverse platform: a consumer and work focused product with a goal to reach a “very large scale” with a $500 device. Today Quest Pro is priced at $1k, down from the $1.5k launch price last fall. Quest 2 is priced at $400.
  3. Augmented reality: currently in development and described by Zuckerberg as “quite a large effort.”
  4. Neural interfaces: these are EMG (electromyograph) interfaces which are basically brain-computer interfaces, or controlling a computer with your thoughts.

While Zuckerberg is still unsure how this all plays out, there’s one piece he’s sure of: there will be a computing platform beyond mobile, and most likely it will be anchored in some of the four platforms listed above. He believes so strongly in this future he changed the name of his company and made clear to every employee where their efforts should be directed.

Said another way, for Zuckerberg the metaverse is personal. It’s him planting a flag of where the world is going. Other tech legends have done the same, notably Steve Jobs with the iPhone and Jeff Bezos with commerce. But this prediction has more critics than supporters given the theme has been slow to catch on, begging the question: is this a technology in search of a problem?


The plan

Starting in the spring of 2021, Meta’s margins began to shrink as spending in RL ballooned 54% resulting in the segment losing $10.2B. The spending continued into 2022, with RL losses increasing by 34% to $13.7B. This resulted in EBIT margins going from 44% in Mar 21 to 20% in Dec 22 and a 64% decline in META share price.

Zuckerberg had to do something, so in November of 2022 he announced a 13% workforce reduction. He didn’t stop there. In March of this year, he announced an additional 12% workforce reduction along with eliminating 5% of job openings. In the end, the company will reduce headcount by slightly more than 25%, compared to a 7% average reduction across big tech.

What caught my attention in the recent news of layoffs at Meta was the 2200-word letter he sent to employees outlining the changes, mentioning efficiency 11 times. The letter was part indictment and apology for mistakes he has made over the past two years in growing too quickly and part roadmap to fixing the company.

The plan is simple – improve profitability by cutting middle management and spend money on tech to drive growth. He would like to increase the manager to report ratio from 1:3 today to 1:10 in the next year. As for the focus on tech, he’s looking to invest in projects that can drive growth. Gone is the NFT experiment. More investment will be made in AI to improve Reels recommendations and advertisement measuring tools, adding large language model (LLM) features into messaging, and automating ad campaigns with creative content generation.

And while the metaverse was only mentioned twice in his letter, it remains a top priority given Zuckerberg’s comment that the “leading work building the metaverse and shaping the next generation of computing platforms also remains central to defining the future of social connection.” While Zuckerberg has learned to tone it down when it comes to discussing the metaverse, his work on the topic is far from done.

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