Facebook Cofounder Chris Hughes at NYU Stern, 5/8/09

Chris Hughes on cover of Fast Company, Issue 134, April 2009On Friday, May 8, Chris Hughes spoke at NYU Stern. Hughes, 25, is a cofounder of Facebook and was a driving force behind Obama’s online campaign juggernaut My.BarackObama.com.

He sat on a dais for one and amiably answered questions from Stern professor Jeffrey Carr and the audience. The luncheon was hosted by the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship and sponsored by Stern alum Norman Himelberg, of Himcor Group and Reisel Management LLC.

My chief takeaways:

  • Michelle and Barack Obama are just as friendly and smart as they seem on TV.
  • On election night, Chris knew Barack had won when Fox called Ohio for Obama.
  • He does not foresee going into politics himself, but admires people with those skills. He noted how different political campaigns are from businesses – teams form for several months to compete for an absolute win or lose on a single day, so efforts on process improvement have a much shorter, terminal scope.
  • For entrepreneurs, a focus on product is even more important than a plan’s emphasis on market size or team make-up.
  • He reminded the entrepreneurs in the audience that choosing an accountant or lawyer isn’t for life – what’s important is to make that first choice.
  • He sees good opportunities in location-based mobile applications; separately, he sees a need for an open source platform of social media applications that most or all social entrepreneurs would need. Imagine Obama’s site, my.barackobama.com, saved as a template or generic architecture for other social causes.
  • As an Entrepreneur in Residence at General Catalyst Partners, Chris meets with entrepreneurs and other smart folks, reviewing plans and developing his own ideas. General Catalyst helped launch sites such as Kayak.com and Upromise.
  • Noting what sociologists call “weak ties” (social connections that are valuable but less deep than those with one’s closest friends), Chris cited [sorry – missed the name :o) ] as a powerful app for enabling Facebook users to direct communications to the most appropriate “bucket” of friends (i.e., college chums vs. office mates).
  • He also cited Facebook Connect as one of the most valuable parts of Facebook, since it saves people the trouble of filling out new profiles on other sites, makes it easier for sites to get people registered, and helps users promote the other sites as their activity is reported to their Facebook friends.
  • An occasional Twitter user, he sees Twitter and other sites as part of a complementary ecosystem of sites with different audiences and uses. Going forward, these sites will evolve with more focus.
  • The power of Facebook was reaffirmed to him recently. As he ended a tour of a remote village in Senegal, his guide asked if he and his friend were on Facebook. Besides making tangible the fact that Facebook has more than 200MM members worldwide, the friending made it easy for them both to get to know each other (the guide must have had a shock when he realized who Chris was 🙂 but also extended Chris’s knowledge of and resources in Senegal. So “weak ties” can be rich and valuable.

Beyond all of this, Chris was approachable and downright friendly. He travels quite a bit, speaking with and coaching young entrepreneurs.

Cheers to Chris, the Berkley Center, and Mr. Himelberg!


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