HBS professor discusses Facebook’s triumph and challenges

A $160-billion empire with 1.23 billion monthly active users, Facebook just turned 10 years old. Misiek Piskorski, an associate professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, shares his thoughts on Facebook’s growth, triumph, and future challenges.

As an Internet giant, is there any room for Facebook to improve?

Absolutely. Facebook is no longer an American website only. There are currently one billion active users, and no more than 20 percent of them are American users. Facebook is driving tremendous income from overseas. The second biggest user is India. What’s interesting is that out of the 1.2-billion-population, only 90 million use Facebook. India has been making progress on spreading Internet and I have no doubt that the number of users in India will match up to America in the next 5 years. Brazil is also a huge target by Facebook. If you increase the growth of India and Brazil, you can easily increase the size of Facebook by 50% percent.

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What’s Facebook’s biggest competitor?

I would say Facebook’s direct competitor is not in the U.S. but overseas. We can’t really compare Facebook to Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram because the platforms are quite different. But China’s mobile application, WeChat, also keeps its users in touch with close friends and acquaintances. WeChat currently has over 500 million users, and they haven’t made a huge push to other parts of the world yet. I believe that Tencent, WeChat’s developer, will expand enormously in the next three to five years. So the war between Tencent and Facebook is going to be a global war. Europe, Africa, Latin America will be the main targets.

A lot of people are saying teenagers are getting tired of Facebook. What do you think about that?

If you go back to 2009, you’ll find reports saying that young people are bored with Facebook. But in fact, the younger generation will show up on Facebook again after they get into college. High school is a very interesting time in life socially. It throws you into a group of people and tells you this is whom you can hang out with. If you’re lucky, you get the best time of your life. If you’re unlucky, you get stuck in a group that you don’t want to be in. So you’ll try to meet new people. But you have no money, no car. So you turn to the Internet to find new people with similar interests. MySpace used to allow you to get to know new people, now Instagram lets you do that.

I would say that when people can’t solve their problems in real life, they go online to find solutions. But after you go to college, you’ll have enough freedom to choose whom you want to be friends with. This is when you’re comfortable with using Facebook again.

Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in Cambridge but eventually brought it to Palo Alto. What do you think that says about the startup industry in Boston?

I think he made the right decision in bringing Facebook to California because Boston simply didn’t have the same magnitude of infrastructure back in 2004. Although the Boston startup scene is getting better today, we’re still waiting for something big to emerge.

Follow Misiek Piskorski on Twitter at @mpiskorski.