MTM 2020: There’s always opportunity in a crisis, says Randi Zuckerberg

  • Pandemic will create new opportunities for innovation, if you take a risk
  • However, women risk falling behind as many quit work to help at home

Randi Zuckerberg urges Malaysia to use this time of challenge and crisis to be innovative and to really be a shining beacon in Southeast Asia.

"If you're going to put Malaysia on the map as a powerhouse of the region, it starts now." That was the message of Randi Zuckerberg, speaking at this year’s Malaysia Tech Month 2020 (MTM 2020), organised by MDEC.

In a conversation yesterday, the second day of the conference, with MDEC CEO Surina Shukri, Randi was emphasising the need to innovate now, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, so that you are effectively laying the tracks for a successful business down the road in 2021. She was inspired by Winston Churchill's quote: "Never let a good crisis go to waste".

"There's never been a better time in the last 20 years or so to try something new," she maintained. "If it doesn't work, you can just blame it on the pandemic, you know!"

"I truly think that Malaysia has a very exciting moment to become a powerhouse in this region, to use this time of challenge and crisis to be innovative, and to really be a shining beacon.”

 

From crisis to opportunity

Randi , sister of Mark Zuckerberg, isn't quite your typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Unlike her brother, she actually graduated Harvard. She then worked in marketing for advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, before heeding the call out west to join Facebook in California.

"I was supposed to only be in California for one week; I ended up staying for 10 years."

Such was the heady lure of finding yourself and then proving it in a very competitive industry. "It was not until I went to Silicon Valley, and I saw people just not being afraid to try new things and throw ideas at the wall and who cares that they failed?"

And failure, in the guise of a crisis, turned up in 2010, when erupting volcanoes at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland disrupted air travel, as well as f8, the worldwide Facebook developer conference.

What Randi and her team ended up doing was a live stream called 'f8 live', to cater for the 2,000 developers that could not fly over. "We ended up having about 100,000 people tune in."

The video streaming idea came back at a Facebook-organised hackathon renamed "Facebook Live with Randi Zuckerberg", where she would interview attendees. "Two people watched: my mom and dad. That's it."

The idea would have stopped there, if it wasn't for the fact that two weeks later, representatives of pop star Katy Perry wanted to use Facebook Live to announce her world concert tour. Randi realised it was an ideal opportunity to push the project forward.

"What would your male colleagues do? They would want to meet Katy Perry, so they would figure out a way to make it happen!"

The rest, as they say, was history. A crisis in Iceland led to a product eventually used by 2 billion people around the world.

“I was at the top of my game I had celebrities calling me, I had the President on speed dial, I had created this incredible product, so what did I do? I quit my job."

 

Getting more women into the room

If Randi had to describe her relationship status with the Silicon Valley tech industry, it would be "it's complicated". "I was pretty much the only woman in every single room that I was in for 10 years," she said.

"I wanted to be a part of the change, I wanted to be a part of getting more women and girls in the room."

Randi pointed out that less than 2% of venture capital funding goes into women-led startups. "And within that 2% that is white women, women of color account for much, much less."

So she started developing content to encourage children to stay in STEM. "I created children's books, television, all kinds of children's content focused on getting those eight and nine year old girls to be motivated and excited about STEM."

However, the Covid-19 crisis has turned things for the worse, with women dropping out of the workforce to help out during lockdowns. "Traditionally it's the women that step back in their careers and handle the extra (work) at home," she pointed out. "And if all of us are stepping back and managing things at home, then we're really going to feel it 5-10 years from now."

Randi's advice is simple: Don't drop out of work completely. Perhaps even take advantage of the crisis to build a new business for the new normal.

"Try to stay in the workforce if at all possible, because we need the bright intelligent women have today to be the leaders of tomorrow."​

 

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