SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of the company formerly known as Facebook, called his top social network lieutenants to a last-minute meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area this month. On the agenda: a “job marathon” to discuss the roadmap for improving Facebook’s core app, including a revamp that would change the way users navigate the service.
For weeks before, Zuckerberg had been messaging his executives about the review, pressing them to increase the speed and execution of their work, people with knowledge of the matter said. Some executives, who had to read through a 122-page set of slides about the changes, were breaking a sweat at the unusual level of intensity, they said.
Facebook leaders flew in from around the world for the summit, the people said, and Zuckerberg and the group pored over each slide. Within days, the team came up with an update to the Facebook app to better compete with big rival TikTok.
Zuckerberg is setting a relentless pace as he steers his $450 billion company, now called Meta, into a new phase. In recent months, he has reined in spending, cut benefits, reshuffled his leadership team and made it clear he would fire underperforming employees. Those not on board can go, he said. Managers sent memos to convey the seriousness of the approach; one, which was shared with The New York Times, had the headline “Operating with Increased Intensity.”
Zuckerberg, 38, is trying to move his company away from its social media roots and center it in the immersive, and heretofore theoretical, world of the so-called metaverse. In Silicon Valley, he and other executives who created what many call Web 2.0, a more social, app-centric version of the Internet, are rethinking and changing their original vision after their platforms were plagued by privacy stumbles, toxic content and misinformation. .
The moment is reminiscent of other bets by the company, such as when Netflix eliminated its DVD-by-mail business last decade to focus on streaming. But Mr. Zuckerberg is making these moves while Meta is up against the wall. The company is looking down the barrel of a global recession. Competitors like TikTok, YouTube and Apple are pushing.
And success is far from guaranteed. In recent months, Meta’s profits have fallen and revenues have dwindled as the company spent lavishly in the metaverse and the economic slowdown took a toll on its advertising business. Its stock has plummeted.
“When Mark becomes very focused on something, he gets down to business inside the company,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook policy director and founder of Anchor Change, a consulting firm that works on technology and democracy issues. “Teams will quickly abandon other work to focus on the problem at hand, and the pressure is intense to move fast and show progress.”
Meta declined to comment. The company plans to report quarterly earnings on Wednesday.
Zuckerberg’s repositioning of Meta began in earnest last year, when he began reshuffling his bank of lieutenants.
In October, he elevated a longtime friend and colleague, Andrew Bosworth, known as Boz, to chief technology officer, leading hardware efforts for the metaverse. He also promoted other loyalists, including Javier Olivan, the new director of operations; Nick Clegg, who became president of global affairs; and Guy Rosen, who has assumed the new role of chief information security officer.
In June, Sheryl Sandberg, who was Zuckerberg’s No. 2 for 14 years, said she would resign this fall. While she spent more than a decade building Facebook’s advertising systems, she was less interested in doing the same for the metaverse, people familiar with her plans said.
Mr. Zuckerberg has moved thousands of workers into different teams for the metaverse, training their focus on aspirational projects like hardware eyewear, wearable devices, and a new operating system for those devices.
“It’s an existential bet on where people in the next decade will connect with, express and identify with each other,” said Matthew Ball, a longtime technology executive and author of a book on the metaverse. “If you have the money, the engineers, the users and the conviction to try it, then you should do it.”
But the efforts are far from cheap. Facebook’s Reality Labs division, which is creating virtual and augmented reality products, has dragged down the company’s balance sheet; the hardware unit lost nearly $3 billion in the first quarter alone.
At the same time, Meta is grappling with privacy changes from Apple that have hampered its ability to measure the effectiveness of ads on iPhones. TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app, has stolen young audiences from mainstream Meta apps like Instagram and Facebook. These challenges coincide with a brutal macroeconomic environment, which has pushed Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to freeze or delay hiring.
So Mr. Zuckerberg has kicked his company into overdrive with a strong message: It’s time to do more with less.
This month, Meta lowered its engineering hiring targets for the year to 6,000, from 10,000 to 12,000, and said it would leave some positions open. Once-high budgets are being slashed, and managers have been told not to expect an unlimited number of employees for their teams. In a memo last month, Chris Cox, Meta’s chief product officer, said the economic environment required “more agile, tougher, better-executing teams.”
At an employee meeting around the same time, Zuckerberg said he knew not everyone would agree to the changes. That was fine, he told the employees.
“I think some of you might decide that this place is not for you, and self-selection is fine for me,” Zuckerberg said. “Realistically, there are probably a lot of people in the company who shouldn’t be here.”
Another memo that circulated internally among workers this month was titled “Operating with Greater Intensity.” In the memo, a Meta vice president said managers should start “thinking about each person on their team and the value they’re adding.”
“If a direct report is stagnating or underperforming, that’s not what we need; they are failing this company,” the memo said. “As a manager, you can’t allow someone to be neutral or negative for Meta.”
Zuckerberg is focusing the efforts of those who remain in the areas that he believes will benefit Meta most in the long run. These include the metaverse, messaging, Instagram reels, privacy, artificial intelligence and increased revenue from products that currently bring little or nothing, according to Cox’s memo, which outlined six “investment priorities” for the company in the second half of this year.
Meta is backing off in some areas, including low-selling products like the Portal video chat device, which will no longer be offered to consumers and instead will be aimed at businesses. Mr. Bosworth has also halted development of a dual-camera smartwatch, according to people familiar with the matter, though the company is working on it. other prototypes. Bloomberg previously reported on the smartwatch.
Just days after the “work marathon” with Facebook managers this month, Zuckerberg posted an update on his Facebook profile, noting some upcoming changes to the app. Facebook would start pushing people to a feed with more videos with more suggested content, emulating how TikTok works.
Meta has been investing heavily in video and discovery, aiming to bolster its AI and improve “discovery algorithms” that suggest engaging content to users without them having to work to find it.
In the past, Facebook has tested major product updates with some English-speaking audiences to see how they work before rolling them out more widely. But this time, the 2.93 billion people worldwide who use the social media app will receive the update simultaneously.
It’s a sign, some Meta employees said, of how much Zuckerberg means to business.