SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of the company formerly known as Facebook, this month summoned top social network lieutenants to a last-minute gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area. Coming up: A “work-athon” to discuss the roadmap for improving the core Facebook app, including a makeover that would change how users browse the service.
For weeks in advance, Mr. Zuckerberg had messaged his executives about the overhaul and urged them to increase the speed and execution of their work, those in the know said. Some executives — who had to read a 122-page slideshow about the changes — started sweating at the unusual level of intensity, they said.
Facebook’s leaders flew to the top from all over the world, people said, and Mr. Zuckerberg and the group studied every slide. Within days, the team unveiled an update to the Facebook app to better compete with a top rival, TikTok.
Mr. Zuckerberg sets a relentless pace as he moves his $450 billion company, renamed Meta, into a new phase. In recent months, he has kept spending in check, trimmed benefits, rearranged its leadership team and made it clear that he would cut underperforming employees. Those not on board are welcome to leave, he said. Managers have sent memos to convey the seriousness of the approach — one, which was shared with The New York Times, was titled “Operating With Increased Intensity.”
Mr. Zuckerberg, 38, is trying to push his company away from its roots in social networks and focus it on the immersive – and heretofore theoretical – world of the so-called metaverse. In Silicon Valley, he and other executives who built what many are calling Web 2.0 — a more social, app-centric version of the Internet — are rethinking and overhauling their original vision after their platforms were plagued by privacy stumblestoxic content and disinformation.
The moment is reminiscent of other bet-the-company gambles, such as when Netflix shut down its DVD mailing business for the past decade to focus on streaming. But Mr. Zuckerberg makes these moves with Meta’s back against the wall. The company is staring into the course of a global recession. Competitors like TikTok, YouTube and Apple are holding it back.
And success is far from guaranteed. In the past months, Meta’s profit has fallen and revenues have slowed because the company has spent lavishly on the metaverse and because the economic slowdown has hurt its advertising business. His stock has gone down.
“When Mark focuses on something, it becomes all hands on deck within the company,” said Katie Harbath, former Facebook policy director and founder of Anchor Change, a technology and democracy consulting firm. “Teams will quickly drop other work to have the issue at hand, and the pressure is on to act quickly to show progress.”
Meta declined to comment. The company will release quarterly results on Wednesday.
Mr. Zuckerberg’s repositioning of Meta started in earnest last year when he began to rearrange his bank of lieutenants.
In October he raised an old friend and colleague, Andrew Bosworth, known as Boz, to Chief Technology Officer, who leads the hardware effort for the metaverse. He promoted other loyalists, including Javier Olivan, the new chief operating officer; Nick Clegg, who became president of global affairs; and Guy Rosen, who took on a new role as Chief Information Security Officer.
In June, Sheryl Sandberg, who was the number 2 of Mr. Zuckerberg said she would step down this fall. Though she spent more than a decade building Facebook’s ad systems, she was less interested in doing the same for the metaverse, said people familiar with her plans.
Mr. Zuckerberg has moved thousands of employees to various teams for the metaverse, training their focus on ambitious projects such as hardware glasses, wearables, and a new operating system for those devices.
“It’s an existential bet on where people will connect, express and identify with each other in the next decade,” said Matthew Ball, a longtime technical director and the author of a book about the metaverse. “If you have the money, the engineers, the users and the conviction to make it happen, then you should.”
But the efforts are far from cheap. Facebook’s Reality Labs division, which builds augmented and virtual reality products, has taken the company’s balance sheet down; the hardware unit lost nearly $3 billion in the first quarter alone.
At the same time, Meta struggles with Apple’s privacy changes that have hampered its ability to measure the effectiveness of ads on iPhones. TikTok, the Chinese video app, has stolen a young audience from Meta’s core apps like Instagram and Facebook. These challenges have coincided with an unforgiving macroeconomic environment, which has prompted Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to freeze or delay hiring.
So Mr. Zuckerberg has accelerated his business with a powerful message: It’s time to do more with less.
This month, Meta lowered its engineer hiring targets for the year to 6,000, from 10,000 to 12,000, and said it would leave some open positions vacant. Budgets that were once fat are being trimmed 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 was calling for “leaner, meaner, better-executing teams.”
In an employee meeting around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg said he knew not everyone would be on board for the changes. That was fine, he told the employees.
“I think some of you might decide that this place isn’t for you, and that self-selection is okay with me,” Mr. Zuckerberg said:. “Realistically, there are probably a lot of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.”
Another memo circulating internally among employees this month was titled “Operating at Increased Intensity.” In the memo, a Meta vice president said managers should start “thinking about every person on their team and the value they add.”
“When a direct report gets out of hand or underperforms, they’re not the ones we need; they are letting this company down,” the memo reads. “As a manager, you can’t allow someone to be just neutral or negative for Meta.”
Mr. Zuckerberg focuses the efforts of those left behind in areas he believes will benefit Meta most in the long run. Those include the metaverse, messaging, Instagram Reels, privacy, artificial intelligence, and increased revenue from products that are currently yielding little to nothing, according to Mr. Cox’s memo, which lists six “investment prioritiesfor the company in the second half of this year.
Meta is pulling back in some areas, including low-selling products like the Portal video chat device, which will no longer be offered to consumers and will instead target businesses. Mr Bosworth has also halted development of a dual-camera smartwatch, according to those in the know, although the company is working on other prototypes. Bloomberg reported rather on the smart watch.
Just days after this month’s “work-athon” with Facebook executives, Mr. Zuckerberg posted an update to his Facebook profile, noting some upcoming changes to the app. Facebook would start pushing people to a more video-heavy feed with more suggested content, emulating how TikTok works.
Meta has invested heavily in video and discovery, aiming to strengthen artificial intelligence and improve “discovery algorithms” that suggest interesting content to users without having to work to find it.
In the past, Facebook has tested major product updates with a few English-speaking audiences to see how they perform before they roll out more widely. But this time, the 2.93 billion people around the world who use the social networking app will receive the update at the same time.
It’s a sign, some Meta employees said, of how much Mr. Zuckerberg means business.