You’ve got to hand it to Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who’s got millions of young Nigerians eating from his palms this week with one charm offensive after another.
Zuckerberg is in Lagos, Nigeria, where he has taken a stroll through the streets of Yaba and jogged on the Ikoyi-Lekki link bridge.
On Wednesday, he topped it up with expressing his undying love for Nigerian jollof rice, Nollywood and pounded yam at a developer Question and Answer session in Lagos.
Techies don’t come any smoother than the American at the moment. Zuckerberg knows how to work and charm a crowd and there was plenty of that on display during this hangout.
It wasn’t just the charm offensive and aura about Zuckerberg that struck me as he addressed developers, techies and the media this week, it was his ambition and drive at ensuring that the company he founded from a college dormitory at just 19 years of age, surpasses its current $350bn valuation and continues to redefine the way we live, work and play.
“If you want to connect everyone else in the world, making sure that everyone has access to internet is a really important thing”, Zuckerberg said, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans—his signature attire.
“It turns out that across the world, more than half the population don’t have access to internet. And here in Nigeria, that’s true too.
So whether it’s connecting people with their friends and family or helping people start businesses, the internet is the most fundamental part of infrastructure that needs to exist”, he added.
The young billionaire has since acquired mobile phone app Whatsapp and made it clear his vision is to kill the mobile text message as we know it.
“There are about a billion people who use Whatsapp every month and there are about 5 billion people in the world who have phones and we kind of think that everyone who has a phone does text messaging”, he said, pausing to ask if anyone in the room still communicated with the Short Messaging Code (SMS). Only one hand went up: that of a member of his staff.
“You work at Facebook… we’ll see after the session”, Zuckerberg joked, to plenty of laughter from the audience.
The goal is clear: Zuckerberg wants to replace the SMS with Whatsapp and at this rate, there appears to be no stopping him.
Zuckerberg joked and laughed as he took the questions, intermittently expressing how he’s been wowed by the energy levels of the average Nigerian.
He told the story of how, while sampling a Nigerian delicacy alongside friends, they stumbled on snails in the broth.
Apparently, Zuckerberg’s friends didn’t fancy the snails and while they contemplated their next line of action which included passing off the Nigerian cuisine and asking for something else near Western, the billionaire Facebook owner made it clear he was going to have as many snails as possible because not only was this his first visit to Nigeria, it was also his first to Africa and he was going to make every moment and delicacy count, snails and all.
"Alright guys”, he recalled telling his friends, “I don’t come to Nigeria often. We’ll eat the snails!”
He recounted one Facebook success story that had everyone in the room in stitches.
On a stroll in a corner of the world, a couple ran into Zuckerberg, detailing the joy he’s brought into their lives. “This is my wife”, Zuckerberg recalled the husband saying; “and look, our son! I met my wife on Facebook thanks to you”.
Zuckerberg’s reaction was to grab the little Facebook offspring like his life depended on him.
Now a husband, Zuckerberg boasted of his nappy changing skills and how he keeps in touch with his little daughter back home through Facebook, during his travels around the world.
It was also part of the Zuckerberg charisma during the interactive session to hug some members of the audience who asked questions, tell a guy he’ll like to receive his business pitch and pass across his email; and motivate young developers and entrepreneurs in Nigeria not to be discouraged by failure.
He’s failed many times as well on his way to making the Forbes billionaire list, he reminded everyone.
Asked what he thinks of the future with Facebook playing an active role in it, Zuckerberg said: “One of my best quotes is this: ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it’”.
Nigeria will have a say in what the rest of the world shapes into in the next couple of years, Zuckerberg declared, thanks to the zeal, creativity and energy levels he’s met everywhere he’s turned up during his stay in the country.
Zuckerberg left the interactive session to meet with some of Nigeria’s actors in the local film industry and made it clear he’ll be a regular visitor to Nigeria in the years ahead because he absolutely loves it here.
There were also instances when Zuckerberg suggested he’ll be investing in Nigeria in the nearest future.
There’s an infectious aura about Zuckerberg that lifts the spirits. For a man who’s connected billions of people around the world and whose ambition is to see every human on earth sign on to his social networking site, I left the interactive session even more certain that humanity will be eating from Zuckerberg’s palms and those of his team for many more years to come.
Let’s admit it already: we are all under a Mark Zuckerberg spell and we just aren’t in a hurry to exit that zone just yet.