- David Marcus is the executive leading Facebook’s wildly ambitious plan to build a new digital currency.
- Business Insider spoke to former colleagues of Marcus’ to understand what drives the man at the heart of Facebook’s most controversial project yet.
- Sources described the 46-year-old, French-born exec as intensely product-focused, ruthlessly focused, and unafraid to talk in visionary terms.
- The serial entrepreneur views the late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs as a hero.
- Click here for more BI Prime stories.
After PayPal acquired David Marcus’ startup in 2011, a three-letter word — “GSD” — started appearing on signs in company conference rooms.
It was an acronym that represented a mission statement of the ambitious payments executive: “Get shit done.”
Nearly a decade later, Marcus is now at the helm of a wildly ambitious project from Facebook to build a new digital currency called Libra — battling critics and fending off deeply skeptical regulators as he attempts to kickstart a project with potentially global implications.
Business Insider spoke to former coworkers of Marcus, to learn more about the man behind Facebook’s most audacious project in years, what he’s like as a leader, and how his personal attributes might shape the outcome of Libra.
They described a man who is intensely product-focused, unafraid to talk in visionary terms, and ruthlessly focused on trying to “get shit done.”
Serial entrepreneur-turned-in-house exec
Marcus, 46, is a serial entrepreneur.
Back in 1996, after dropping out of college he founded retail communications provider GTN Telecom, which he ran for four years. It was acquired by World Access in 2000, and he immediately kicked off his next venture — Echovox, which built an early form of mobile payments using SMS billing.
It too, was ultimately acquired, and in 2008 he launched his third act: Zong.
Zong also helped build mobile payments, and — there’s starting to be a pattern here — it ended up getting acquired, this time by PayPal, three and a half years after launch.
At PayPal, though, he hung around for a few years, rising from a mobile executive to eventually become president of the multi-billion-dollar payments firm.
In 2014, though, Facebook came knocking. He joined as vice president of messaging products, responsible for building out Messenger from a dime-a-dozen messaging app into a fully fledged app, a position he held for almost four years before diving headfirst into blockchain as the head of Facebook’s experimental new unit.
Today, as head of Calibra, he effectively runs a company-within-a-company, building a product from the ground-up that has a radically different focus to some of Facebook’s traditional areas of expertise.
A product-first entrepreneur styled after Steve Jobs
David Marcus has a professional hero that points to his aspirations for blockchain technology: Steve Jobs.
“David was a big Steve Jobs fan, he seemed to want to emulate people like Jobs in terms of having ubiquitous product accolade and conformity,” said Colin Walsh, who worked alongside Marcus as a strategic account executive at Zong and later PayPal.
The executive is obsessive about how products look and work, and that focus could bode well for the cryptocurrency space, which has struggled to achieve any meaningful consumer usage, despite all the buzz. “It’s extremely hard to use. Look at most of the apps based on crypto today … designed for engineers,” said Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel, who worked with Marcus at Zong and PayPal and still counts him as a friend.
“I think there’s one thing David does extremely well … extremely user experience-centric” design.
Outside of work, the France-born, Switzerland-raised entrepreneur is passionate about motorbikes and skiing.
He has successively landed at bigger and bigger platforms
Marcus has been involved with cryptocurrencies for at least the best part of a decade. He was one of a small group of Silicon Valley tech and fintech figures — early Facebook employee turned investor Chamath Palihapitiya is also among them — who dabbled in bitcoin fairly early. He first sent Kasriel, the Upwork CEO, a bitcoin about eight years ago, he remembered.
Since then, his involvement has grown more serious, and in December of 2017, he joined the board of high-profile blockchain firm Coinbase, in a nod to his future calling. (He stepped down eight months later, citing his work for the then-nascent Facebook blockchain group).
His interest in blockchain is only fitting, given what former colleagues described as a focus on ambitious projects and bold dreams.
“David wants to achieve big, life-changing developments in technology,” Walsh said. “As long as I knew him, that is his motivation in business.”
“He cares deeply about the details, he was on the phone with engineers” to talk about individual product changes, Kasriel said — but he’s “also a visionary, he has big dreams … [and] talks about them in a very compelling” manner.
Throughout Marcus career trajectory, he has successively landed at bigger and bigger platforms to try and achieve his goals, learning how to manage different team sizes and “radically different environments” along the way.
Much of the Calibra team are veterans from Zong and PayPal, Kasriel points out: “He’s managed to convince people from amazing companies” to sign up for his vision.
“He does not settle for whatever he’s inherited”
This lofty demeanor does not obscure another side to Marcus: A relentless focus on execution.
PayPal, by the time of the Zong acquisition, “had become a slow moving company,” Kasriel said. Marcus came in and shook things up immediately — driving its shift to mobile, and ultimately laying the groundwork for a company with a market cap today of $126 billion.
The three-letter “mantra” displayed on signs served as a constant reminder of Marcus’ approach.
“He does not settle for whatever he’s inherited,” said Kasriel.
Walsh said: “David is a serious business person but does have a lighter side, a sense of humor and empathy to a degree, but is ultimately a very focused and determined individual who will not let obstacles impede the outcomes he wishes to achieve.”
So after five years at Facebook, might David Marcus one day want to be CEO again, and have another chance to truly run the show?
“I think you’d have to ask him,” Kasriel demurs. “But given what he’s trying to do, you need to do it in a place that has scale … a company that already has billions of online users.”
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