Tech meets style

Mr Matt Jacobson

Facebook's Matt Jacobson is the go-to man when social networks and entertainment studios want to work together

NEW YORK • In 2005, Mr Matt Jacobson was 44 and looking for a new job after leaving Quiksilver, the surf brand. A friend suggested he meet an unknown start-up based in Palo Alto, California.

Mr Jacobson flew from Los Angeles, where he lives, to a graffiti- covered office where he was greeted by the company's chief executive, who did not look much older than a teenager. The two men bonded and decided to work together.

But there was one problem. The start-up could not afford to pay Mr Jacobson. Instead, he could work for equity. Mr Jacobson decided to take a chance. He shook hands with Mr Mark Zuckerberg and became employee No. 8 at Facebook. The bet paid off.

Today, Mr Jacobson lives in a Ray Kappe-designed home in Manhattan Beach, California, with his interior designer wife, Kristopher Dukes, and their farouche leather- clad pit bull, Luscious. They also recently bought a Kendrick Bangs Kellogg-designed home on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park that resembles a fossilised dinosaur.

And at Facebook, where he has been an employee longer than anyone else besides Mr Zuckerberg, he has emerged as a powerful gatekeeper, not just for Silicon Valley, but also Hollywood, as Facebook becomes increasingly important for television and movie studios.

Matt is able to bridge the gap between the world up north and the world down south.

MR MICHAEL LYNTON, chief executive of Sony Entertainment, on the ability of Mr Matt Jacobson to get social networks and entertainment studios to work together

That relationship is destined to become increasingly intertwined as social networks look for more content to keep users engaged. At the same time, as social media cuts into the time that people spend in front of movie and television screens, Hollywood is looking for new ways to interact with consumers.

Having someone like Mr Jacobson at Facebook ensures that this happens seamlessly.

When I first met him for lunch at the Soho House in West Hollywood, California, recently, I expected a 20something hoodie-wearing geek to show up. He is nothing of the sort. For starters, he dresses like a Seventh Avenue fashion executive (he is partial to Thom Browne suits, custom Freddy Vandecasteele shirts and J. Crew pants hemmed at his ankles).

He also exhibits none of the awkwardness associated with Silicon Valley types. If you mixed the personality of a laidback surfer, the refined style of a fashion designer, the pizazz of a Hollywood producer and the self-confidence of an entrepreneur, you would have Mr Jacobson.

"Sorry I'm a few minutes late," he said upon arrival. "I had a hard time getting in because of my tie. But ties are my thing." Apparently, the too-cool-for-school Soho House has a no-tie policy, but he managed to talk his way in with one.

Though Facebook has made celebrities out of Mr Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Mr Jacobson has largely kept a low profile. But that may change as his influence grows.

Since Facebook's nascent days, he has helped broker some of its earliest partnerships. Before Facebook had a news feed, he worked with Mr Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Entertainment, to build social media awareness for new releases among college-age users.

He also helped Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012, figure out how to sell advertisements without undermining the user experience.

His official title at Facebook is head of market development, but a more accurate one would be chief relationship officer.

"Matt manages to work as a Rosetta stone between the way Hollywood thinks and the way Silicon Valley thinks," Mr Lynton said. "He's able to bridge the gap between the world up north and the world down south."

While Hollywood and Silicon Valley are separated by a one-hour flight, the two sectors of California still feel worlds apart. Technology engineers see Hollywood as superfluous, while Hollywood sees Silicon Valley as a bunch of programmers who know nothing about content.

"If these tech companies had a guy like Matt, with that sort of internal access at Facebook and the relationships with the studios, it would really turbocharge the ability for tech companies and entertainment companies to align," said Mr Michael Burns, Lionsgate's vice- chairman. "People like him."

Mr Jacobson could have walked away from Facebook several years ago and become a rich beach bum (he is an avid surfer) but, at 54, he seems to be taking on more work. He sits on the advisory board of Leica, the camera company. He is a trustee of the Chadwick School in Southern California. He has set up "mentoring circles" at Facebook to help employees find direction.

He has also pursued his interest in fashion. Last year, he bought Birdwell Beach Britches, a popular surf clothing brand. And he sometimes writes about fashion for The Hollywood Reporter.

And as one of the oldest and best-dressed executives at the company, he still looks out of place on Facebook's campus. "I get stopped by security because they think I am a visitor," he said. "Security will come up to me, ask to see my visitor's badge and say, 'Who are you?'"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Tech meets style'. Print Edition | Subscribe