As if the social network company didn't already have a big enough reach, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) added nearly 200 million monthly active users, or MAUs, in 2015, bringing total MAUs close to 1.6 billion -- or about one MAU for every five people on the planet. But this is still just the start. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has his sights set on five billion users by 2030.
The path to 5 billion users
Zuckerberg's bold ambition to have five billion users by 2030 was laid out earlier this month at an event celebrating the social network's 12th anniversary, according to USA TODAY.
"We want to finish connecting everyone, we're going to do it in partnership with governments and different companies all over the world," Zuckerberg said. The CEO was referring to the company's Internet.org initiative, which has a mission to connect the two-thirds of the world without Internet -- an effort the company hopes will help Facebook in its vision for 5 billion users by 2030 to materialize.
One of the company's early projects under the Internet.org umbrella is its Free Basics, or a service provided in areas where the Internet is less affordable that offers a packaged version of the Internet aimed to accelerate the numbers of users upgrading to data plans. In essence, it's an app aimed at advertising the value of the Internet. So far, it seems to be working.
Beyond Free Basics, the company has launched a team to work on new aerospace and communication technologies, including solar-powered drones, satellites, and lasers, with an initial focus to reach the 10% of the world's population without access to traditional Internet solutions.
It's efforts like these, along with continued development of the world's underdeveloped regions driven by factors beyond Facebook's Internet.org, that Zuckerberg believes will help the company eventually be able to achieve five billion MAUs.
Investors will need to exercise patience
While it's easy to focus on Zuckerberg's stated goal for its user count of five billion, the timeline for achieving this goal -- 2030 -- is just as intriguing. Not many CEOs are laying out 15-year goals and already implementing strategies that will take years to even begin paying off.
Depending on the timeframe with which investors view Facebook's Internet.org initiative, it could be considered both a charity and an investment. In the near-term -- even in a five-year period -- there will probably be very little benefit for Facebook. But, beyond 10 years, Zuckerberg does seem to believe there could be a payoff. He articulated the long bet of Internet.org last year in a Bloomberg interview.
"In the long term, I do think it could be good for our company, as well, if you look at it in a 10-, 20-, 30-year time horizon because a lot of these countries and economies will develop, and over time will be important," Zuckerberg said. Though he is well aware that this sort of time horizon isn't normal. "But most people who are running businesses don't make investments for 30 years down the line in terms of products that they are going to build."
While a goal for five billion users by 2030 may seem a bit "out there," it's also representative of the long-term thinking that makes Facebook as successful as it is. Indeed, it's Facebook's long-term thinking that keeps it focused; the only way to actually follow through with this 15-year goal is to continue executing well each year -- something Facebook shareholders will continue to gladly embrace.