Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Praises Tampa’s Small Businesses in Room Chat
A handful of Tampa Bay small business owners have had time and feedback this week from one of tech’s most powerful executives: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Sandberg hosted a panel discussion with local entrepreneurs on Wednesday at a virtual meeting hosted by the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. The Miami native highlighted several local Facebook-fueled success stories by touting the company’s small business assistance programs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I know Florida. I’m from Miami, ”Sandberg said. “And I know Miami and Tampa are very different. But I spent many high school weekends with my girlfriends in Tampa, because it was far enough that we could drive and get away from our parents, but not too far; we could do it with a tank of gas.
When Facebook first contacted the Tampa Bay Chamber to host the event, President and CEO Bob Rohrlack couldn’t believe it was real. This is proof, he said, that the chamber’s initiatives for small businesses have raised his profile.
“You think they’re this huge, powerful company, and they’ve really listened to small businesses and what they need to be successful and how they can be of use,” Rorhlack said of Facebook. “It was a legitimate, specific and advisory help to their business and how they can be successful. It is the room that brings people together.
While the local business roundtable was invitation-only, around 300 people signed up for Sandberg’s Zoom chat with chamber president Yvette Segura. A recording is available on Youtube.
As she shared stories of Tampa Bay entrepreneurs who pivoted online or changed their marketing strategies, Sandberg detailed Facebook’s initiatives for women-owned and minority-owned small businesses in 2020. Among them: 40 million dollars in grants to black-owned businesses, including 66 grants in Tampa Bay.
Several times during his discussion with Segura, Sandberg underscored Facebook’s commitment to user privacy.
“People need to understand that privacy and personalized advertising are not mutually exclusive,” she said, citing the example of a metaphysical crystal store in Tampa. “We show the ads to people interested in meditation in Tampa, and we don’t collect any personal information, but those people then walk into the store.”
Hear directly from the woman whose corporate mantra Bend over became a bestselling book was a “life changing” opportunity, said Jennifer Hill, owner of the Peterbrooke Chocolatier franchise in downtown Tampa.
Hill, a former teacher, began planning her chocolate business early in the pandemic, only to finally open in October. Staying afloat was tough, she said, but getting Sandberg’s attention gave her a huge boost in confidence.
“She writes about us and talks about us could be exactly what we needed,” Hill said. “Her business philosophy and willingness to contact us in this small community – there was no reason for her to do so. And it was wonderful. Its brilliance shone.
Even though small businesses are seeing their revenues increase as COVID-19 vaccines become more prevalent, Sandberg said Facebook will continue to contact these customers.
“It’s the majority of our clients,” she says. “We are developing their business, it is developing ours. “