Mark Zuckerberg was a Harvard freshman with a gift for computer programming. Less than a decade later, he became the baby–face multi-billionaire powerbroker, rubbing shoulders with the president of his country. As U.S. President Barack Obama said in jest, “My name is Barack Obama and I’m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tag.”
Most people still hadn’t really digested the scale of Facebook or how quickly it had grown but its goal is to make networking a necessity. Mark wants everyone to be on the surface. He transformed the dorm room project into the internet’s biggest global village. Facebook now has over one billion users.
You can’t underestimate how driven Mark Zuckerberg really is. He is a visionary like Steve Jobs; as influential as Bill Gates. But for all that success, he had confronted bitter battles and lawsuits over Facebook’s origin.
He had waged an all–out war against his biggest competitors, which summarizes Facebook and Google’s relationship—they just don’t like each other, as said by a writer. And Mark has come under fire for pushing the limits on user’s privacy wherein users have less control over private information and they don’t fully know how their information is being shared.
Mark is not just dealing with a piece of technology, he’s dealing with people and their behavior and in many ways he’s doing it on a fly. Facebook has in its possession humongous information about people because they are used by almost everybody to share pictures, update whereabouts, send instant messaging, and whatnots. But Mark said, “The goal of Facebook wasn’t to make an online community but serve as a mirror of the real community that existed in real life.”
Mark Zuckerberg—we think we knew him because we’ve seen his life unfold before our eyes in the Oscar–winning movie, “The Social Network.” The portrait, however, was unsparing—a super geek, intense, cutthroat, brilliant and socially crippled college dropout. Was the portrayal accurate?
“He’s always had friends,” Antonio Vargas, multi-media journalist said in a jest, “he’s a pretty social guy, I think the last time I check… [he got] 859 friends on Facebook.” In 2004, at the age of 19, he created Facebook. Today, the 29–year–old CEO has accumulated a net worth of $15.5 billion. Mark’s mission from the beginning was to connect people based on his theory that if the world is more connected, it will be a better place. But there are a lot of surprises if we really dig deep into the story of Facebook, the biggest being the peculiar and tenacious personality of Mark Zuckerberg and the depth of his convictions and his consistency.
Early Biography: Tinkering with Computers at a Young Age
Born in 1984, Mark grew up in Dobbs Ferry, a bedroom community north of New York City. Mark came from an unbelievably supportive family in which he’s the only son with three sisters. His parents call him ‘The Prince,’ and he was treated accordingly which made him a guy without any problem on self-confidence.
Computer savvy from the start, Mark taught himself the complicated computer language C++ and by 9th grade, created a digital version of the board game Risk.
Mark created a thing called Zucknet which is an internal instant messaging system for the family so that computer could talk to each other. When he was tired of his local high school, he decided to go to another school, the Exeter Academy, because he wanted to have another challenge. It was in Exeter Academy that Mark and his friend, Adam Deangelo, created the music website, Synapse, which was intended to anticipate what the user preferences might be. It became very popular. Even before he started Facebook, he had pending offers from Microsoft and other company to buy Synapse for over a million dollars.
Developing Facemash Application at Harvard
Like a tech world version of an all-star athlete, big name companies such as AOL and Microsoft wanted to recruit him right out of Exeter. Again, Zuckerberg was unimpressed and instead chose to enter Harvard in 2002 where it wasn’t long before he got himself in trouble—Mark hacked into the school’s computer to collect images of students.
Those who know Mark could certainly tell that he’s a bit of a troublemaker—he created something called Facemash in his first year in Harvard showing what’s hot or not in the Harvard Community. Facemash upset a lot of people and it’s the first experience that Mark had encountered on the privacy issue. Under pressure, Mark shutdown the site and the Harvard communication board charged him with breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy, but by then, Facemash was a campus sensation and Zuckerberg has seen his future.
If you’re a genius with a genius friend sitting on a dorm room, suddenly the world looks like a big happy open place where you can just get into any database. During the time when he was in Harvard, the technology landscape was changing dramatically. The internet was really a much different world in 2004. Friendster demonstrated what a social network should be not. The sight goes down all the time, it’s unreliable. Social networks, Mark thought, really need to have technical chops. MySpace was full of ads, it’s distracting and it was also beginning to have technical instability.
Meeting the Creators of HarvardConnection.com
At Harvard, Zuckerberg met classmate and future business partner Eduardo Saverin in an underground Jewish fraternity. Mark was also noticed by Olympian rower and Harvard Connection social website builder twin brothers, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, and partner Divya Narendra.
The team has been building the Harvard Connection site for nearly a year. Two of their original programmers have moved on and they desperately needed a new partner. The three of them are not computer programmers by trade or practice and needed one who could write hard code and thought that Mark Zuckerberg fit the bill. What happened next started the vicious battle over how Facebook was created. The details of the battles unfolded in the email exchanges between Zuckerberg and the Harvard Connection team.
At first, he appeared eager, and then later on began delaying the project. Zuckerberg was stalling because he’s busy working on a similar networking site base on the Harvard student directory called The Facebook, and he partnered with Saverin to fund it.
The trio had always had the impression that Mark was working on the HarvardConnection.com. There was never an indication from him that he didn’t want to do the work or was working on something identical on the side called The Facebook. When he met with the Winklevoss brothers for the last time, he could have told them that he’s working on a competing product, that he was deep into developing an identical site with a friend.
On February 2004, just as the trio expected that he would complete the work on their site, Zuckerberg and his friends instead launched The Facebook. The Winklevoss brothers and Narendra found out about it in the same way nearly everyone else in Harvard did. The trio recalled, “It completely blindsided us, definitely didn’t expect that.”
Some people who knew him well said that Mark has done it because he wanted to have control over his own project. He saw that the Winklevoss brothers were on to something cool, but he saw that he could do something cooler. He wanted to control his own thing and if the two are going to go against him, he’ll crush them, which was exactly what he did.
The Controversy behind Facebook
Mark’s new Harvard–based networking site, The Facebook, was mired in controversy from the start. Just days after he launched it, the trio sent him a cease and desist letter. Mark responded with a letter denying any wrongdoing, claiming his site was a separate venture and used none of the same code. The Winklevoss brother and Narendra would later appeal a $65 million settlement with Facebook. They lost in Federal court. According to the experts, the settlement could now be worth $200 million.
But none of the vicious legal wrangling slowed the incredible momentum of The Facebook. Mark would recall, “My roommates were just like, you know this is pretty cool so why not try it on other schools. So we launched it on Columbia, Yale and Stanford…”
During that point of time, they started meeting with venture capitalists and with bigger advertisers and the brain behind those business things was Eduardo. They’ve got a pretty early deal with Visa and American Express. They had a number of advertisers that came and went, then record companies started getting interested and they began to have some good revenue from it.
It was the time that they’ve met Sean Parker who has connections with the music business. On a trip to New York, Mark and Eduardo had dinner with the 24–year–old cofounder of Napster. Sean Parker is a seasoned entrepreneur—a truly creative individual and an interesting person—who had worked his way into the Valley.
For Mark, Parker was a hero and a role model, but Saverin didn’t agree. He thought Sean was a snake oil salesman. In the summer of 2004, with Saverin remaining on the East Coast, Mark left Harvard and moved into a large house with a swimming pool in Palo Alto, California. He reconnected with Sean Parker who would later become his roommate. Parker was the guy who showed them how things are done in Silicon Valley. Parker took them around Silicon Valley. At the same time, Facebook was also growing dramatically fast and there were already a million members by December of that year.
During that time, Parker has a shrewd advice to Mark that he took by heart. Parker said that Mark has to be the founder of Facebook, he should be the CEO forever, and he should never turn it over to investors. Mark was able to negotiate a series of very important deals that did two things: one, it allowed him to have enough cash to hire some of the smartest engineers in the business, and two, it helped him retain the majority control of the company.
During that time also, tension began to grow between him and Eduardo Saverin who stayed on the East Coast. Mark and Sean were having meetings in California with venture capitalists and they were ignoring him. Eduardo felt that he, as the business head of the company, was no longer treated right. He retaliated by freezing the bank account to try to get Mark’s attention. But Mark and Sean began to figure out a way to try to run the company without Eduardo. Mark froze Saverin out and he became a non-entity—he was thrown out.
Mark’s Net Worth Begins to Grow as Facebook becomes Popular
By that time, Facebook has a million users in college campuses nationwide and big money started to pour in. Sean Parker introduced Zuckerberg to Silicon Valley angel investor, Peter Thiel, who put $500,000 into the company. Then in the spring of 2005, the venture capital firm, ACCEL Partners, offered Zuckerberg 12.5 million for an 11% stake in the company. ACCEL didn’t ask for much control aside from that.
It was a bizarre and unprecedented situation to have one individual have absolute control over the disposition and direction of an increasingly profitable company. Overnight, ACCEL gave Facebook a valuation of $100 million. As Facebook’s profile grew, so did Mark Zuckerberg’s control. This time, Sean Parker was edged out. In August 2005, Parker was arrested allegations of cocaine possession. No formal charge was filed and he was released immediately. However, it led to his abrupt resignation as Facebook president.
The Facebook Environment
Parker was the face of the company and it his arrest badly hurt Facebook’s reputation. Following the scandal, Mark took full responsibility of Facebook’s ins and outs. Facebook was growing with remarkable speed and Zuckerberg moved the company from its frat–like house with a pool to a larger and more conventional space at downtown Palo Alto, but the college atmosphere remained the same.
Mark said, “One of the things that I do focus on in Facebook is making sure that the atmosphere is friendly and that people hang out.” He added that, “in terms of managing this whole process… nothing, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Even Facebook’s employee interviews were different. According to Chris Kelly, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, “The first time I meet Mark, we climbed on the roof out of the window and did the interview on the roof. Clearly he was young but he had a very sophisticated understanding of what happened so far and where he wanted to take the company.”
Determined to keep Facebook’s unusually creative cultural life, Mark created an all-night hackathons. Mark said about this, “People work together and just hack something or build something all night long and the only rule is that you are not allowed to work [on a hackathon], what you work on the rest of the time—so people work on the crazy stuff.”
Chris Kelly added that, “Hackathons were some of the most creative focus in the company, imagining this incredibly talented engineers coming together for a night and saying we’re gonna stay up all night and we’re gonna program. We’re gonna pick a project and we’re gonna get it done at night.”
From Mark’s point of view this is where good ideas came from—quickly and efficiently. Good ideas were flowing, Zuckerberg then made a change that would give Facebook a sudden and dramatic boost. He developed a software that allowed people to identify or tag themselves and their friends in photographs. It was a huge change that led to massive new users of Facebook and photos became very rapidly the most used part of Facebook and the single biggest driver of its growth.
Saying No to Yahoo!’s $1 Billion and MTV’s $1.5 Billion
That growth continued in one direction—up. According to Facebook’s internal tracking, its user base had shot to 5.5 million in less than two years. And media giants were banging on the door. In 2006, Yahoo offered Zuckerberg a buy out for $1 billion. Even more extraordinary, Zuckerberg turned it down.
If someone were a parent of a young man that is of Mark’s age, they would be looking at his Yahoo decision and would say, “Why didn’t you take that money?” But Zuckerberg was not after money, if he were, it would have been sold out a long time ago. As what Mark said, “We just felt that doing that and going down that path would not help us build Facebook out to what we thought it could be.”
MTV even offered a much higher bid to buy Facebook for $1.5 billion, there were internal strife about it because some people at Facebook wanted to sell, but Mark said to Michael Wolf, MTV CEO, when he toured him on his apartment, “You’ve seen my apartment, I don’t really need that kind of money and at the same time I may never have an idea as good as this one, so I’m not interested in selling.” Mark wasn’t ready to sell because he had some ideas that he thought would make Facebook even more popular. One of them was called News Feed.
Making Facebook Better
News Feed is a kind of real–time wire service of updates about what users are up to. News Feed shows what everybody is doing at that point, what they are posting, what they are linking to, etc. It’s a living, breathing newspaper of people. But many Facebook users thought that it sends out too much information and violated their privacy. So 750,000 of them launched an online protest. Almost 10% of Facebook’s user base at that time joined the Student Against Facebook News Feed Group and Zuckerberg was forced to apologize. “We really messed this one up… this was a big mistake on our part and I’m sorry for it.”
But the apology was not a surrender. Zuckerberg assured that users would soon get used to this new level of sharing and his forecast turned out to be right. After tweaking the News Feed, it became the most popular element of the Facebook experience. Zuckerberg decided that it’s time to take Facebook beyond its college root and introduced it to the general public.
The response was stunning—membership doubled shooting up to 12 million by 2006. Zuckerberg radically altered the Facebook experience again when, for the first time, the 22–year–old CEO invited programmers from around the world to develop applications for Facebook. It was a turning point, expanding Facebook from an insular world of information to a platform, and it was like the gold rush.
You open up this wonderful platform and there comes every kind of developer with every kind of idea from video sharing to games to things that bling and all other kinds of creative manifestations.
Microsoft’s 15-Billion-Dollar Offer Forces Mark to be More Creative
In 2007, Microsoft itself entered the picture, this time with a deal Zuckerberg couldn’t turn down. For the first time, the world had a glimpse of what Facebook may really be worth and the deal that Microsoft offered valued Facebook at $15 billion. But for a $15 billion company, Facebook was only making a meager $30 million in profits. To remedy the problem, Zuckerberg announced a sweeping advertising system in the fall of 2007. One part of it has the company that wanted to advertise set-up their own Facebook page and advertise using social ads.
Social ads on Facebook are ads where your friends like a certain product. The more likes the ads have, the more visible it becomes in the News Feed. But another part of Facebook’s new advertising plan, Beacon, gave users far more than they wanted and they pitched it to Zuckerberg. It was the next big mistake that Zuckerberg made. What it does is you go to a third party e-commerce site and you buy something and, unless you tell it not to, it tells your friends that you just bought something. Obviously, that caused trouble.
Zuckerberg defended it for a while until he realized how wrong it was and on December 5, 2007, he made another apology saying, “We simply made a bad job with this release and I apologize for it.”
But as would previous mistake, it doesn’t really matter, Facebook was just too popular and it wasn’t long before Zuckerberg loosened up the network’s privacy controls one more time.
More than four years after co-founding Facebook, Zuckerberg still seemed uneasy in the public spot life. By 2009 rumors are then swelling that Facebook will go public, but instead Zuckerberg took money from a new investor, the Russian internet company Digital Sky Technologies, for a $200 million offer for 1.9% ownership of Facebook.
Zuckerberg knew that pushing Facebook advertising even further was the key to continue the growth. For years, Zuckerberg believes that Facebook was in a unique position, “Today even with the most advance advertising system that exist they only have estimates of what someone’s gender might be or someone ages might be or they might be interested in. But on Facebook, we know exactly what someone’s gender is and exactly how old they are and exactly what they’re interested in.”
What makes Facebook so desirable from the perspective of the advertisers is that they are able to accumulate information on their users like nobody else and as far as advertisers are concerned, it’s the Holy Grail. Pushing that boundary on the Holy Grail of data was about to get Zuckerberg in trouble again. In December of 2009, Zuckerberg revamped the privacy setting of the then 350 million Facebook users. Unless users individually restore their settings, previous public information will now be available to everyone on the Internet.
Many people took that as default and inadvertently took all the data into public, and many privacy advocates believed that Facebook didn’t explain or disclose that sufficiently. A firestorm of complaints from users and consumer groups forced Zuckerberg to backtrack again, sparking concerns in congress. Adding fuel to the fire was the servicing of more instant messages.
Less than one month later, Zuckerberg was put to the hot seat again in an awkward moment in the All Things Digital interview where he was asked if he thinks that he’s violating people’s privacy. He answered, “There are real learning points and turning points along the way in terms of building things… if I knew now what I didn’t know then, then I wouldn’t have made those mistakes. I can’t go back and change the past; I can only do what we think is the right thing going forward.”
Mark does not think that someone should be a different person at work than when he/she is in the bowling alley, in bed, or at school. He basically thinks that a person should be consistent regardless of the environment and that was a very radical view for many older people.
Quotes on “The Social Network”
By the time Mark Zuckerberg turned 25 in 2009, he had accumulated so much notoriety, wealth, and power that author Ben Mezrich wrote a book about him and the founding of Facebook, called “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal,” where the movie “The Social Network” was based. Saverin talked to Mezrich for 6 months about the lawsuit he filed against his former Harvard classmate for diluting Saverin’s share in the company and Facebook essentially settled with Eduardo who was rumored to get 5% share of the company.
The pre-released publicity of the movie seemed to force Mark Zuckerberg to go on a PR offensive. The formerly press shy Zuckerberg was suddenly everywhere. He gave Oprah a tour of his house in 2010 and announced on her show a $100 million donation to public schools in New Jersey.
“The Social Network” opened in wide released in 2010. Zuckerberg complained about his portrayal on the movie as a ruthless, socially challenged power geek with no friends. He said there were factual errors in the script. He said, “It was framed as if the whole reason for building something was because I wanted to get girls or get into some kind of social institution… they just can’t wrap around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.”
Though he initially said that he wouldn’t see the movie, Zuckerberg ended up taking his entire staff to it. He even showed up on Saturday Night Live. “The Social Network” won a Golden Globe Award for Best Dramatic Picture as well as three Academy Awards.
But to an increasing number of people around the world, Facebook wasn’t just a Hollywood movie. It was affecting real life. In late 2010, demonstrators started taking to the streets in Tunisia and later in Egypt to protest their repressive government. By this time, more than 70% of Facebook’s 500 million users live outside the United States.
Wael Ghonim Uses Facebook to Mobilize Protests in Egypt
In Egypt, one flash point of anger was a case of police brutality. At the center of the protest was a Google employee named Wael Ghonim, who ran a Facebook page in memory of a guy who has been killed by a secret police. That group became very large, numbering hundreds of thousands of members during that period, leading up to the revolt against the government. Facebook expedited the ability of people to express their dissatisfaction, which clearly sped up the process of these revolts. The government of Egypt and Tunisia fell. Protesters expressed their gratitude to Facebook on the street. One named his newborn daughter Facebook and Wael Ghonim sang Facebook praises on CNN. “I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him. I’m talking in behalf of Egypt. This revolution started on Facebook when hundreds of thousands of Egyptian started collaborating contents.” He continued by saying that “When we post video on Facebook, it will be shared by 50,000 people on their wall within a few hours.”
Facebook itself was very quick to try to distant themselves from that political activity. They’ve supported it but they didn’t really want to be seen as a tool of change because obviously, Facebook wanted to be really active in regimes like China and they don’t necessarily want to be seen as a tool of insurgency.
Zuckerberg has taken on a personal goal to help connect the world. He said that he spends an hour a day studying Chinese which could potentially help him gain a billion new friends. China is the fastest growing and the biggest internet market in the world with hundreds of millions of users and his mission is incomplete if he’s not in China.
Mark Zuckerberg’s power has never been greater and once again, speculation grew that he would take his company public. Despite enormous pressure, Zuckerberg has been hesitant to pull the trigger and cash in.
Google: Facebook’s Nemesis
Several Facebook founders, including Mark’s friends and classmates, have left the company to start new ventures on their own. They’ve been dubbed The Facebook Mafia. But much of Silicon Valley’s talents are on their way in. Top programmers are leaving companies like Google to be a part of Zuckerberg’s momentum and Facebook and Google—two Internet behemoths—are relentlessly competing.
According to Ryan Single, staff writer of Wired Magazine, “Facebook and Google relationship is simple – they just don’t like each other.” They’re competing cultures—Facebook was sort of young, brass, and wild and Google was like “if there’s a problem they just gonna write an algorithm to fix it.” In May of 2011, Facebook was embarrassed when it was revealed that they were planning a secret attack on Google. Facebook claimed publicly that it was not a smeared campaign but the exchange revealed how vicious the competition has become.
Instagram is Mark Zuckerberg’s Twitter
Like Bill Gates, also a Harvard dropout, Zuckerberg is a fierce competitor. He moved quickly to vanquish rival Google and Twitter with a stunning acquisition in April 2012 by buying Instagram for $1 billion. One month later, Facebook went public in the largest IPO on record for an internet company, making Mark Zuckerberg a multi-billionaire in which he uttered the words, “This is an awesome moment.”
The CEO in hoodie and sneakers retained tight control of his company with 50% of shareholder voting rights. Facebook has literally changed the world. We, as users, move from the country to the village to the town to Facebook and most experts believe that it’s just starting and it’s going to be bigger and bigger.
For a site that was able to move from the dorm room to a site where an 80–year–old mother, a doctor, a mom, and a friend far away have something in common to talk about, is an achievement.
Mark Zuckerberg’s position about Facebook can be summarized in this statement: “We make decision that Facebook not optimizing for what’s gonna happen in the next year but what’s gonna set us up to be really in this world where every product experience that you have is social and that’s all powered by Facebook.”
- Launched Facebook in 2004
- Bought Instagram for $1 Billion in 2012
- Named as the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35 by the MIT Technology Review TR35
- Released Facebook Connect in 2008
- Donated an undisclosed amount to an open-source personal web server Diaspora
- Founded the Start-up: Education Foundation
- Donate $100 million to Newark Public Schools in New Jersey
- He together with Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett agreed to donate half of their wealth to charity through ‘Giving Pledge’.
- Married to Priscilla Chan on May 2012
- Was portrayed in the movie The Social Network