9 Most Promising Former Facebook Employees
These nine individuals used to report to Mark Zuckerberg. Now they're following a higher calling.
Silicon Valley, played right, can lead to a fast million. A gaggle of early Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) employees, armed with stock options, are the latest to have reached the pot of gold at the end of the vesting rainbow. Like the PayPal mafia and Xooglers before them, some of these ex-Facebookers have embarked on bold ventures of their own. The 10 former Facebookers listed here show potential not only to launch something great, but to change how we accomplish tasks and think about things in the process.
Facebook didn’t recruit Sean Parker as much as Parker recruited the company. Depicted by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, Parker is what Vanity Fair calls a Web oracle. Parker met with Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 to discuss the five-month-old company. Only 24 years old at the time, Parker had already launched Napster and Plaxo, and had a close relationship with the team at now-reinvented social networking site Friendster. The serial entrepreneur had already been earning $80,000 per year in high school, enough to convince his parents to let him skip college.
It paid off. Parker became the founding president of Facebook months after meeting Zuckerberg. Now in his early 30s, Parker’s net worth is now about $1 billion. Parker’s habit of landing himself a spot as an important decisionmaker in disruptive tech companies, most recently Spotify and Votizen, bodes well for his ongoing success.
“Big Data” is the latest buzzword in IT departments across the country. The Internet is now home to exabytes of information — trillions and trillions of bytes. While some of that is structured information, cataloged through metadata, a lot of it isn’t. Unstructured information might include snippets of tweets, health records, blog comments, books, and more.
Companies want to mine all online information, structured and unstructured, in order to take the guesswork out of business. Big Data applications fit the bill by collecting, processing, and analyzing huge amounts of information. If, for example, your customer service model is to have friendly email reps, but all of your competitors are using Twitter and have a bigger market share, you have new information with which to change your strategy.
This is where Cloudera and its chief scientist, former Facebooker Jeff Hammerbacher, come in. The words "Big Data" are almost synonymous with Apache Hadoop, the open-source software that runs many big data applications. Cloudera is the commercial company that develops and distributes Hadoop. Hammerbacher, who used to lead the Data team at Facebook, has been working with Hadoop-based data analysis for years. Before that, the Harvard-trained mathematician was a quant on Wall Street. If there were a poster child for the smartest guy in the room, Hammerbacher might just be it. And with quant-like tactics expanding into the world of marketing and other fields, he’s on the leading edge of a big data movement that promises to change the way we do business as a whole.
Former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya left the social giant in order to launch his own VC fund. The Social+Capital Partnership (or SCP) focuses on early-stage startups in health care, financial services, and education sectors, though its portfolio indicates a broad range of investments. Rather than courting institutional investors, SCP collects funds from individual investors who share Palihapitiya’s goals. They include big names like PayPal (NASDAQ:EBAY) co-founder Peter Thiel, LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) co-founder Reid Hoffman, and former Facebook president Sean Parker.
Unlike other VC principals, Palihapitiya “doesn’t just go out and find the hottest thing of the day and put money into it,” Google Ventures (NASDAQ:GOOG) partner Kevin Rose said in this Bloomberg video. “He’s constantly looking for … very early-stage companies with big, bold, new ideas that nobody’s ever done before.”
In the world of tech, sometimes the “hottest thing of the day” can be the same as the “new idea that nobody’s ever done before.” The investments that SCP has made public don’t strictly reflect its social mission yet. Funded companies include private-company marketplace SecondMarket, Web-design education company Treehouse, cloud collaboration platform CloudOn, and enterprise social networking company Yammer, now part of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). One thing is clear: Palihapitiya, a former derivatives trader, AOL executive, and Mayfield Fund VC, knows how to follow the money in the online world.
Former Facebookers Dough Hirsch and Scott Marlette jumped from social networking to simplifying health. Their new venture, GoodRx, is “like an Orbitz for prescription drugs”— a boon for the United States, where an unregulated drug price market can result in markups of up to 80%.
You can use GoodRx, also available as a mobile app, to bargain hunt for prescription drugs. Enter your medication name and zip code into GoodRx’s search engine, and the site will tell you where to find the lowest-priced options for the dosage you want. GoodRx will also link you to coupons and mail-in options. The end result is that you can avoid the pricing surprises that often come with prescription drugs, weighing your options instead of being blindsided by a $96 antibiotic.
GoodRx is the second successful health-related venture launched by former Facebook VP of Product Doug Hirsch. A proven community builder who started his career at Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), Hirsch initially left Facebook in order to launch DailyStrength.com, an online support community geared at people with specific health and life challenges. Now that DailyStrength has been successfully sold to health-care content provider Sharecare, Hirsch and former Facebook engineer Scott Marlette are bridging one of the moats around the health-care system, finally making part of it more patient-friendly.
When Katherine Losse graduated with her M.A. in English from Johns Hopkins University, she didn’t know her next career move would be to work in a frat house. That’s how Losse described Facebook’s work culture in her book The Boy Kings, a memoir describing life as employee No. 51 of the social media giant.
Losse launched her Facebook career as a customer service rep, addressing end-user requests in what sounds like a college party setting, complete with beer pong and dirty messages to female workers. As Losse climbed the Facebook career ladder, she began to question the human implications of social networking, from loss of privacy to loss of real-life connection. She culminated her Facebook days as Mark Zuckerberg’s personal ghostwriter, developing an intellectual intimacy with the “boy king” himself.
Losse then decided to use her skills and vested stock to write her memoir. In addition to giving an insider look at the now-ubiquitous social media company, Losse’s memoir contributes to a growing discussion about online privacy and the implications of social media.
If you’ve ever logged into a website through Facebook Connect, Charlie Cheever is one of the people you can thank. The former Facebook engineer paired up with former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo to co-found Quora, a social forum with content that is decidedly more intellectual — some would say interesting — than many of the things users post on Facebook.
Quora is a Q&A site that requires real, identified users to ask and answer questions. You can follow people, questions, topics, and boards, gaining knowledge while establishing new social connections. By requiring identification, Quora adds accountability and networking opportunities to the old anonymous format. Instead of wrangling trolls, users are pleasantly surprised by new insights. And where else can you see questions answered by online celebrities? Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia fame, for example, recently answered a question about teaching kids to play chess.
Leave it to a former Facebook employee to create the anti-Facebook. Dave Morin, who used to work as a Facebook platform manager and at Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) before that, combined his design and social-networking skills to found Path. It is a mobile-only social networking site designed for your inner circle. In a nod to Dunbar’s number, which proved humans only have the cognitive ability to maintain stable relationships with 150 other people, Path limits the number of friends you can share with to 150.
Unlike Facebook, Path is designed exclusively for mobile useage. Its intuitive interface is meant to foster strong, intimate relationships and a high level of self-disclosure. As Facebook grows more complicated with every update, Morin may be positioned to catch a backlash of users seeking a safe haven to share personal information. In terms of monetization, it also doesn’t hurt that advertisers put a higher premium on trusted, proven social media connections.
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