The Facebook Story: Computer Hacker Kid Turned Billionaire
How Mark Zuckerberg rose from a sex-crazed college student to one of the most powerful men in business. The Social Network, a movie based on the evolution of his popular site, hits theaters Friday.
Bill Gates once said, "If Microsoft didn't work out, I could always go back to Harvard."
One kid took those words to heart more than six years ago and has taken the Internet by storm, revolutionizing social networking as we know it.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg started the site in his Harvard dorm room, though not to make money or get famous. Zuckerberg built several programs while attending high school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He even had a seven-figure offer from Microsoft (MSFT) upon his high school graduation, but turned it down.
Ben Mezrich chronicled Zuckerberg's journey in his best-selling novel, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook -- A tale of sex, money, genius, and betrayal. To Zuckerberg, it was never about money, rather his passions. More than anything else, he wished to get laid.
Zuckerberg should have thousands of friends, but social-networking's father is far from social. After the woman of his dreams rejected him during his sophomore year, Zuckerberg sought revenge. He stole pictures from Harvard's database and created Facemash, a site for users to rate girls against farm animals. Within a day, his server crashed due to high traffic, so then-Harvard President and President Obama's former top economic advisor Lawrence Summers placed him on probation and even threatened expulsion. Zuckerberg's dopamine levels rising through the roof, Facebook's genesis was established.
Zuckerberg agreed to develop a dating site for Harvard's top rowers, the Winklevoss twins, but instead of helping them, the twins claim he stole their ideas and code to launch The Facebook. Zuckerberg then convinced his Alpha Epsilon Pi brother and roommate Eduardo Saverin to fund his project. What started out as a Harvard network expanded to universities across the nation. Thousands of users signed up by the day. Along the way, he brought on Napster hotshot Sean Parker, who introduced him to the big wigs in Silicon Valley. Wild parties with venture capitalists, dinners that served koala meat, meetings with billionaires he grew up idolizing: Zuckerberg was living the high life.
"Mark is not a businessman," Mezrich told me after the release of his book last year. "He's a computer-hacker kid. Sean Parker helped get him laid. He's the reason that Facebook went from dorm-room to billion-dollar company."
Sony has adapted the book into a motion picture slated for release this Friday. Kevin Spacey produced it and Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay, titled The Social Network. How fitting it is that Mezrich dedicates the novel to his inspiration: his very own wife. Mezrich previously wrote Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, which was made into the Hollywood hit 21.
Zuckerberg didn't do it all himself, because he couldn't have. Saverin is bought out of the company (though was reinstated as co-founder two years ago), Parker is fired for his wild party frolics, and the Winklevoss twins reach a settlement worth more than $65 million just after rowing their way to sixth place in the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- leaving Zuckerberg, alone at the top, with a multi-billion dollar corporation continuing to grow by the second. The Bill Gates of our time is now the lone 26-year-old star.
So the next time that special someone writes on your Facebook wall, causing you to excitedly tell your friends, know that this was Mark Zuckerberg's vision. Today, Facebook has more than 500 million users and is valued at more than $34 billion. The earliest slated time for a possible IPO could be late 2012, according to board member and PayPal founder Peter Thiel. Zuckerberg has had plenty of opportunities to cash out, but he's made it clear that's not what he's about. Because from the start, all he ever wanted was to meet some girls.
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