Founder of Facebook.com
B orn Mark Elliott Zuckerberg, May 14, 1984, in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Education: Attended Harvard University, 2002-04.
Addresses: Office—Facebook, 156 University Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301.
F ounded Facebook.com, February, 2004, in Cambridge, MA; moved company to Palo Alto, CA, June, 2004.
M ark Zuckerberg serves as chief executive officer of Facebook.com, the social networking Web site he started in his college dormitory room at Harvard University. A phenomenal success following its debut in early 2004, Facebook.com eventually grew to 42 million active members and has become a global Internet presence on par with Myspace.com and Google. Zuckerberg abandoned his studies soon after Facebook gained momentum and moved his fledgling company to Palo Alto, California. He became a millionaire several times over when Microsoft acquired a small stake in the company in October of 2007.
Zuckerberg was born in 1984 and grew up in Dobbs Ferry, a suburb of New York City in nearby Westchester County. An early computer enthusiast, he was writing his own programs by the time he was in sixth grade and proved so talented that he transferred out of the local public school, Ardsley High, after his sophomore year to Philips Exeter Academy. He chose the private boarding school in New Hampshire because his public school “didn’t have a lot of computer courses or a lot of the higher math courses,” he told Michael M. Grynbaum in an interview that appeared in the Harvard Crimson. Philips Exeter also had an excellent Latin program, and Zuckerberg initially hoped to study classics at Harvard.
Zuckerberg’s first foray into commercial software development came inadvertently. For his senior-year independent project at Philips Exeter, he designed a media player that had the ability to search for and recommend new songs based on its users’ musical tastes. He came up with the idea, he explained to Grynbaum in the Harvard Crimson interview, when “the playlist ran out on my computer, and I thought, ‘You know, there’s really no reason why my computer shouldn’t just know what I want to learn next.’” He and the friend who helped create it, Adam D’Angelo, called it the Synapse Media Player, and after they put it out for free on the Internet, it began racking up an impressive number of downloads. Offers to acquire Synapse came pouring in from established companies, but Zuckerberg and D’Angelo hesitated, and when they finally decided to explore a commercial license, the $2 million offer had expired.
Zuckerberg entered Harvard University in the fall of 2002 but ran into trouble during his two years there for various programs he wrote and put up on the student computer network at the school. The first, Coursematch, was innocent enough—this merely listed the other students who were enrolled in a class, according to a query search—but the second one, Facemash.com, offered users a chance to rate the attractiveness of fellow students by photo. Facemash lasted just four hours before it was shut down and Zuckerberg was officially reprimanded by the school’s administration for unlawfully accessing the Harvard computer system.
Zuckerberg’s next brainstorm proved to be the ultimate end of his college career, though not because of its illicit nature: He decided to make an online version of the “facebook,” which Ivy League and elite East Coast colleges typically hand out to incoming freshmen. It serves as sort of a reverse year-book, with photos and personal details for each member of the incoming class. After another period in which he holed up in his dormitory room for several days to write code, Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com on February 4, 2004, and it was an instant success. Within two weeks, there were more than 4,000 registered users among Harvard students, faculty members, and alumni. The site had a certain cache because it was accessible only to those registered with a harvard.edu email address. Soon students at other top-tier schools were requesting their own version of Facebook, and by early April Zuckerberg had created similar sites for the Yale, Columbia, and Stanford computer networks.
Zuckerberg never returned to Harvard after taking a leave of absence in the spring of 2004. Instead he headed to Palo Alto, California, located in what is known as Silicon Valley, the longtime center of the computer software and information technology industry in the United States, and established a corporate office. Over the next three years he allowed Facebook.com, as it became known in August of 2005, to grow slowly. It permitted high school students to join the site in 2005, and a year later offered open enrollment to anyone over the age of 13, which caused a sharp spike in membership. By late 2007, an estimated 150,000 new users were joining Facebook every day.
Zuckerberg expected Facebook to begin turning a profit in 2008. The site’s revenue came from ad space it sold, but those dollars were not enough to meet the costs of maintaining and improving the site. He sold his first stake in the privately held company in 2005 to Accel Partners, giving up a 13 percent share in return for an investment of $12.7 million. In October of 2007, Zuckerberg and his site made headlines in the business media when the Microsoft Corporation acquired a mere 1.6 percent stake in Facebook for $240 million; that was based on a valuation of the company at a stunning $15 billion. That number, however, reflected an already-in-place agreement that allowed Microsoft to serve as broker for ads that will run on Facebook’s U.S. site until 2011. The $15 billion figure, explained Wall Street Journal writers Robert A. Guth, Vauhini Vara, and Kevin J. Delaney, was tied to the fact that “Fa-cebook presents a big opportunity for online advertising, in part because it collects detailed information about its users—such as their hobbies, favorite music, location, age, and gender—that can be used to place highly targeted ads.”
Zuckerberg explains that Facebook’s unique appeal is that it provides a way to connect people who already have some actual personal, professional, or family link to one another in the real world. In interviews, he described this already-existing network as the “social graph,” and as he explained to Steven Levy for a Newsweek cover story in August of 2007, “The social graph is this thing that exists in the world, and it always has and it always will. It’s really most natural for people to communicate through it, because it’s with the people around you, friends, and business connections or whatever. What [Facebook] needed to do was construct as accurate of a model as possible of the way the social graph looks in the world.”
Financial Times, October 27, 2007, p. 8.
Fortune, June 11, 2007, p. 127.
Guardian (London, England), July 27, 2007, p. 17.
Harvard Crimson, June 10, 2004.
Newsweek, August 20, 2007, p. 41.
Wall Street Journal, October 25, 2007, p. B1.