When Facebook shares begin public trading in May, Mark Zuckerberg will be worth ~$25 billion.Obviously building a business that makes you worth that much money requires an admirable amount of smarts, leadership, and hard work.
But it also requires luck.
Zuckerberg’s best luck has been not having to pay the full price for some mistakes that, in retrospect, could have – maybe should have – cost him Facebook and his fortune.
What happened: A man attempted to rob Zuckerberg at gun point at a gas station. Zuckerberg jumped in his SUV and drove away without a scratch.
What could have happened: The unthinkable.
What happened: Zuckerberg hired a bunch of startup veterans, including former Amazon exec Owen Van Natta, who really (and justifiably) wanted to sell Facebook for a couple hundred million, or maybe even a billion dollars.
Zuckerberg eventually fired them all and hired Sheryl Sandberg, who has been more patient.
What could have happened: Zuckerberg, then in his early 20s, could have gotten into an ugly fight with executives many years his senior, and the board might have taken their side and pushed him out, just like Apple's board pushed out Steve Jobs.
What happened: When he was 19, Zuckerberg told a friend in an instant message that users were 'dumb f---s' because they were sharing private information about themselves with him. The IMs only surfaced years later, when Facebook already had too much momentum.
What could have happened: Harvard has an honour code. The IMs could have leaked much earlier and scared non-college students away from joining a site that already made them feel weird about sharing so much information online.
What happened: In 2007, Zuckerberg told a Madison Avenue crowd that advertising changes once every 100 years, and that Facebook would be doing the changing this time.
Then he announced Beacon, which everyone hated. Zuckerberg backed off and the story went away.
What could have happened: Beacon came out just as Facebook was going mainstream. If Zuckerberg hadn't backed off, it could have torpedoed the whole thing.
DUMB: Zuckerberg's first investor was Harvard classmate Eduardo Saverin, who was lazy and not a good worker
What happened: Back in 2003, Zuckerberg realised he needed money to pay for servers for some of the Web projects he was working on while a student at Harvard.
He had a rich friend named Eduardo, and he asked him to help.
Eduardo wanted real responsibility, and Zuckerberg gave it to him. Big mistake. During the summer when Facebook really took off, Eduardo was back in New York partying. He even used Facebook ad space to advertise his own startup. Zuckerberg ended up diluting his shares in an effort to push him out of the company. Eventually Saverin sued and got a big $5 billion settlement.
What could have happened: Pushing Saverin out of the company like that could have resulted in a disastrous lawsuit that Zuckerberg -- who borrowed $85,000 from his parents to keep Facebook running that summer -- could not have afforded. Zuckerberg got lucky that Saverin wasn't paying attention.
What happened: In 2006, Facebook released the News Feed, which updated users on the activity of their friends on Facebook.
It's a crucial part of Facebook now, but back then, users hated it. A majority of them formed groups protesting it. Zuckerberg responded with a condescending blog post telling them 'Calm down. Breathe. We hear you.' Facebook PR heroine Brandee Barker later convinced him to write a more reasonable response.
What could have happened: Who wants to use a product made by a guy who tells you to 'calm down' and 'relax'? Facebook users could have abandoned the site en masse.
What happened: When the Harvard Crimson re-opened its investigation into the Winklevosses' claims that Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for Facebook, an enraged Zuckerberg hacked into the Crimson email database and read what reporters were telling each other about the story.
He downloaded some of them and sent them to friends.
What could have happened: Harvard has an honour code. One of Zuckerberg's friends might have reported him, and he could have gotten kicked out of school, seriously damaging his reputation and Facebook's ability to survive its first few months.
What happened: Zuckerberg didn't want Facebook to be a photo-sharing site.
Sean Parker eventually persuaded him. Engagement shot through the roof.
What could have happened: Facebook would probably have remained a nice, popular site for college students, but it wouldn't be the worldwide phenomenon it is now.
What happened: During Facebook's first year -- even as the site had a million users -- Zuckerberg only wanted to use it to help him launch a second company, a file-sharing startup called Wirehog.
Sean Parker eventually convinced him this was a terrible idea.
What could have happened: Zuckerberg might have sold Facebook to Google or Friendster and become the millionaire founder of a failed startup called Wirehog.
What happened: After Facebook launched, the Winklevosses freaked out and had their lawyer reach out to Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg's lawyer responded, and asked the twins and their cofounder, Divvya Narendra, if they wanted to take 50% of Facebook and put the issue to rest.
The twins, who were really angry and thought they had a bullet-proof case, said no.
What could have happened: Zuckerberg probably would have lost interest in working so dependently on someone else, especially the Winklevosses. He would have moved on to another project, like he wanted to do anyway.
Steve Jobs, for example, didn't want third-party apps on the iPhone.
He was talked out of this stance, to everyone's benefit.