Photo: World Economic Forum
Less than eight years after Mark Zuckerberg started working on TheFacebook.com, his company will IPO at a valuation somewhere around $75 billion next week.900 million people use the product every month. Half of them come back every day.
Besides Zuckerberg, who were the heroes who got the company to this point?
The workers, investors, and mentors who changed the direction of the company for the better, over and over?
We asked a number of sources close to the early days of Facebook.
Parker joined Facebook during its first summer in Silicon Valley.
The most important thing he did for the company was get screwed over by investors at previous startups. Because of that, when he helped Zuckerberg raise outside money for the first time, he made sure Zuckerberg was fully aware that the people with checkbooks would take his company if he wasn't careful.
Parker made it so Facebook was a hereditary business for the Zuckerberg family.
The other huge thing he did was insist that Facebook users be allowed to upload photos. Zuckerberg didn't want to do that at first. In the end, photo-sharing became the main reason people use the site.
'Chris Cox should definitely be on this list,' says one insider.
Cox joined Facebook as engineer in 2005 and helped build the product that is now the site's backbone -- the 'News Feed.'
Then, in 2008, after a period in which Facebook lost several key employees and lost out on hiring several high-profile new ones, Mark Zuckerberg asked Chris to shore up Facebook's human resources division. Leading that group, Chris focused on defining Facebook's mission, company values, product values, and how Facebook manages people.
Then Chris went back to product side of the company, where he continues to report directly to Zuckerberg.
There was a period in Facebook's history -- during the fall of 2004 -- that Mark Zuckerberg didn't care about the company as much as he later would.
He thought Facebook was frivolous and he had his mind on other projects, specifically a file-sharing service called Wirehog.
Zuckerberg's cofounder and Harvard roommate, Dustin Moskovitz, wasn't nearly so blind to the opportunity. He pushed Zuckerberg to focus on Facebook.
As Facebook's first COO, he did everything it took to keep the company running for its first 36 months. He hired all of Facebook's first people and kept them working. He even taught himself how to code on the fly.
Adam D'Angelo -- who would become Facebook's first CTO -- met Mark Zuckerberg while they went to the same boarding school, Exeter.
Together they built music-playing software that recommended new songs to play based on a user's collection of music.
When D'Angelo went to Stanford and Zuckerberg went to Harvard after high school, the two kept in touch via AOL Instant Messenger.
Thanks to some investigative journalism from a couple years ago, we've been able to view these conversations. One thing they reveal was that D'Angelo played a crucial role in the early ideation of Facebook.
In one of these conversations,Zuckerberg confers with D'Angelo about which project he should focus on: a 'dating site' he was asked to build for some Harvard seniors, or 'the Facebook thing.' Zuckerberg and D'Angelo discuss what 'the Facebook thing' should be like.
Zuckerberg: So you know how I'm making that dating site
Zuckerberg: I wonder how similar that is to the Facebook thing
Zuckerberg: Because they're probably going to be released around the same time
Zuckerberg: Unless I fuck the dating site people over and quit on them right before I told them I'd have it done.
Zuckerberg: Like I don't think people would sign up for the facebook thing if they knew it was for dating
Zuckerberg: and I think people are sceptical about joining dating things too.
Zuckerberg: But the guy doing the dating thing is going to promote it pretty well.
Zuckerberg: I wonder what the ideal solution is.
Zuckerberg: I think the Facebook thing by itself would draw many people, unless it were released at the same time as the dating thing.
Zuckerberg: In which case both things would cancel each other out and nothing would win. Any ideas? Like is there a good way to consolidate the two.
D'Angelo: We could make it into a whole network like a friendster. haha. Stanford has something like that internally
Zuckerberg: Well I was thinking of doing that for the facebook. The only thing that's different about theirs is that you like request dates with people or connections with the facebook you don't do that via the system.
Zuckerberg: I also hate the fact that I'm doing it for other people haha. Like I hate working under other people. I feel like the right thing to do is finish the facebook and wait until the last day before I'm supposed to have their thing ready and then be like 'look yours isn't as good as this so if you want to join mine you can…otherwise I can help you with yours later.' Or do you think that's too dick?
D'Angelo: I think you should just ditch them
Zuckerberg: The thing is they have a programmer who could finish their thing and they have money to pour into advertising and stuff. Oh wait I have money too. My friend who wants to sponsor this is head of the investment society. Apparently insider trading isn't illegal in Brazil so he's rich lol.
There are two historically significant notes about this conversation:
- It seems to be the moment when Zuckerberg decides not to work for somebody else, and to strike out on his own to build what would become Facebook.
- It's D'Angelo, not Zuckerberg, who seems to suggest 'We could make it into a whole network like a friendster.'
Before COO Sheryl Sandberg joined from Google in 2008, Facebook had already gone through a number of senior executives that didn't stick.
It had also just come off a Christmas season which many said Facebook ruined, thanks to a ill-conceived product called Beacon, which broadcast things Facebook users had bought online -- including gifts -- to their friends.
Coming from Google, Sandberg was an immediately steadying influence on Facebook. She introduced performance reviews. She recruited a boatload of talented Googlers to Facebook and with them, built out an advertising business that now generates billions of dollars in revenue each year.
Now she is regarded as the CEO of Facebook's 'business' side -- overseeing fundraising, operations, and sales. For her efforts, she is set to become one of the world's few self-made billionaires.
After Accel Partners invested in Facebook in 2006, it lent one of its consulting partners, Jeff Rothschild, to Facebook on a temporary basis.
His job was to help the fast-growing site scale.
Mark Zuckerberg wanted to avoid the fate of Friendster, which had grown too popular too fast, and suffered from long stretches of down time that sent users looking for an alternative. Rothschild never left.
One insider describes him as 'an infrastructure genius and a huge part of building out the systems as the site scaled.'
Facebook used to be a collection of static user profiles.
To learn the latest about your friends, you had to go from profile to profile.
Then, in 2006, it introduce the News Feed, a flowing river of updates on your friends' activity.
The lead engineer behind this new product is named Andrew Bosworth. He goes by 'Boz.'
Boz also lead development of Facebook chat, video-calling, and email. Perhaps as importantly, Boz is responsible for recruiting many of Facebook's earliest engineers into the company.
In the fall of 2005, about a year after joining Microsoft out of college, I was sitting at my desk at work and got an instant message on AIM from Robin Reed who asked me if I wanted a job at Facebook. I expressed that I was pretty happy with my job at Microsoft and had just bought a house in the Seattle area. She promptly replied that within a couple of years at Facebook I could buy a dozen houses in the bay area. As a native of the bay area, I knew that was an absurd statement (time has proved me correct) but I figured I would take the free trip down to California to visit my family. I liked the Facebook product and I knew Mark from college (I had been his teaching fellow in CS182: Intro to Artificial Intelligence) so I figured the meeting would at least be interesting. I also looked a little more deeply into Facebook and I saw they had recently closed a large round of funding, so that gave me pause that this might be more serious than I had anticipated.
At our weekly SDWLTP (Sweet Dudes Who Love To Party) lunch at Red Robin in Redmond that Friday I shared that story with Dave Fetterman, Bob Trahan, Nick Shiftan, Dave Troiano, and a few other folks and we all had a good laugh at how ridiculous it would be to go work for Facebook. Within a week, most of those people had been contacted by Facebook in similar fashion. Fetterman scheduled his interview the same weekend as mine so we went down together and stayed with my parents and drank wine.
When I went to Facebook I met with Jeff Rothschild, Aditya Agarwal, Adam D'Angelo, and Mark Zuckerberg. I think Jeff was pretty impressed with my senior thesis research in distributed constraint satisfaction (he liked how applied my approach was) though he may have just been swayed by my veritas tattoo. I did pretty terribly on the puzzles Aditya gave me -- I didn't properly prepare for an interview since I didn't actually think I wanted the job -- but I muddled through eventually. I think my interview with Adam was probably the most important since it got more into the area they intended me to work in (AI) and I did pretty well. By the time I talked to Mark my opinion of the company had taken a pretty dramatic turn -- these were really smart people and had an ambitious vision for Facebook that was really exciting. I was particularly intrigued by the idea of applying some intelligence to content discovery.
When Fetterman got back to my parents' house I found he was similarly excited about the opportunity. For him it was the idea of creating a social platform that was extremely compelling. (To be honest, I don't think I really got that vision myself until he actually built it years later). Having had a second opinion that matched my own I pretty much resolved that if I could get a good offer I would take the job.
We flew back to Seattle and went directly to a party where we expressed to many folks who would later join Facebook our excitement about the vision. As detailed in the question linked to this one, one of those people was Charlie Cheever who sent an email saying he would interview at Facebook on the spot.
Ultimately, there were 5 of us who decided to join at about the same time: Me,Dave Fetterman, Bob Trahan, Charlie Cheever, and Dave Troiano, though the last would later decide not to join for personal reasons. Through a sequence of events I don't entirely recall I ended up negotiating the contracts for the entire group which gave me some pretty good leverage.
Somewhere in here there was a pretty awful recruiter working at Facebook who nearly spoiled the whole thing a number of times, but that person didn't last very long after our joining Facebook and relaying our stories. I just kept reaching out to Robin Reed to get what we needed so that kept us on track.
Dave Fetterman, Bob Trahan, and I joined on January 9th, 2006 (the same day as Mark Slee and Bob Read). Charlie Cheever joined about a month later and we quickly worked to recruit dozens more of our friends to the cause.
During the summer of 2004, as Facebook was rapidly closing in on its first million users, Eduardo Saverin froze the company's bank accounts.
He was in New York and he felt like he wasn't being included enough in Zuckerberg's decision-making.
If it weren't for a Zuckerberg family home loan, and then, investment from Peter Thiel, TheFacebook.com would have been toast. So it's strange to put Saverin on this list.
But he's there because in the fall of 2003, he agreed to give Mark Zuckerberg $10,000 to fund a some sort of project for Harvard students who wanted to put their names, course lists, and pictures online.
Marc Andreessen joined Facebook's board and committed to protecting Zuckerberg's authority. He's also been an active mentor.
Zuckerberg's father, Ed Zuckerberg borrowed to the hilt to fund the company before outside investors came on.
M&A boss Dan Rose is an 'unknown hero. He reports directly to Sheryl and does everything that's not advertising.'
Chris Hughes was 'co-founder, first spokesperson for the company, and an early product manager'
Matt Cohler is a 'long-time close advisor to Mark, lead on various functions including strategy, ops and HR,' says an insider.
Don Graham was another early investor who encourage Zuckerberg to work for the long term and retain control over the company.
Joe Hewitt built Facebook's first mobile app, which is used by 500 million people