Facebook: 5 revelations from the 'frat house years'
Six years ago, it was a dorm room startup. Now, Facebook is the biggest site on the internet. A new book gives a telling glimpse of the company's dizzying rise to the top.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, widely criticized for his site's handling of users' private information, now has to deal with a few exposed secrets of his own. The Facebook Effect, a new book by Fortune journalist David Kirkpatrick, gives readers a rare insider's look at the company that now dominates the internet — and its controlling young CEO, whose long-term vision helped a dorm-room startup become the global online network it is today. (Watch David Kirkpatrick discuss his book about Facebook.) From drunken 'frat' parties to venture capitalist feeding frenzies, here are five telltale tidbits:
1. Party antics at Palo Alto While developing Facebook, Zuckerberg and his fellow "executives" gained infamy by giving blowout parties at their rented Palo Alto, CA, house. As students from nearby Standford University caroused around the pool, any broken glasses were simply swept into the water. Adolescent stunts were commonplace: "One housemate strung a wire from the top of the chimney to a spot on a telephone pole beyond the pool, " writes Kirkpatrick. "With a pulley, he turned it into a zip line, so partiers could ride down the wire and drop into the pool with a massive splash."
2. Blowing off big money Determined to maintain control of his company, a young Zuckerberg repeatedly (and wisely, it seems) turned down intoxicating amounts of money, including: A $10 million cash offer from a Manhattan financier in 2004, when Facebook had a mere 100,000 users; $75 million from Viacom in early 2005; $1.5 billion from Viacom in late 2005; and, most recently, $15 billion from Microsoft.
3. Business card blundersAs Facebook grew, Zuckerberg expanded his circle beyond his college-age colleagues, networking with senior industry figures. He sometimes had trouble keeping his two friend groups apart. "Zuckerberg had to be careful with business cards he handed out at meetings," writes Kirkpatrick. "He had two sets. One simply identified him as 'CEO.' The other: 'I'm CEO...bitch!'"
4. Making a pointAn avid fencer, Zuckerberg would reportedly bring his weapon to business meetings and practice as he worked. "'Okay, we've got to talk about this,'" [Zuckerberg] would declare, one hand held behind his back, lunging forward with this foil," writes Kirkpatrick. The blade would sometimes get uncomfortably close to his co-workers' faces.
5. Bawling in the bathroomAghast at the prospect of calling off an informal deal with a potential Facebook investor, Zuckerberg collapsed in tears in the bathroom of a Palo Alto restaurant. "He was saying, 'This is wrong. I can't do this. I gave my word!'" recalls Facebook executive Matt Cohler, who discovered the 20-year-old weeping on the bathroom floor. Zuckerberg later called the investor, Washington Post Co. director Donald Graham, to explain that he'd been offered a far more lucrative deal. Impressed with the young CEO's handling of the situation — and unaware of his bathroom breakdown — Graham happily rescinded his offer, and now serves on Facebook's board of directors.