I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg. Is that a bad thing?
[Zuckerberg] began messing around with computers early on, teaching himself how to program. As a high school senior, at Phillips Exeter Academy, he and D’Angelo built a plug-in for the MP3 player Winamp that would learn your music listening habits, then create a playlist to meet your taste. They posted it as a free download and major companies, including AOL and Microsoft, came calling. “It was basically, like, ‘You can come work for us, and, oh, we’ll also take this thing that you made,’” Zuckerberg recalls.
He sounds just like me. I also began messing around with computers early on, and taught myself how to program. That was a long time ago now, but I still remember those days very well. As soon as I came home from school, I’d plug in my Cybiko and head to the Cybiko Forums to see what other developers were doing. I’d try coding some of the many, many ideas I had and quickly get stuck. So I IMed Greg Smith, the creator of the “B2C” or “Basic-2-Cybiko C” compiler. He would help me figure out what I wanted to do logically, put it into code, and actually write some real programs that did interesting things. I was hooked: finally I could create applications on my own– and very useful ones, too. I loved the fact that as soon as I announced a new version of my latest application, 10-20 people would be clamoring to download it. I’d get daily feedback from users of my programs, and I worked from their input to improve. That was a very early stage of programming for me, and I admit that my programming skills back then were severely lacking. Still, that’s how I learned the logic and syntax of BASIC and C, and lots of things about the practical aspects of how converters and compilers work. I learned how to work with variables of different types and to draw graphics on the screen. It was mind-blowing, and I loved it.
Harvard didn’t offer a student directory with photos and basic information, known at most schools as a face book. Zuckerberg wanted to build an online version for Harvard, but the school “kept on saying that there were all these reasons why they couldn’t aggregate this information,” he says. “I just wanted to show that it could be done.” So one night early in his sophomore year, he hacked into Harvard’s student records. He then threw up a basic site called Facemash, which randomly paired photos of undergraduates and invited visitors to determine which one was “hotter (not unlike the Web site Hot or Not).
This sounds like some of the opposition I’ve experienced here at USC. In particular, there is currently no overarching dominant forum host. That’s a space I’d like to fill, and the forums need to be good enough that I’m willing to host all of my own forums with it. That means converters, backups, export features, etc. I just don’t have the skills to do it alone… I need time and I need help. I’m sure Zuckerberg got help, even if just from open source projects like PHP and MySQL. That’s what I have to do.
I’m about the same age as Zuckerberg was, too. Sometimes I worry that I’m already getting too old. Well, that’s not the case… I just need to move quickly. That’s why I’m pretty sure now that I need to take a leave of absence from college. That will give me the time I need to sort out my websites and build something truly world-changing.
Since I skipped my senior year of high school, I’m a year younger than most of the people who are also sophomores in college. So I think it’s ideal for me to take a semester off, especially since I have such clear direction: Invision Plus. What do you think? Want to help?
Jonathan Abrams, founder of Friendster:
“Clearly, Mark has already done a lot of smart things.” Keeping control and having a board he can work with are the critical issues. “Everyone hopes for a story like Facebook,” Abrams says, but most stories are about entrepreneurs persistently failing before they find success. What’s happened to Facebook is “like winning the lottery.”
In some sense, I have to disagree: Facebook is extremely well-designed and very impressive. It’s not a matter of luck nor a matter of marketing: there is truly no better social networking site for college students. Build a better mouse trap first. Then you can say that you failed because you were unlucky. Thanks to the Internet, truly great things are increasingly getting the attention they deserve. That means we can focus more on what really matters: building a better website.
Zuckerberg and his friends had caught the entrepreneurial bug. With the end of summer approaching, Zuckerberg thought back to a presentation he’d heard at Harvard from a well-known dropout. While taking a computer-science class, he recalls, “Bill Gates came and talked.” Gates encouraged the students to leave and go make something, since Harvard lets students take as much time off as they want. “If Microsoft ever falls through, I’m going back to Harvard,” he joked. With Thiel’s money to sustain them, Zuckerberg and Moskovitz decided to follow Gates’s advice.
I’m really excited about taking a leave of absence now. I am 99% sure that I will do it, no matter what anyone else thinks. If I ever lose this excitement, remind me to look back at this post.
Interestingly, the Fast Company article I’ve been quoting from seems skeptical about the Facebook News Feed. I was the first to disagree with the backlash and create a group for the news feed, and I still think this was the right think to do. The News Feed is an enormously useful feature, and it’s exactly what Facebook should have done. I think their execution was flawless. It’s very creative and just proves to me that Facebook is definitely going to make it as an independent company. I praise and fully support Zuckerberg’s decision to turn down acquisition offers from Yahoo, etc. Facebook is better even than Yahoo, and although they’ve come very far, I’m sure Facebook can go a lot farther.
When the site first launched, four other Harvard students sued, claiming that Zuckerberg stole their idea.
Whatever! Ideas are worthless– a dime a dozen. Posting videos online was not YouTube’s idea. Online search was not Google’s idea. Social networking was not Facebook’s idea. It’s the actual implementation (and doing it really, really well) that really means something, and that just what I’ve done with Invision Plus. It’s real and it’s working right now, and according to Alexa, it’s ranked 3,168th in terms of traffic. Not bad for something I’ve done only in my spare time!
One clue to the company’s future plans comes from early investor Thiel, who has mentored Zuckerberg through the last year’s swirl of acquisition talks and rumors. Bottom line, Thiel asserts, “it’s much more valuable than anybody on the outside thinks.” He points to the growing user base and page views as evidence. “The people who understand the power are the users. The people who wanted the company don’t understand the power and don’t want to pay enough for it. So we’re not going to sell.”
I’m a Facebook user, and I completely agree. Facebook is easily worth far more than any of the offers I’ve seen floating around. Facebook is easily worth more than YouTube, which Google paid $1.65 billion for. The YouTube acquisition, by the way, was a very good one, and some of the features Google is launching on the site even as I type this are very, very cool. So Google didn’t overpay. It’s just that Facebook is even a step above that.
Note to self: try some of Facebook’s puzzles in my spare time. And ask my programmer friends to do the same.
One final note. I have seen Mark Zuckerberg in person at Startup School. I know he’ll go far, and that similar things are possible for anyone else who has the same kind of spirit.