Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

26 July 2010

The Face of Facebook

Do you know the kid in the picture above? Seems like a fairly average, normal kid, right? Well it turns out that this “kid,” when he was a mere 22 years old, turned down an offer by Yahoo to purchase his company for…you’d better sit down… one billion dollars. That's right, $1 billion.

The kid is Mark Zuckerberg. He's 26 now. In 2003, when he was a student at Harvard University, Mark and a couple of his geeky friends were trying to figure out how to turn their school's paper yearbooks into an online version. What they came up with was Facebook.

Of course you've heard of Facebook. It's one of these new "social networks." Facebook is a website that doesn't really do anything other than allow you to easily connect with people. That's it. It's "kind of" like MySpace and Twitter, but not.

You sign up with Facebook, enter your actual identity information like who you are, where you are, your interests, where you grew up and such. Then you interact with others. You bring them into your social circle by adding them as friends. Or they find you through the Search function and add you as a friend. You post news about yourself, read news about your friends, share pictures back and forth, or simply chat. It's what AOL tried to do in the beginning. But AOL charges you. Facebook is free.

Facebook keeps people connected.

Zuckerberg and his crew tapped into this very basic human need - that people are interested in the lives of others around them. So they designed Facebook as a platform from which you can do just that.

Popularity of his new service soared from the very beginning, when it was only available to students at specific colleges. As they rolled it out to more and more schools, it grew at an astounding rate. Zuckerberg knew that he'd eventually open it up to the general public. That happened in 2006. Facebook then became available in most countries besides the U.S., and in many other languages. By the summer of 2010, Facebook saw its 500 millionth user sign up. That's 500,000,000 users. Fully half of them visit the site every day (I must plead guilty here - I've been "checking my Facebook" on a daily basis since I signed up in 2007.)

From the very beginning, other companies wanted to buy Facebook. Venture capitalists wanted to invest, but they always wanted a piece of the company in return. People began offering incredible amounts of money for the company, up to Yahoo's offer of $1 Billion.

For his part, Mark Zuckerberg has never been interested in the money. He's always maintained that his goal was not to get rich, but simply to let people connect with each other.

It seems so...wrong, so contrary to the American Dream. Typically we start a little business, grow that business, then sell it to a bigger business, right? Then you either take the buttload of cash you made from selling your business and start all over again, or you start buying up small businesses that have become successful. That's how the American corporate system is "supposed" to work.

Mark Zuckerberg is different. It's hard to believe, but he truly is not in this for the money. And in fact, Facebook is still a private company. And while it is "worth" umpteen billion dollars, it is not currently making much money at all. It doesn't have many assets, and doesn't generate all that much revenue. This is because Zuckerberg absolutely detests the kind of internet ads we've typically seen (e.g. banners and ads where you have to click-through just to get to the page you originally wanted). Ads are what bring the revenue for online companies, and Facebook has very little advertising.

It has been postulated that soon, everybody in the world that has a computer with internet will be on Facebook. That's a mind-boggling concept. But I don't doubt it. If that happens, it'll be because of the far-looking vision of a geeky kid from Harvard University who had the lofty-yet-simple idea that people all over the world ought to be able to more easily communicate with the people they care about.

Question: Could YOU have turned down $1 Billion for your company? I'm not sure I could have.


Redlefty said...

I think I could have. I'm now making the kind of money where I'm realizing there's not much use in it when I'm past basic survival needs and most of my wants fulfilled.

$1B would be way, way beyond anything I'd be interested in, if I was already runnign a company that was my dream job.

Bob Barbanes said...

Which is exactly Mark Zuckerberg's attitude! He says that people keep offering him all this money so that he can "retire" or just stop and, you know, hang out. But he doesn't want to do that. He really believes in Facebook, and for him it's not about making a gazillion dollars. I gotta tell ya, I admire that a lot.

But I'm still not sure I'd turn down a billion I might just take it and say, "Now I'm going to build an even better Facebook!"

Bob said...

I would have taken much less than a billion. This guy's lucky to be doing something he loves and I admire his passion.

On the other hand, I fear the FB phenomenom compares in some way with the one over cell phones, although with different perils. People tend to hide behind it (see Brad Paisley's song, "Better Online").

I recently re-connected with an old college buddy via old-fashioned e-mail. He wrote a brief note, saying, "Are you on Facebook or 'Linked In?' We need to connect." Kind of pissed me off.

The implication was that I have to participate in a version of social media to re-establish a relationship with this guy? If we're in the same town, will I have to break through that barrier before I can see him?

All the electronic stuff is wonderful and I enjoy it (obviously). But there's still value in dialogue that takes place "off-line" (hate that term). I hope we're not raising a generation of folks who don't get that.

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