This time we’re talking about a remarkable young self-made billionaire (he used to be the youngest one, until Dustin Moskovitz, who is eight days younger than him, entered Forbes’ list of billionaires) who in only a few years managed to create a virtual community that changed the way people and companies interact. The hero is Mark Zuckerberg and his empire is Facebook.
The almost 27 years old computer scientist was born in White Plains, New York, to a family of Jewish descendant: Karen and Edward, a psychiatrist and a dentist, respectively. Mark had three sisters, Randi, Donna and Arielle, and they were all brought up in Dobbs Ferry, New York. He was a normal child, prone to pranks and ready to make crazy project together with his sisters. For instance, when they were little, he and Randi decided to film a Star Wars parody produced and directed by themselves, and for their R2-D2 character they “dressed up” their younger sister (who was only 2 years old then) with a garbage can, and had her walk around in her costume. Even his bar mitzvah was Star Wars-themed.
But don’t make the mistake of considering him a geek because of his childhood passion for the movie. We know believe that Mark is a computer freak and is socially inept, but we are pleased to inform you that he is not like that at all. This misinterpretation of his character is mostly due the award-winning movie, “The Social Network”, which depicts Zuckerberg as a computer genius with a serious lack of social skills. Many of the facts presented in the movie are based on real facts (Mark himself was surprised of some of the accurate details that the movie presented, saying “I think I owned every single T-shirt that they had me wearing.”), but most of them were misinterpretations of the reality.
However there are some particularities of character that Mark possesses, and no one intends to deny them. Talking to him is not really easy, especially because he sees conversation as a means of exchanging useful information, and not a thing to do for fun’s sake. When he reaches a point where he finds there is nothing more to add to what he said, he simply stops talking, without giving any facial or linguistic encouragement for its interlocutor to continue the dialogue. He doesn’t usually “throw the ball back”. Also, if your discourse is not compelling enough, he will just “tune out” and find something else for his mind to focus on, even if you’re right there in front of him. But the important thing is that he doesn’t mean to be impolite by doing so. This is just who he is.
At the same time, people who know him best (friends, family and co-workers) can sincerely describe him as a calm and warm person who is truly likeable. His employees really enjoy having him for a boss, and they don’t say so only to keep their jobs. And most importantly, Mark Zuckerberg is not the kind of guy who is afraid to make eye contact. He actually enjoys the company of other people, and as time.com very nicely put it, “He didn’t build Facebook so he can have a social life like the rest of us. He built it because he wanted the rest of us to have his.”
So how did he get to where he is today? It all began in his childhood, when he showed a remarkable talent for computers, being able to write software when he was still in middle school. His father operated his dental practice from home, and Mark (at the time 12 years old) created a program, ZuckNet, which connected all the computers in the house and in the dental office. It was like an early version of AOL’s Instant Messenger. He also enjoyed creating computer games. While other children his age were playing all sorts of games on their computers, Mark was creating them. He had some “little artists” among his friends who would drew his characters, and he would write the programs for the games.
This, however, wasn’t his only passion. Zuckerberg was also the captain of his school’s fencing team and he even proved to be passionate about classic languages like Latin and Greek. He was often heard citing passages from Latin epic poems like Aeneid. During his high school years he also created a music player – Synapse Media Player – which could learn the user’s listening habits by artificial intelligence. AOL and Microsoft both tried to recruit him and purchase the product, but Zuckerberg chose to go to college instead.
This brings us to Facebook’s birth place, Harvard. In his sophomore year at the university he created a program called Facemash, which allowed students to select their best looking colleagues from a selection of photos. He only built the site for fun, but the consequences were not very amusing, as the traffic was so high that the site overwhelmed Harvard’s server. In addition to this, some student complained that their photos had been taken and used without their permission. The site was closed, and Mark apologized publicly. But his fellow students already got the taste of Zuckerberg’s socialization network and they asked for more. So, on February 4, 2004 Mark launched Facebook from his dorm room.
The project was initially created only for Harvard, but then it soon spread to other important Universities, and later to some high schools as well. For this he used the help of his roommate, the afore mentioned Dustin Moskovitz. The success of his social network was the end of his university years, as he dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year. Together with Moskovitz and other friends he moved to Palo Alto, California and developed their new business. They first intended to return to Harvard, but they never did.
The project became more and more successful and it grew at a dizzying rate. In December 2006 it already had 12 million users, and in December 2009 it reached 350 million. In 2009, Facebook was growing by 700,000 new users every day. Today, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populated in the world, right after China and India. One in every 12 people in the world has a Facebook account. And this brings Zuckerberg huge amounts of money every year: his current estimated net worth is of $13.5 billion. Not bad for a 27 years old young man! Not bad at all.
But the most impressive thing about this guy is his self-composure, self-control, and his lack selfishness! The man could really afford the most extravagant and decadent lifestyle, but his current hobby is not collecting supercars or partying on private yachts: it is simply learning Chinese. He actually doesn’t even have an outrageously expensive vehicle or a mind-blowing mansion. He drives a black Acura TSK and lives in a rented five-bedroom house in Palo Alto, together with his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan.
How did he manage to remain sane and resist the powerful influence of money? First of all, Mark is known to be very sure of himself and immune to peer pressure. Imagine that after he had just finished high school he turned town a very tempting offer to sell his project, because he was not interested in money. Terry Semel, the former CEO of Yahoo! once said about him: “I’d never met anyone – forget his age, twenty-two then or twenty-six now – I’d never met anyone who would walk away from a billion dollars. But he said ‘It’s not about the price. This is my baby and I want to keep running it, I want to keep growing it.’ I couldn’t believe it”.
This might seem unbelievable to us, but the ones closest to him are not surprised at all by his determination. His father talks about him saying that “For most kids, their questions could be answered with a simple yes or no. For Mark, if he asked for something, yes itself would work, but no required much more. If you were going to say no to him, you had better be prepared with a strong argument backed by facts, experiences, logic, reason.” He was a remarkable child and still is a remarkable man today. Not dominated by his success, not interested in only his own personal gain, not subject to his wealth (he is one of the 59 signatories of the Giving Pledge), Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and President of Facebook, is a true model for us.