Find that thing you are super passionate about.
A lot of founding principles of Facebook are that if people
have access to more information and are more connected,
it will make the world better; people will have more
understanding, more empathy. That's the guiding
principle for me. On hard days, I really just step back,
and that's the thing that keeps me going.
—Mark Zuckerberg's advice to young entrepreneurs
in his March 25, 2011, appearance
at Brigham Young University in Utah
People call him "The new Internet prince."
Zuckerberg does have some imperial tendencies. When he was a boy, he favored
Civilization, a video game in which the object is to build an empire that will stand the test
of time. Some of his friends are convinced that it served as a valuable exercise to prepare
him to run his company. A fencer in high school (a captain of the team, no less), Mark
sometimes perceived the world as a fencing match, trying to build the right strategy and
figure out the next move. Sometimes, he would pick up his foil and walk around with it,
thinking out loud, delivering sudden thrusts here and there. Mark can read and write
French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek (or so it said on his college application). In
college, he was known for reciting lines from epic poems such as The Iliad. And in
the early days of Facebook, you could hear the word dominate thrown around
often in conversations among the boys. Zuck's dominance was indisputable. In the early
days, a tagline accompanied every page of Facebook that read "A Mark Zuckerberg
production," and on the About page, he was listed as "Founder, Master and Commander,
Enemy of the State." Given his knowledge of Latin, one can just imagine him proclaiming
when reaching one billion users, "Veni, vidi, vici!" ("I came, I saw, I conquered") just as
Julius Caesar reportedly said when celebrating a victory in 47 BC.
Zuck's confidence is oftentimes interpreted as arrogance. His direct stare can be
unnerving. His tendency to tune out if he isn't interested in a conversation is well
publicized. But isn't that what a man on a mission would do?
From an early age, Zuck was smitten with the intersection of software and social
connections. At Harvard, he studied psychology and computer science. He created
multiple little programs that explored the ways people connect with each other online, and
he learned something new with each one of them. He wanted to bring the ways we
communicate offline to the exploding world of online interactions. It became his passion.
His passion powered his confidence. Says Ellen McGirt, a writer for Fast
Company, in one of her stories about Zuck: "But he's not arrogant—he's
Mark got the technology bug from his father, Edward Zuckerberg. A dentist by profession,
Ed had an admiration for technology. He bought every early computer he could. His very
first purchase was in 1978, a personal computer called the Atari 800 that was designed for
the casual computing enthusiast. That was the computer Mark learned to code on. Shortly
thereafter, the Zuckerbergs purchased IBM's XT, which was installed in Ed's home office.
Ed wasn't afraid to dabble in technology and learned how to code himself. Mark loved
playing with machines as much as, if not more than, his father did. Ed cheered him on as
well as his other kids: "You have to encourage them to pursue their passions."
One of Zuck's first social coding experiments took place in the midnineties when his father
got tired of hearing shouting from one room of his home dental practice to another
announcing the arrival of a new patient. He wanted a more efficient approach. That's when
Mark built a messaging system he called "Zucknet," which allowed one computer in the
house to message another. The system was popular beyond Ed's office: Zuck and his
three sisters, Randi, Donna, and Arielle, all used Zucknet to communicate with each other
while working on their own computers in their rooms. The program he built was a simpler
version of AOL's Instant Messenger, which came out the next year.
Mark enjoyed developing computer programs, especially ones that gave people the ability
to interact with each other. He would code into the wee hours of the night. His Harvard
friends recall a T-shirt he wore often: it pictured a little ape with the words "Code Monkey."
In high school and during his first year of college, Mark built several smaller programs,
including Synapse, CourseMatch, and Facemash. You could say Facemash was the
reason he built Facebook. But more on that later.
Synapse Media Player, the program Zuck co-built in his senior year at Phillips Exeter
Academy, used artificial intelligence to learn a listener's habits so that it could suggest
other songs that matched what the user liked. The program caught the attention of both
Microsoft and AOL. They tried to recruit Mark, but he chose to attend Harvard instead.
Zuck created CourseMatch during his first week in college. The idea was to help students
identify who took which classes on campus. Whether you wanted to hook up with a hot girl
or hang out with the "cool" crowd, the program appealed to the status-conscious students
at Harvard. It was also extremely useful in helping students form study groups for
particular classes. As David Kirkpatrick notes in his book, The Facebook Effect,
Zuck had created a program students wanted to use.
Encouraged by the success of CourseMatch, Mark couldn't wait to try out new ideas. The
next month, he created Facemash, a program aimed at finding out who was the hottest
person on campus. In a bold move, he invited users to compare two different faces of the
same sex and vote for the hotter one. The project, completed in an eight-hour stretch,
became an instant hit. People couldn't stop using it.
That is when the trouble started. Harvard turned off Mark's Internet access, and he was
called before Harvard's disciplinary administrative board (along with the other two students
who helped create Facemash). The problem was that he had hacked into the university
system to obtain names and photos of the "participants" without permission from the
university or students. He was able to get information on students from nine of Harvard's
twelve houses (either through hacking in or getting a log-in from his friends). Harvard
decided his actions constituted an inappropriate and unauthorized use of personal
information. He was put on probation and asked to see a counselor. Before the site was
shut down, students voted on 22,000 pairs of photos.
The success of these experiments clearly showed Zuck that he had a knack for creating
simple and addictive software. He also had passion. To connect people. To create an
open world. It didn't matter in what format or for what purpose; Mark Zuckerberg had a
strong desire to help people connect and, through that, to enrich their lives. He wanted to
build a "social utility." At one time on his personal Facebook page, Zuck listed his personal
interests as "openness, making things that help people connect and share what's
important to them, revolutions, information flow, minimalism." Today, the "About Mark"
space on Zuck's page simply states: "I'm trying to make the world a more open place."
That passion is what helped him move on from the "failure" of Facemash toward the
creation of Facebook. Except he didn't consider Facemash a failure. He considered it a
monumental success. For one, it proved to him that there is a huge need for young people
to bring their offline connections online. This stunt also came at a time when students
were asking their universities to develop a site that would include key information about
each student to facilitate easier connections on campus. He learned a lot from his
experience. And those lessons, I believe, were critical to the success of Facebook's
design and its early features.
When Facebook launched early the following year, Mark ensured that the sign-up was
voluntarily and that students had the power to decide if they wanted to share any
information with others. Students had to opt-in in order to participate and had the freedom
to identify what types of information they wanted their friends to see. No hacking into
systems or borrowing others' log-ins this time.
Lesson here? An experience such as the one Mark had with Facemash could be either a
failure or a learning experience, depending on how you decide to look at it. If you are
passionate about something, you most probably consider such an experience a valuable
lesson and will apply it toward the next iteration of your idea. If you truly believe in
something, nothing will stand in the way of making your idea a reality. Passion is a thin
line between success and failure.
That's the core philosophy behind the "hacker way": your product is never final; your work
is never done. "For us," says Pedram Keyani, engineering manager of Facebook's site
integrity team, "hacking is about passionately working toward a goal and not being afraid
of failure." Zuck has real vision, and he wants to see that vision executed. That is the
reason he has never let go of his control of the company, even after its IPO. Some might
call it "being a control freak," but I regard it as sheer brilliance on his part. "So many
businesses get worried about looking like they might make a mistake, they become afraid
to take any risk," Zuckerberg says with conviction. "Companies are set up so that people
judge each other on failure. I am not going to get fired if we have a bad year. Or a bad five
years. I don't have to worry about making things look good if they're not. I can actually set
up the company to create value." Creating value (even if you make a bunch of mistakes in
the process) trumps everything else.
There is another lesson in Zuck's experiment with Facemash: perseverance. Mark heard
the pleas of students and decided that if the university wouldn't provide something that
students were asking for, he would be the one to build it for them. And, knowing Mark, he
probably vowed to do it better than the university would anyway. He knew that after his
stunt with Facemash, students worried that Harvard would reject similar projects
altogether. He wasn't about to sit on sidelines and watch that happen. Hence, along came
What I noticed is this: the most successful entrepreneurs always have one trait in
common: they never give up. They know what they have to do, and there isn't a lot that
can stop them. They fall, they get up, they move on. You move on because you have a
goal, you have passion, and you have purpose. They cannot not do it! People with
passion, propelled by their purpose, don't wait for the sunshine; they find the storm and
ride it. In the words of Steve Jobs (during his 1995 interview with the Smithsonian
Institute): "I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs
from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance."
Interestingly enough, we have this misconception that our entrepreneurial ideas or the
products we want to create have to be one hundred percent original, never done before.
The truth is that some of the most successful entrepreneurs (as well as marketers, I might
add) steal with pride. But what they do is make the final product original in all of the critical
aspects, those that are truly important to both the creator and the consumer, which, in
turn, makes it valuable.
That's exactly what Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook.
What was the inspiration behind his success? How did he come up with the idea? His
academic history offers much insight into his rise to fame. The concept might have been
born when Zuck was still a student at Exeter, a private boarding school where he spent
2000–2002. The year Mark enrolled in school, he received his copy of the student
directory called "The Photo Address Book." Students nicknamed the directory none other
than "The Facebook." These books were essential to students' lives. Because Exeter
students were not allowed cell phones on campus and they changed houses and phone
numbers annually, the only way to keep up with friends was through those annually
published books. Not only that, they found information such as where their peers resided,
who was popular and who wasn't, who the new kids on campus were, and more. By the
time Mark graduated and left school, Exeter's IT department was successful in placing the
full directory online with the URL http://student.exeter.edu/facebook. The URL is
no longer active, and Mark never officially commented on a story about the extent to which
Exeter's Photo Address Book influenced him, but it's obvious that he saw a need that he
could fill on college or high-school campuses that would help promote his life's goal of a
Harvard produced a similar annual book called the Freshman Register, which listed only
entering students. Nevertheless, the books were extensively used. But the students
wanted to have the ability to maintain their own information online. David Kirkpatrick writes
in The Facebook Effect: "That fall Zuckerberg took a math class on graph theory.
At semester's end everyone in the class went out to dinner and ended up talking about the
need for a 'universal facebook.'" Moreover, Zuck admitted to Kirkpatrick that Harvard's
newsletter that covered the failure of Facemash gave him the initial idea of improving
upon his experiment with Facemash. The newsletter wrote: "Much of the trouble
surrounding the Facemash could have been eliminated if only the site had limited itself to
students who voluntarily uploaded their own photos."
Both of Facebook's competitors, MySpace and Friendster, were also launched the year
before Zuck started Facebook. Friendster was primarily created to help people look for life
partners, and people used it mostly for dating versus casual everyday connections.
MySpace was a little bit more glamorous; it was open to anyone and allowed you to create
a profile with either a real name or a pseudonym (which appealed to the entertainment
Lesson here? The savvy entrepreneur is not afraid to use an inspiration that comes his
way and sometimes steals with pride. Some of the most successful people see a need or
identify a gap, and, if they are passionate enough, they help bridge it. They see the
opportunity to do something better and go for it. But they do it in an original way, utilizing
the knowledge and experience they have, as well as their beliefs. That is where passion
plays a critical role. Your passion and purpose in life will manifest themselves in anything
you create and in how you create it. For Zuckerberg, it was in building a "social graph" that
held people responsible for presenting their true identities and giving them control over
how much information they shared and how much of that information their friends saw.
This was quite different from how his competitors approached their products.
James R. "Jim" Jarmusch, an American independent film director, screenwriter, and actor,
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your
imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems,
dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of
water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.
If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality
is nonexistent. And don't bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel
like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: "It's not where you take
things from—it's where you take them to."
Though at first sight the social network wasn't that different from its competitors MySpace
and Friendster, Facebook was, in fact, quite unlike either. And that was due to Mark's
Zuckerberg believes that the world is moving toward radical transparency. "Radical" is
right. To Zuck, the information flow online shouldn't be encumbered by, well, anything. He
believes the online world should be as much as possible a copy of the offline world. If you
are talking to your friends, they know what you look like, they know your real name, they
know what you like and don't like. Unlike other social networks of his time, Zuck wasn't
interested in building a phony tool for phony profiles. He was extremely focused on
ensuring that the social graph he helped create online would be transparent and authentic.
Authenticity is everything to him. You are who you are, you have one identity, you are not
two or three different people, and to him it is dishonest if you present anything other than
your true self to the people around you. He believes in honesty of online self-expression
just like in real life. Hence, Facebook's restriction of allowing only one profile per person.
Believe it or not, people have been banned for creating multiple profiles.
Moreover, Zuck believes that the Internet will bring people together across the world. He is
right—it already has. He believes there should be no borders, no restrictions, no
limitations on not only the way people connect and communicate online but in the way
information is created, consumed, and shared. There should be no secrets, only
information and utilities that help enrich people's lives. He believes such tools and
networks should be free. In creating Facebook, he used free open-source software like the
MySQL database and Apache web server tools, which contributed to Facebook's success
without requiring much financial backing up front. (Initially, Mark paid only for the hosting
service and for the servers.)
Facebook was created on a principle of real-life identity and is intended to enhance your
relationships with people you know in real life. One is not able to build trust inside online
communities if one's identity isn't consistent and known to others. Facebook was the first
social network to introduce this rule and demand compliance with it. From the beginning,
the network also made sure to give users control of what information is shared and who
sees their information. "Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of
integrity," says Zuck. Furthermore, he says, "The level of transparency the world has now
won't support having two identities for a person." He believes that such transparency will
also help build a healthier society. He realizes that it is a challenge to get the world to the
level of openness he would love to see, but he is confident that he is contributing to this
cause by building Facebook and sticking to his goal consistently over the past eight years.
Excerpted from "Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg" by Ekaterina Walter. Copyright © 0 by Ekaterina Walter. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.