A look at the life of Mark Zuckerberg
Have you ever wondered how the world-famous tech entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg came up with the billion-dollar idea of Facebook? In 2020 alone, Facebook’s revenue amounted to almost 86 billion US dollars. Despite many new social media apps coming up in the market, Facebook continues to hold the crown of the most famous social media website that has become our virtual identity. Imagine you have a childhood dream of studying at a prestigious university like Harvard. Your dream comes true, you get into the most famous university in the world to study a subject that has always been your passion. Then one day something makes you drop out of your dream university! This is what happened to Mark Zuckerberg, that started his journey of creating Facebook. Today a Harvard University dropout, Mark Zuckerberg, is the CEO and founder of Facebook and has a net worth of a whopping $114 billion. Read on to learn about his compelling journey from a university dropout to a tech magnate.
Mark Zuckerberg was born on May 14, 1984, in Whiteplains, New York. He belonged to a well-educated family. His father Edward Zuckerberg was a practicing dentist and his mother, Karen, was a psychiatrist. Mark Zuckerberg along with his three sisters Randi, Donna, and Arielle was brought up in a small village called Dobbs Ferry, in the suburbs of Newyork. Zuckerberg’s father describes the young Mark as “strong-willed and relentless,” He goes on to explain, “For some kids, their questions could be answered with a simple yes or no, but for Mark, if he asked for something, yes by 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, and reasons. We envisioned him becoming a lawyer one day, with a near 100% success rate of convincing juries.”
Zuckerberg was extremely curious about computers from a young age. At the age of 12, he created a messaging program called Zucknet using the Atari BASIC. He created this messaging app for his father’s dental clinic to make it easier for the receptionist to communicate with his father regarding new patients. Soon Mark’s family also started using Zucknet to talk with family members in the house. It is interesting to note that while some kids play computer games, Zuckerberg created them. It was his hobby to create computer games with his friends.
What can you learn from Zuckerberg’s early years?
• Find your passion and invest in it
As with most successful people in the world, Zuckerberg built an empire based on something he was passionate about. It is essential to work on the hobbies that spark your interest. If you find a passion early on in your life, you must work on it and practice it until you become an expert. Zuckerberg grew up in a supportive family, his parents recognized his passion for computers and invested in his learning from a young age. Most parents are obsessed with grades and might not want their kids indulging too much in extracurricular activities at such a young age. However, Zuckerberg’s parents encouraged him to explore programming even though many would think he was too young to program any software.
Mark Zuckerberg’s education
Zuckerberg’s parents took note of his growing interest in computers and hired a private computer tutor David Newman, a software developer who visited their house once a week to mentor and guide Zuckerberg. He had enrolled in a graduate-level programming course at Mercy College when he was only a high school student. Zuckerberg later joined the Phillips Exeter Academy, a highly selective secondary school based in New Hampshire. In school, he showed a talent for fencing and became the captain of his school’s team. He studied literature in which he excelled and earned a diploma in classics. However, he remained enthusiastic about computers and worked on creating new programs.
During high school, he developed an MP3 player called Synapse with his friend Adam D’Angelo. The unique software used the concept of machine learning to keep track of all the songs played on a computer by the user, learn what kind of music the user liked, and make and recommend playlists based on the user’s personal preferences. Several tech joints including AOL and Microsoft showed an interest in buying Synapse. They also made offers to hire the teenager but he declined the offers since he intended to continue his studies.
• A strong sense of self and mindfulness
Imagine being a young high school student who is offered a well-paying job and a huge amount of money from tech giants like Microsoft for selling the rights of software you created. Anyone would accept such a ludicrous offer but Zuckerberg declined these offers because he chose to study further. Accepting the job offer would mean he would be bound by contracts and would lose copyrights of his software as well. He weighed the pros and cons and decided to go to college so that he could grow as a person and as a programmer. This reflects how well he knew himself, his worth, and what he wanted to achieve in life, which was bigger than working under someone else. This level of self-awareness can only be achieved with mindfulness which today’s youth rarely practices.
Time at Harvard
Zuckerberg graduated from Exeter in 2002 and enrolled at the prestigious Harvard University, by which time he had already gained the reputation of a programming prodigy. He studied psychology and computer science during his time at Harvard. In his sophomore year, he created software called CourseMatch to help students choose courses at the start of every semester. CourseMatch allowed you to know the number of students taking a particular course. It provided a list of the students who enrolled for a course so you knew which courses your classmates will be studying. This information helped students decide which courses to take and build study groups accordingly.
Another website programmed by Zuckerberg during his time at Harvard was the wildly popular FaceMash, a controversial website that lead to the start of Facebook. FaceMash was a website in which the user was presented with two pictures of either male or female Harvard students and the user had to vote who is the more attractive one. Based on user voting the website posted a list of the hottest students. The website quickly became a viral sensation on campus after it was launched over the weekend. The huge traffic on this website caused a crash in Harvard’s network.
Soon the site was blocked by the university after students complained that their privacy was breached and their pictures were displayed on FaceMash without their permission. Zuckerberg was charged with violation of students’ privacy and breach of computer security by the administrative board. He had to apologize publicly and was put on probation while the student paper criticized the website for being highly inappropriate and misogynistic. It was the buzz caused by his previous creations, that made three university mates Divya Narendra, and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss reach out to him to work with them on a social networking website called the Harvard Connection. This website aimed to create a dating site for Harvard students where they could see other students’ pictures and profiles. Zuckerberg initially helped them with their project, but soon left their group to work on his idea of Facebook.
• Success is not achieved overnight
While it may sound like Zuckerberg was just lucky that his casual project turned into a billion-dollar company, that is not the case. The truth is Zuckerberg was preparing for this day from a very young age. He continued to work on programming projects with focus and determination. During his teenage years when many are indulging in entertainment and partying, Zuckerberg focused on his one true passion for programming. He explored other subjects such as psychology but he kept practicing, coding, and programming games and software such as Synapse, CourseMatch, and FaceMash.
The creation of Facebook
At the age of 19, Zuckerberg created a breakthrough website called “The Facebook” with his friends Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Eduardo Saverin. On this website, users created their profiles, uploaded photos, and communicated with other users. At this point, Facebook was only available for Harvard students. Zuckerberg and his friends worked on Facebook from their dorm room at Harvard University until June 2004. Zuckerberg recognized the viral effect of Facebook when half of the undergraduates at Harvard registered on the website within the first month of its launch! Soon Zuckerberg dropped out of college to work full time on his brilliant idea and created his company headquarters in Palo Alto, California.
Facebook users grew rapidly and by the end of 2004, 1 million users had registered on Facebook. Zuckerberg opened registration for other Ivy league students and in the next year, the venture capital firm Accel Partners invested $12.7 million into the budding network, giving it a huge boost. Originally intended exclusively for Harvard students, Facebook did not stay on campus. Soon students from other colleges, high schools, and international schools, were allowed to register on Facebook, expanding the registered users’ population to 5.5 million users by the end of 2005. Many other companies began to take an interest in the popular website wanting to advertise with it. Big companies like Yahoo! And MTV Networks offered huge sums of money to Zuckerberg but he did not want to sell out and turned down all offers to focus on expanding the website. He opened up his company to different developers who worked on enhancing the features of the site. The exponential growth of Facebook was astonishing. By the end of 2006 it had 12 million users and by the end of 2009 Facebook users had grown to 350 million.
Facebook was made public on May 18, 2012. Going public means that a private company makes an initial public offering (IPO) to become a publicly traded and owned business. The aim of going public is to raise capital for the expansion of business. Facebook’s IPO raised a huge amount of $16 billion, which was the biggest IPO in the history of the tech industry. As a result, Zuckerberg gained the rank of the 29th-richest person on the planet overnight. The very next day, Zuckerberg and his university sweetheart Priscilla Chan got married in a surprise wedding where guests were told they will be only be celebrating Chan’s medical school graduation. It was a low-key event involving close friends and family of the couple.
Dream big and set long-term goals
Mark Zuckerberg was offered huge sums of money for selling facebook but he stood by his creation and refused to sell it. He was not interested in making quick money, He had bigger goals in mind that would reap him long-term benefits. He intended to expand his company and focus on making it grow bigger and better which he did with every passing year Facebook’s revenue only grew.
What sets apart Facebook from its competitors
What was unique about this website was that it required users to share their real identities and authentic email address to ensure no fake ids were made. Zuckerberg just wanted people to share their authentic real life with the world. The competitors of Facebook, and the other social networks like Friendster and Myspace, did not ensure the authenticity of their user profiles. Users’ identities could be creative and playful, but Facebook was different in that it required users to share their real identities and background. Zuckerberg explains “We’re trying to map out what exists in the world,” he says. “In the world, there’s trust. I think as humans we fundamentally parse the world through the people and relationships we have around us. So at its core, what we’re trying to do is map out all of those trust relationships, which you can call, colloquially, most of the time, friendships.”
Thus, this was a network of its kind that mapped real connections and gave the space to build real friendships and trust between the users. At the time Facebook was launched, the most competitive market on the internet was that of photo-sharing websites like Flickr, Photobucket, and Picasa which allowed users to share high-quality pictures. At the same time Facebook launched its photo-sharing service and what set it apart was that you could tag your friends in those photos. This simple feature attracted and engaged users and soon Facebook became the primary place for photo-sharing events though the quality of the pictures uploaded was very poor. In 5 years Facebook had over 15 billion photos posted by its users who uploaded 100 million photos per day.
This is the modus operandi of Zuckerberg and his group of developers who break into a new market and excel in it by adding a social aspect to it. Games are another example of a market Facebook broke into at one point. A company named Zynga created simple games for Facebook that were very basic compared to the games produced by the other giants in the industry. What was special about Facebook games like Farmville and Mafia wars was that they were social. You could play and compare scores with friends which made it a lot more engaging for the user. In 2010 Mafia Wars had 19 million players and FarmVille had 54 million. Investors valued the Facebook games more than the expert game innovators in the market who were producing much higher quality games.
Scandals and legal issues
At the peak of his success, in 2006, the tech mogul faced a legal battle, the people behind Harvard Connection accused Zuckerberg of stealing their idea and sued him to pay for their loss. Zuckerberg insisted that the two websites were different in many ways. Some controversial messages were revealed during the lawsuit indicating that Zuckerberg may have seen the commonalities between the two sites and delayed the development of the Harvard connection deliberately to launch his product first. In an interview with The New Yorker, Zuckerberg expressed regret over the leaked messages and said that he has grown a lot as a person since this incident. Originally a settlement worth $65 million was decided, but the legal battle continued for many years.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal happened when millions of Facebook users’ data was obtained and used without their consent by a consulting firm called Cambridge Analytica, which used the data for political advertising. They collected the data using an app that asked users to fill out a survey to build psychological profiles, and collect personal information using the Open graph platform of Facebook. The data of almost 87 million Facebook profiles were harvested by Cambridge Analytica. The data was used to assist the 2016 presidential election campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The resulting scandal shook the confidence investors had in Facebook causing the shares to drop by 15 percent after the news went viral.
After a few days of silence, Zuckerberg apologized on various platforms and explained that his company will limit the access third-party developers’ have to user information. The United States Senate Judiciary Committee called witnesses to testify about the data breach and general data privacy. One hearing was held to discuss Facebook’s role in Cambridge Analytica, and the breach of privacy on social media. Zuckerberg appeared before Congress and admitted it was his mistake and that he could have done more to protect Facebook from being used for wrongful activities “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech”. Zuckerberg apologized publicly for the misuse of private data: “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here”.Despite the success of Facebook, Zuckerberg has faced his fair share of public scandals and controversies special over the issue of the privacy of users’ information. He has faced multiple legal battles too. So what do we learn from how he handled these rough times?
Learn from your mistakes and take responsibility for your actions
Zuckerberg responds well to criticism and works on improving Facebook to keep a clean image of the website. Today Facebook says ‘Trust is a cornerstone of our business and significant resources are dedicated to creating user trust by the implementation of programs designed for protecting user privacy and ensuring that user data is secure. At the start of 2018, Zuckerberg announced that it was his personal goal for the year to ensure Facebook users are safe from the wrongful abuse of their information and nation-states’ interference. He wrote on his Facebook page “We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.” he explained, “If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.”
How did Facebook beat its competition – Expansion of the Facebook empire
There were a few social networking sites like Friendster and MySpace that were famous before Facebook and everyone wondered if the popularity of Facebook would also fizzle out like its predecessors. Before Facebook, no social networking website had displayed this kind of staying power. Some websites would trend for a while until a new one replaced them. How come Facebook survive when newcomers like Twitter and Instagram came along? Facebook wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for its track record of staying up to date with the latest trends and innovating to meet consumer demands. Among other factors, the most critical one that kept Facebook at the top of the game was the expansion of the company.
Based on the disclosed purchases alone, Facebook has made acquisitions worth $22,651,000,000 since its inception. Zuckerberg began to acquire companies that could contribute to Facebook’s growing infrastructure and help improve the website and increase features. For instance, in its starting years, Facebook acquired Friendfeed. Friendfeed wasn’t a very popular app but it was the app from which Zuckerberg got the technology of the like button and the news feed that are integral parts of Facebook to date. In addition, he acquired a very skilled team of former Google employees who were responsible for creating the earlier versions of AdSense and Gmail. Similarly, in 2010, Facebook bought another small company called ChaiLabs just to acquire the talented IT team which included Gokul Rajaram who was known as the Godfather of Google Adsense.
This ramped up Facebook’s advertising revenue structure which generates billions of dollars for the company each year. Facebook earned 86 billion U.S. dollars from Ads in 2020 alone. In 2012, Facebook beat its biggest competition Instagram by buying it for 1 billion dollars. Once Facebook’s main competition, Instagram is now one of its biggest assets. Next, they acquired Face.com, which enabled Facebook to predict the friends a user tags in a photo based on facial recognition which was a huge advancement for social media networks. The key message to learn here is:
Innovation and expansion
Facebook was able to keep the status of the best social networking site due to Zuckerberg’s eye for talent and growth. Zuckerberg kept striving to improve his website and kept introducing the latest technologies and features in his website based on user preferences. He bought the websites and technology that could compete with Facebook and made it even better. At the core of Facebook’s success is Zuckerberg’s constant drive to innovate and improve his website while keeping it simple and easy to use.
Once he had optimized the user experience, Zuckerberg began to enhance the advertising model to generate revenue. Enter Atlas Advertiser Suite, a program originally developed at Microsoft that now helps Facebook advertisers understand their ROI. For this Facebook bought Atlas advertiser suite, a software that was created at Microsoft, for $100 million. This move made a huge advancement in Facebook marketing. Advertisers could now calculate their ROI (return on investment).
Similarly, Onavo, a mobile analytics software company was also bought by Zuckerberg that gave allows advertisers to have an extensive analytical summary of their investments and how well their ad campaigns were doing on Facebook.Facebook offers a brilliant alternative to google ads in that it adds a social context to advertisements. Facebook describes the incentives the platform offers to advertisers in the following words: Marketers can engage with more than one billion monthly active users on Facebook or subsets of our users based on information people have chosen to share with us such as their age, location, gender, or interests. We offer marketers a unique combination of reach, relevance, social context, and engagement to enhance the value of their ads’.
Today Zuckerberg’s creation Facebook, which started from a dorm at Harvard, is the most influential social media website and tech company in the world. At the core of Facebook’s success is a CEO with a revolutionary vision for the future. An innovative and daring CEO is the biggest asset that any company can have. Zuckerberg, a dynamic leader with a desire to connect with the whole world, expands and improves his company by incorporating the latest technologies and motivating those working for him to give their best. Facebook never remained in one place, It grew and advanced to have all the cutting-edge features of the tech and social media industry. Zuckerberg’s calculated risk-taking abilities, his thirst for learning, and advancement in technology will continue to grow the Facebook empire until it has reached every part of the world.