Just who is the face behind Facebook? It’s the face of man who’s a savvy dealmaker, a confident businessman, and a brash leader – but it’s also the face of a man who’ll sob hysterically in the men’s bathroom after a meeting.
Meet Mark Zuckerberg, the coding wunderkind from Harvard who turned the concept of the annual booklet of incoming college freshmen into a game-changing digital empire. The Facebook CEO’s story is fraught with emotion, inspiration and determination – with a sprinkling of college geek humor.
In released excerpts from Fortune contributor David Kilpatrick’s soon-to-be-released book “The Facebook Effect,” Zuckerberg is a Harvard prodigy who shows moments of extreme maturity while creating the social networking juggernaut before being able to legally rent a car.
Kilpatrick, who had total access to his subject, portrays Zuckerberg akin to the Val Kilmer character in the 1985 teen classic movie “Real Genius.” Brash, confident with a propensity to wield a fencing foil about the room when he wanted to make a point, Zuckerberg is all ego and bravado in pajama pants.
Before the mega-corporations came calling, Zuckerberg lived in Palo Alto, Calif., with seven male friends in an environment that was more dorm than deluxe. There were parties, there was beer, there was college humor.
The house mascot was Tom Cruise, according to the excerpt. “Pretty soon the resident nerds were naming their computer servers after characters in Tom Cruise movies: “‘Where’s that script running?’ ‘It’s running on Maverick.’ ‘Well, run it instead on Iceman, I need Maverick to test this feature.'”
Zuckerberg and cohorts would insert lines from “Top Gun” into the burgeoning Facebook site. In a likely nod to Dave Chappelle he printed up a version of his business card with the title “CEO … b**tch.”
Yet Kilpatrick’s excerpts show a young man of amazing maturity and business acumen. Zuckerberg handles a private jet ride on a Gulfstream V with a hard-driving MTV executive with a combination of thrilled disbelief and the ability to hold his cards close to his chest.
Zuckerberg is also portrayed as a young man bound by ethics. In a key meeting with the venture capital firm Accel that would exponentially increase Facebook’s worth, Zuckerberg leaves the table and bursts into tears in the men’s room. He is in agony because he has already made a deal with Washington Post scion Donald Graham and does not want to renege on their honorable, but less profitable deal.
“Graham was disappointed, but he was also impressed. “I just thought to myself, ‘Wow, for 20 years old, that is impressive – he’s not calling to tell me he’s taking the other guy’s money. He’s calling me to talk it out.’ ” Graham knew that even his first offer was very high for a company so tiny and so young. “Mark, does the money matter to you?” Graham asked. Zuckerberg said it did. It could, he went on, be the one thing that could prevent Facebook from going into the red or having to borrow money. “Mark, I’ll release you from your moral dilemma,” said Graham. “Go ahead and take their money and develop the company, and all the best.” For Zuckerberg it was a huge relief. And it further increased his respect and admiration for Graham. (Zuckerberg eventually asked the publisher to take a seat on the Facebook board.)
Zuckerberg, now 26, now has a nearly $5 billion stake in Facebook.
“Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time,” he says. “And that’s what this company is.” The ultimate payday is not a priority. Changing the world is.”