What Steve Jobs was to Apple and Bill Gates to Microsoft, millions all over the world recognized Mark Zuckerberg as the brains behind Facebook. The Harvard University dropout created the wildly popular social networking site from his college dorm room in 2004 and witnessed its exponential growth over a short period of time. Its interactivity and user-friendly platform allowed Zuckerberg's site to expand beyond the social networking realm and evolve into a marketing tool and entertainment hub, while constantly finding itself at the center of controversy. Zuckerberg first landed in hot water when former colleagues at Harvard took him to court for allegedly stealing their idea for Facebook. Zuckerberg also faced opposition from co-founder Eduardo Saverin on claims of unfair treatment from his business partners. Such dramatic events behind the scenes of the successful site inspired the 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal and the Academy Award-nominated film "The Social Network" (2010), directed by David Fincher. In less than a decade, Facebook's meteoric rise expanded into launching grassroots campaigns, raising sociopolitical awareness, and establishing Zuckerberg as one of the most influential visionaries of his generation.
Mark Elliott Zuckerberg was born on May 14, 1984 in Dobbs Ferry, NY. The son of a psychiatrist and a dentist, Zuckerberg began working with computers by the time he was in middle school. He created his first computer-messaging program using Atari BASIC technology, which he aptly named "Zucknet." His father even utilized his son's invention for his business a year before AOL released its popular Instant Messaging service. Noticing their son's growing interest in computer technology and programming, Zuckerberg's parents hired a private tutor to work with him once a week. Aside from digital technology, he also excelled in other subjects while attending New Hampshire prep school Phillips Exeter Academy, including math, astronomy, physics and classical studies. Zuckerberg also learned how to read and write in French, Hebrew, Latin and Ancient Greek. His soft spot for computers remained his greatest passion, however, leading to his creation of a music software program called Synapse that caught the attention of technology giants AOL and Microsoft. Zuckerberg declined offers from both companies in lieu of attending Harvard University.
Considered a computer prodigy by the time he enrolled at Harvard, Zuckerberg studied psychology and computer science, joined the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, and was captain of the fencing team. Relying on his natural gift of working with digital technology, Zuckerberg built programs in his spare time, including a curriculum-based program called CourseMatch, and the more controversial Facemash, which pitted two students' photos against each other, whereby users voted on which individual was more attractive. The images were taken from the university's internal "Face Book" directories that contained photos and information from student dorms. Facemash was an instant hit the second it went live, but was shut down days later by university administration after several students complained their photos were used without permission. The incident did little to stop Zuckerberg from creating Thefacebook the following semester. Launched from his dorm room on Feb. 4, 2004, Thefacebook merged the Harvard's "Face Books" into a universal system that immediately attracted between 1,200 and 1,500 new users within 24 hours. Days after Thefacebook's launch, Zuckerberg was approached by fellow students Divya Narendra, and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss to collaborate on a social networking site they were working on called Harvard Connection. Zuckerberg met with the trio, but ultimately decided to continue building up (renamed) Facebook and recruited the help of his friends - programmer Dustin Moskovitz, entrepreneur Chris Hughes, and business manager Eduardo Saverin.
While initially designed with exclusive access for Harvard students, Facebook soon expanded to include other Ivy League institutions such as Stanford, Columbia, and Yale. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to work on his site fulltime, which included relocating his company out West to Palo Alto, CA. Facebook had one million users by the end of 2004. In less than a year, the site boasted more than 5.5 million users that extended to include students from other colleges and eventually high schools, domestic and abroad. With Facebook's numbers rapidly increasing, Zuckerberg fielded offers from MTV and Yahoo to keep his company's vision intact. It was not long, however, until his past caught up with him. The founders of Harvard Connection (later renamed ConnectU) filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg, claiming he stole their idea to create Facebook. Although Zuckerberg insisted his was a different networking program from Harvard Connection's idea, evidence revealed that he indeed took ideas from his former colleagues and was ordered to pay up to $65 million. Zuckerberg also faced legal issues within his own team, most notably with Facebook co-founder Saverin after his involvement with the company lessened over time and his shares were drastically diluted. Saverin and the company eventually settled out of court for a non-disclosed amount while his title was reinstated as one of Facebook's co-founders.
In the meantime, Zuckerberg became the world's youngest billionaire in 2008. The drama surrounding Facebook and its creator inspired Ben Mezrich's 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. Saverin was the author's main source of information, but Zuckerberg declined to participate. While the book was a fictionalized account of the creation of Facebook and its popularity, it maintained fact-based details involving the co-founders, Zuckerberg's legal issues, and its business matters as an upstart company in Silicon Valley. Mezrich sold the book rights to Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay for the 2010 film "The Social Network." The David Fincher-directed drama starred Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Saverin, and Justin Timberlake as Zuckerberg's mentor and Napster co-founder Sean Parker. Armie Hammer played a dual role as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. "The Social Network" received positive critical reviews and earned eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
What began as a social networking site for sharing information and content between friends soon extended into a global phenomenon that played a major role in everything from a grassroots campaign to land veteran actress Betty White a hosting stint on "Saturday Night Live" - which she did in May 2010 - to organizing protests during The Arab Spring. In 2010, Time magazine named Zuckerberg its Person of the Year. On May 17th, 2012, Facebook had its Initial Pubic Offering (IPO), where stock in the privately held company was made available for public purchase. The company sold shares for $38 per share and more than 420 million shares were purchased, raising $16 billion for the original stockholders. It was the largest Internet IPO ever. At the time, the IPO made Zuckerberg worth nearly $17 billion on his Facebook holdings alone, making him wealthier than even Google co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. At the same time, going public also made him the 29th-richest person in the world. The same weekend of his financial boon, Zuckerberg married his longtime college sweetheart Priscilla Chan. When he shortly after updated his Facebook status to "Married," that simple move made international news.
By Candy Cuenco