Facebook Co-Founder Settles in at General Catalyst: Out to Learn and Help Young Entrepreneurs

5/4/09Follow @bbuderi

This article is a prototype for a new, still-unnamed weekly column featuring conversations with local innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors.

Picture the prospects for innovation if entrepreneurial college students brimming with energy and ideas—as they always are—learned to better vet and shape those ideas into concepts with real business potential, gaining the self-confidence and sense of purpose that dramatically raise the odds of making their visions reality. That’s the world Chris Hughes wants to help cultivate, and the 25-year-old entrepreneur and Web guru, who could pass as an underclassman on any college campus himself (“Most people think I’m, like, 19,” he jokes), has begun to make that happen in his new role as entrepreneur-in-residence at Cambridge, MA-based General Catalyst Partners. “I’m getting the chance to support a lot of young people,” is the way Hughes puts it.

It was big news on the Boston innovation scene this March when former Harvard student Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and the driving force behind my.BarackObama.com, returned to Cambridge to work part-time at “GC.” General Catalyst didn’t provide much detail on his activities at the time, other than to say he was helping the firm create the next generation of Web media and social networking startups. But last Friday, now that Hughes is some six weeks into his new role and has more to say, he and GC managing director Neil Sequeira sat down with me to share his plans first hand.

Our conversation focused mainly on his ideas for helping college students, and the lessons he tries to impart, as well as about his own plans for the future (Hughes is taking it slow on that front). But he also spoke about how he came to General Catalyst in the first place and shared some thoughts about the evolution of social media—and how he thinks Facebook is ultimately complementary to a service like Twitter, despite all the talk in the media about how they are rivals.

First, some background. Hughes grew up in North Carolina, but came to New England to attend Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, and then went on to Harvard, where he roomed with Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz. The three started Facebook in 2004, failed to find venture funding here in Boston, and moved it to Palo Alto, CA, that June, after they finished the semester—and, where, yeah, they found more investor success. Despite his West Coast stint, and the fact his current home base is New York, where he now has an apartment, Hughes says, “I probably feel as at home, if not more, up here.”

Hughes left Facebook in early 2007 to serve on Triple O—Obama’s online operation—as the campaign’s Director of Online Organizing. He oversaw my.BarackObama.com, where volunteers coordinated coffees, fund-raisers, and the like—helping organize some 200,000 campaign events and bringing in more than $500 million through some 6.5 million separate donations, though Hughes says, “I didn’t focus on fundraising as much as building the grassroots organization on the ground.”

After the campaign, Hughes had the option to work in the new administration, but says that life wasn’t for him. “I decided relatively early on that I did not want to work in big government,” he says. “The patience that is required to work in DC…that’s not what I want to be doing every day.”

In consulting with friends and others about what to do next, the idea of being an entrepreneur in residence (EIR) came up. “I talked to a lot of different people at a lot of different places,” he says. But all the feedback “kept pointing me to General Catalyst.”

That led to a lunch this February in midtown Manhattan with GC co-founder … Next Page »

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • http://www.lotusjump.com Andrew

    Great write up Bob — looking forward to see this column evolve. It’s interesting how someone like Hughes can be considered such an expert at the ripe old age of 25 and two ventures he’s worked on. It shows that the nature of the experiences can create a compressed learning curve for some specialized skills and vision.

  • http://www.teachstreet.com Dave Schappell

    Hey Bob,

    First — it was great meeting you in person at the Seattle xConomy event — I’ve been a big fan of Greg Huang and xConomy over the last 1+ year, so congratulations on your continued progress.

    Also, I got to meet Chris Hughes at a Union Square Ventures ‘Hacking Education’ event in early March, and was really impressed with his background (obviously); I think his considered approach is going to take him far (i.e. he didn’t do a lot of talking; rather, he was listening and thinking — that suprised me, in a 25-year-old :-) )

    Onward,

    Dave