The Flexibility to Explore: Zuckerberg on Facebook’s Early History

10/22/12Follow @wroush

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contribute what you thought was significant about that image and you could see what other people thought was significant about it. And then you’d go Next and it would pop up a random one. And I e-mailed this to the class list, I said “Hey guys, I’ve built this study tool,” and they just populated it. And it worked for me and it was wonderful. After that they mentioned that the grades on the final had never been higher. [Applause.]

PG: You crowdsourced your study tool.

MZ: There are a lot of interesting social dynamics that you can applied to almost any issue in homework. But yeah, I built the first version in January. I spent some of that time at Harvard and I also went and visited a couple of friends, one at Stanford and one at Caltech. And at the time, I had never even been out to California before.

PG: And you went in January. What did you think?

MZ: I remember coming into SFO and driving down 101 and I saw these buildings for all these technology companies came from, and it was amazing. And then the weather of course was awesome. And I remember, I had been at Harvard through freshman year, and then I stayed there for the summer, and then sophomore year, so by the time that sophomore summer came around my friends and I were, “Let’s go somewhere else, let’s go someplace in California.” So we decided to get a place in Palo Alto. At the time we actually were not thinking about moving to California and dropping out. What was in our mind was, it will be neat to be around all of these great companies, and maybe we’ll find something to build a company out of. But surely this isn’t it.

So we went out to California. And I remember this conversation where one day Dustin pulled me aside, and were getting a ton of users, and we have an increasing number of servers, and we have no ops guys, and this was before EC2 so you had to manage your own servers, and he was like, “This is really hard. I don’t think we can do this and take a full course load.” So Harvard has this policy where you can take as much time as you want off from school. So why don’t we just take one term off and then just try to get it under control and build the tool so we can go back next semester and it will run more autonomously? So we did that, and of course we raised money from Peter Thiel, and we told him we might go back.

PG: You told him you might go back to school?

MZ: Yeah, I think he didn’t believe us. [Laugher] There is this long history of other people thinking I was going to drop out well before I did. But, so, then you know spring term came along and we hadn’t quite built the tool and the automation, so let’s take another term off, and finally at some point we just figured that we were out there. But by then we had millions of users.

PG: So you didn’t decide not to go back until you had millions of users. Wow.

MZ: Sometimes I joke about it. Harvard has this policy where you can go back whenever you want. I might still.

PG: I’m sure they wouldn’t mind in your case. Are we out of time? Mark has a wedding to go to.

MZ: I actually do. It’s the guy who I said I used to go out for pizza with him and do our CS problem sets. He joined Facebook and we’re really good friends and he’s getting married. So I have to go to that. Thank you guys.

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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