How Facebook was founded - The story of how Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook

In the fall of 2003, Harvard seniors Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra were on the lookout for a web developer who could bring to life an idea the three say Divya first had in 2002: a social network for Harvard students and alumni. The site was to be called
The three had been paying Victor Gao, another Harvard student, to do coding for the site, but at the beginning of the fall term Victor begged off the project. Victor suggested his own replacement: Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard sophomore from Dobbs Ferry, New York.
Back then, Mark was known at Harvard as the sophomore who had built Facemash, a "Hot Or Not" clone for Harvard. Facemash had already made Mark a bit of a celebrity on campus, for two reasons.
The first is that Mark got in trouble for creating it. The way the site worked was that it pulled photos of Harvard students off of Harvard's Web sites. It rearranged these photos so that when people visited they would see pictures of two Harvard students and be asked to vote on which was more attractive. The site also maintained a list of Harvard students, ranked by attractiveness.
On Harvard's politically correct campus, this upset people, and Mark was soon hauled in front of Harvard's disciplinary board for students.  According to a November 19, 2003 Harvard Crimson article, he was charged with breaching security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy. Happily for Mark, the article reports that he wasn't expelled.
The second reason everyone at Harvard knew about Facemash and Mark Zuckerberg was that Facemash had been an instant hit. The same Harvard Crimson story reports that after two weeks, "the site had been visited by 450 people, who voted at least 22,000 times." That means the average visitor voted 48 times.
It was for this ability to build a wildly popular site that Victor Gao first recommended Mark to Cameron, Tyler, and Divya. Sold on Mark, the Harvard Connection trio reached out to him. Mark agreed to meet.
They first met in an early evening in late November in the dining hall of Harvard College's Kirkland House.  Cameron, Tyler, and Divya brought up their idea for Harvard Connection, and described their plans to A) build the site for Harvard students only, by requiring new users to register with email addresses, and B) expand Harvard Connection beyond Harvard to schools around the country.  Mark reportedly showed enthusiastic interest in the project.
Later that night, Mark wrote an email to the Winklevoss brothers and Divya: "I read over all the stuff you sent and it seems like it shouldn't take too long to implement, so we can talk about that after I get all the basic functionality up tomorrow night."
The next day, on December 1, Mark sent another email to the HarvardConnections team.  Part of it read, "I put together one of the two registration pages so I have everything working on my system now. I'll keep you posted as I patch stuff up and it starts to become completely functional."
These two emails sounded like the words of someone who was eager to be a part of the team and working away on the project.  A few days later, however, Mark's emails to the HarvardConnection team started to change in tone.  Specifically, they went from someone who seemed to be hard at work building the product to someone who was so busy with schoolwork that he had no time to do any coding at all.

December 4: "Sorry I was unreachable tonight. I just got about three of your missed calls. I was working on a problem set."

December 10: "The week has been pretty busy thus far, so I haven't gotten a chance to do much work on the site or even think about it really, so I think it's probably best to postpone meeting until we have more to discuss. I'm also really busy tomorrow so I don't think I'd be able to meet then anyway."

A week later: "Sorry I have not been reachable for the past few days. I've basically been in the lab the whole time working on a cs problem set which I"m still not finished with."
Finally, on January 8:
Sorry it's taken a while for me to get back to you. I'm completely swamped with work this week. I have three programming projects and a final paper due by Monday, as well as a couple of problem sets due Friday. I'll be available to discuss the site again starting Tuesday.

I"m still a little skeptical that we have enough functionality in the site to really draw the attention and gain the critical mass necessary to get a site like this to run…Anyhow, we'll talk about it once I get everything else done.
So what happened to change Mark's tune about HarvardConnection? Was he so swamped with work that he was unable to finish the project?  Or, as the HarvardConnection founders have alleged, was he stalling the development of HarvardConnection so that he could build a competing site and launch it first?

Our investigation suggests the latter.

As a part of the lawsuit against Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, the above emails from Mark have been public for years. What has never been revealed publicly is what Mark was telling his friends, parents, and closest confidants at the same time.

Let's start with a December 7th (IM) exchange Mark Zuckerberg had with his Harvard classmate and Facebook cofounder, Eduardo Saverin.

Former PayPal CEO Peter Thiel gets a lot of credit for being the first investor in Facebook, because he led the first formal Facebook round in September of 2004 with a $500,000 investment at a $5 million valuation. But the real "first investor" claim to fame should actually belong to a Harvard classmate of Mark Zuckerberg's named Eduardo Saverin.

To picture Eduardo, what you need to know is that he was the kid at Harvard who would wear a suit to class. He liked to give people the impression that he was rich -- and maybe somehow connected to the Brazilian mafia. At one point, in an IM exchange, Mark told a friend that Eduardo -- "head of the investment society" -- was rich because "apparently insider trading isn't illegal in Brazil."

Eduardo Saverin wasn't directly involved with Facebook for long: During the summer of 2004, when Mark moved to Palo Alto to work on Facebook full time, Eduardo took a high-paying internship at Lehman Brothers in New York. While Mark was still at Harvard, however, Eduardo appears to have bankrolled Facebook's earliest capital expenses, thus becoming its initial investor.

In January, however, Mark told a friend that "Eduardo is paying for my servers." Eventually, Eduardo would agree to invest $15,000 in a company that would, in April 2004, be formed as Facebook LLC. For his money, Eduardo would get 30% of the company.

Eduardo was also involved in Facebook's earliest days, as a confidant of Mark Zuckerberg.

In December, 2003, a week after Mark's first meeting with the HarvardConnection team, when he was telling the Winklevosses that he was too busy with schoolwork to work on or even think about, Mark was telling Eduardo a different story. On December 7, 2003, Someone is already trying to make a dating site. But they made a mistake haha. They asked me to make it for them. So I'm like delaying it so it won't be ready until after the facebook thing comes out.
This IM suggests that, within a week of meeting with the Winklevosses for the first time, Mark had already decided to start his own, similar project--"the facebook thing." It also suggests that he had developed a strategy for dealing with his would-be competition: Delay developing it.

The origins of Facebook have been in dispute since the very week a 19-year-old

Mark Zuckerberg launched the site as a Harvard sophomore on February 4, 2004.

Then called "," the site was an instant hit. Now, six years later, the site has become one of the biggest web sites in the world, visited by 400 million people a month.

The controversy surrounding Facebook began quickly. A week after he launched the site in 2004, Mark was accused by three Harvard seniors of having stolen the idea from them.

This allegation soon bloomed into a full-fledged lawsuit, as a competing company founded by the Harvard seniors sued Mark and Facebook for theft and fraud, starting a legal odyssey that continues to this day.

New information uncovered by Silicon Alley Insider suggests that some of the complaints against Mark Zuckerberg are valid. It also suggests that, on at least one occasion in 2004, Mark used private login data taken from Facebook's servers to break into Facebook members' private email accounts and read their emails--at best, a gross misuse of private information. Lastly, it suggests that Mark hacked into the competing company's systems and changed some user information with the aim of making the site less useful.

The primary dispute around Facebook's origins centered around whether Mark had entered into an "agreement" with the Harvard seniors, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and a classmate named Divya Narendra, to develop a similar web site for them -- and then, instead, stalled their project while taking their idea and building his own.
The litigation never went particularly well for the Winklevosses.

In 2007, Massachusetts Judge Douglas P. Woodlock called their allegations "tissue thin." Referring to the agreement that Mark had allegedly breached, Woodlock also wrote, "Dorm room chit-chat does not make a contract." A year later, the end finally seemed in sight: a judge ruled against Facebook's move to dismiss the case. Shortly thereafter, the parties agreed to settle.

But then, a twist.

After Facebook announced the settlement, but before the settlement was finalized, lawyers for the Winklevosses suggested that the hard drive from Mark Zuckerberg's computer at Harvard might contain evidence of Mark's fraud. Specifically, they suggested that the hard drive included some damning instant messages and emails.

The judge in the case refused to look at the hard drive and instead deferred to another judge who went on to approve the settlement. But, naturally, the possibility that the hard drive contained additional evidence set inquiring minds wondering what those emails and IMs revealed. Specifically, it set inquiring minds wondering again whether Mark had, in fact, stolen the Winklevoss's idea, screwed them over, and then ridden off into the sunset with Facebook.

Unfortunately, since the contents of Mark's hard drive had not been made public, no one had the answers.

But now we have some.

Over the past two years, we have interviewed more than a dozen sources familiar with aspects of this story -- including people involved in the founding year of the company. We have also reviewed what we believe to be some relevant IMs and emails from the period. Much of this information has never before been made public. None of it has been confirmed or authenticated by Mark or the company.
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