STARTUP

7 Inspiring Stories From Facebook's Early Days

The world's most successful social network isn't just a company with a $176 billion market capitalization. It's also probably the best-documented startup in history.
Advertisement

A decade ago, a brand new website called "thefacebook.com" launched at Harvard University. It was a campus sensation, and it got the kind of coverage most start-ups could only dream of.

The Harvard Crimson student newspaper ran one article after another, documenting its early "firsts." All of that reporting is still online, and it makes for interesting reading.

Here are 7 interesting, fun and even inspiring news stories from the early days of one of the most successful things ever to emerge from a Harvard dorm room. Taken together, they're a great reminder that a company now worth many billions was just a tiny startup, not that long ago.

1. First mention

It's hard to know what part of the Crimson's Feb 9, 2004 article, Hundreds Register for New Facebook Website, is most fun in retrospect. Is it the headline itself, which now reads like something out of The Onion? Or is it the part where founder and future multibillionaire Mark Zuckerberg says he didn't build Facebook intending to make money?

If you need a tiebreaker, look for the part where a university official says "thefacebook" isn't needed, because the college was planning to create something similar by the end of the school year, anyway.

2. First expansion

Zuckerberg succeeded where so many others failed, partly because he was lucky enough to live in a dorm room near a friend who could put up the money to build and run the site. Within a month, however, they were expanding to other schools and looking for revenue, as explained in Facebook Expands Beyond Harvard, from March 1, 2004.

"It might be nice in the future to get some ads going to offset the cost of the servers," Zuckerberg told the newspaper, adding that the site cost about $85 per month to run.

3. First documented use of the term, 'Facebook stalker'

Within barely more than a month, the social networking site had apparently become an intense part of Harvard's undergraduate culture, as documented in a March 18, 2004 article: "Biggest Procrastination Tool May Indicate More Than Students' Desire to Stalk Their Peers."

"The issue of social networking software is that it's not clear what people do with it," Harvard lecturer John Norvell, who taught anthropology, told the paper.

4. First fawning post-launch profile

By June 10, 2004, it seemed clear that the website wasn't just a fad, and the Crimson published a long article headlined, Mark E. Zuckerberg '06: The whiz behind thefacebook.com

"Thousands of students across the country use it. Major corporations are falling over themselves to buy it," wrote Michael M. Grynbaum, who now covers City Hall for the New York Times. "But nearly a semester after creating thefacebook.com, a social networking website launched on Feb. 4, Mark E. Zuckerberg '06 doesn't seem to have let things go to his head."

5. First legal coverage

By Fall 2004, Facebook was being sued by students who said Zuckerberg had stolen their idea. The Crimson's editorial board, under the headline, Facing Off Over The Facebook was hearing nothing of it.

Harvard students flocked to the site in part because "they needed a way to block out non-college-educated rabble from their buddy list(s)," the editorial said. "ConnectU accuses Zuckerberg of stealing aspects of their business model. It's good he didn't steal the part that said: 'Launch site in May.'"

6. First huge investment

About a year after the site's launch, venture capital firm Accel Partners invested about $13 million in Facebook, which seven years later would result in one of the most profitable VC realizations in history.

That seemed a long way off when The Crimson wrote about the investment on May 27, 2005, quoting Zuckerberg as saying, "Companies don't really go public until they have significant revenue, and at this point we don't. I don't think it is something we are talking about for now, but it would be sweet."

7. First triumphant return

Facebook relocated to California, and when The Crimson wrote about Zuckerberg's next appearance on campus on Nov. 1, 2005, in an article headlined, Zuckerberg to Leave Harvard Indefinitely, he had returned primarily to recruit computer engineers to come out West to work for him.

"Working for a startup company like facebook.com should be considered a viable alternative to consulting or investment banking," the newspaper reported, but added, "Students expecting a non-stop party in lieu of hard work may be disappointed. Zuckerberg characterized his company as 'humble,' and added that his salary is just $65,000 per year. Employees will also receive facebook.com stock."

Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Mar 26, 2014

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: