Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook – A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, And Betrayal by Ben Mezrich

With Peter Hiddema’s launch into Facebook, it seems only fitting we talk about Ben Mezrich’s account of how Facebook itself came into existence. His book is entitled Accidental Billionaires, and tells the story of a genius of an idea, and two best friends: Mark Zukerberg, a computer whiz; and Eduardo Saverin, a young monied scion, both of whom were socially-awkward Harvard undergrads back in 2004.

One lonely February night, in hopes that it would help them both meet girls, Mark hacked into Harvard’s computer system, downloaded pictures of every female on campus, and then created a ratable database of which girls were the best-looking. His hack crashed the university’s servers, and nearly got him kicked out of school, all of which eventually proved unimportant, for within that fall-out, the framework of Facebook (Facemash as it was known back then) was born—a viral social meeting place where anyone with a Harvard email address could log-on to see who the hottest girls were.

People swarmed onto the site. Sure, it was a place where you could go and see pictures of girls, but more importantly to the Harvard kids, was that the pictures were of girls they recognized or knew personally. And because so many people had clicked onto Facemash and rated the girls, Mark and Eduardo soon realized the interest everyone had in checking out classmates in an informal online setting. From there the idea expanded. Why not build a web site of an online community of friends you could visit? Why not have pictures and profiles and updates that you could click into and browse around?

Seven months later, Mark and a fellow band of programmers from Harvard were in California, working on the site which by then, had been rolled-out onto other campuses with the same success. Eduardo, wanting to get big business interested in investing in their venture, had stayed in the East, and was continuing to bankroll the programming efforts. Mark, in his desire to build an internet company, had chosen California because he was interested in the deep Silicon Valley pockets that might open up to him.

Soon, it became apparent that not only did the two have different ideas about where and how to go about raising funds, they were also clashing about the direction Facebook itself should take. Cracks began to form in the relationship. Soon big money entered the picture, and formerly intimate to the point of having their first sexual encounters in adjoining bathroom stalls, the two friends found themselves battling for control of shares. The chasm between them widened…then ruptured. Before he knew it, Eduardo found himself frozen out; his start-up ideas and financial contributions ignored. A lawsuit was launched. [Eduardo Saverin did manage to achieve some long-awaited satisfaction, for since the writing of the book last year, his lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, was resolved. Little is known about the actual financial settlement, but his name and title as “Cofounder” suddenly appeared in the Facebook manifest, and his contribution is now part of the company’s corporate history.]

The story is told from Eduardo’s Saverin’s point of view…Mark Zuckerberg refused all requests to be interviewed. Because of this, the book may be perceived by some as one-sided, but Ben Mezrich neatly side-steps the pit-fall, making it clear that some of the blame rests squarely at Eduardo’s feet.

The book is well-written and highly entertaining, but if you’d rather watch what happened  than read about it, you won’t have to wait long. The noted director, David Fincher, along with stars like Justin Timberlake, is about to start filming: “The Social Network”—also known as “The Facebook Movie”. Here’s hoping it’s as good as the book.

Reviewed by Penny Steen

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