Mark Zuckerberg is co-founder and CEO of the social-networking website Facebook, as well as one of the world’s youngest billionaires.
Who Is Mark Zuckerberg?
Born on May 14, 1984, in White Plains, New York, Mark Zuckerberg co-founded the social-networking website Facebook out of his college dorm room. He left Harvard after his sophomore year to concentrate on the site, the user base of which has grown to more than 2 billion people, making Zuckerberg a billionaire. The birth of Facebook was portrayed in the 2010 film The Social Network.
Mark Elliot Zuckerberg was born on May 14, 1984, in White Plains, New York, into a comfortable, well-educated family, and raised in the nearby village of Dobbs Ferry. His father, Edward Zuckerberg, ran a dental practice attached to the family’s home. His mother, Karen, worked as a psychiatrist before the birth of the couple’s four children—Mark, Randi, Donna and Arielle.
Zuckerberg developed an interest in computers at an early age; when he was about 12, he used Atari BASIC to create a messaging program he named “Zucknet.” His father used the program in his dental office, so that the receptionist could inform him of a new patient without yelling across the room. The family also used Zucknet to communicate within the house. Together with his friends, he also created computer games just for fun. “I had a bunch of friends who were artists,” he said. “They’d come over, draw stuff, and I’d build a game out of it.”
To keep up with Mark’s burgeoning interest in computers, his parents hired private computer tutor David Newman to come to the house once a week and work with Mark. Newman later told reporters that it was hard to stay ahead of the prodigy, who began taking graduate courses at nearby Mercy College around this same time.
Zuckerberg later studied at Phillips Exeter Academy, an exclusive preparatory school in New Hampshire. There he showed talent in fencing, becoming the captain of the school’s team. He also excelled in literature, earning a diploma in classics. Yet Zuckerberg remained fascinated by computers, and continued to work on developing new programs. While still in high school, he created an early version of the music software Pandora, which he called Synapse. Several companies—including AOL and Microsoft—expressed an interest in buying the software, and hiring the teenager before graduation. He declined the offers.
Time at Harvard
After graduating from Exeter in 2002, Zuckerberg enrolled at Harvard University. By his sophomore year at the ivy league institution, he had developed a reputation as the go-to software developer on campus. It was at that time that he built a program called CourseMatch, which helped students choose their classes based on the course selections of other users. He also invented Facemash, which compared the pictures of two students on campus and allowed users to vote on which one was more attractive. The program became wildly popular, but was later shut down by the school administration after it was deemed inappropriate.
Based on the buzz of his previous projects, three of his fellow students—Divya Narendra, and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss—sought him out to work on an idea for a social networking site they called Harvard Connection. This site was designed to use information from Harvard’s student networks in order to create a dating site for the Harvard elite. Zuckerberg agreed to help with the project, but soon dropped out to work on his own social networking site with friends Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes and Eduardo Saverin.
Zuckerberg and his friends created a site that allowed users to create their own profiles, upload photos, and communicate with other users. The group ran the site—first called The Facebook—out of a dorm room at Harvard until June 2004. After his sophomore year, Zuckerberg dropped out of college to devote himself to Facebook full time, moving the company to Palo Alto, California. By the end of 2004, Facebook had 1 million users.
The Rise of Facebook
In 2005, Zuckerberg’s enterprise received a huge boost from the venture capital firm Accel Partners. Accel invested $12.7 million into the network, which at the time was open only to ivy league students. Zuckerberg’s company then granted access to other colleges, high school and international schools, pushing the site’s membership to more than 5.5 million users by December 2005. The site then began attracting the interest of other companies, who wanted to advertize with the popular social hub. Not wanting to sell out, Zuckerberg turned down offers from companies such as Yahoo! and MTV Networks. Instead, he focused on expanding the site, opening up his project to outside developers and adding more features.
Zuckerberg seemed to be going nowhere but up, however in 2006, the business mogul faced his first big hurdle. The creators of Harvard Connection claimed that Zuckerberg stole their idea, and insisted the software developer needed to pay for their business losses. Zuckerberg maintained that the ideas were based on two very different types of social networks but, after lawyers searched Zuckerberg’s records, incriminating Instant Messages revealed that Zuckerberg may have intentionally stolen the intellectual property of Harvard Connection and offered Facebook users’ private information to his friends.
Zuckerberg later apologized for the incriminating messages, saying he regretted them. “If you’re going to go on to build a service that is influential and that a lot of people rely on, then you need to be mature, right?” he said in an interview with The New Yorker. “I think I’ve grown and learned a lot.”
Although an initial settlement of $65 million was reached between the two parties, the legal dispute over the matter continued well into 2011, after Narendra and the Winklevosses claimed they were misled in regards to the value of their stock.
Zuckerberg faced yet another personal challenge when the 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires, by writer Ben Mezrich, hit stores. Mezrich was heavily criticized for his re-telling of Zuckerberg’s story, which used invented scenes, re-imagined dialogue and fictional characters. Regardless of how true-to-life the story was, Mezrich managed to sell the rights of the tale to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and the critically acclaimed film The Social Network received eight Academy Award nominations.
Zuckerberg objected strongly to the film’s narrative, and later told a reporter at The New Yorker that many of the details in the film were inaccurate. For example, Zuckerberg had been dating longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan, a Chinese-American medical student he met at Harvard, since 2003. He also said he never had interest in joining any of the final clubs. “It’s interesting what stuff they focused on getting right; like, every single shirt and fleece that I had in that movie is actually a shirt or fleece that I own,” Zuckerberg told a reporter at a start-up conference in 2010. “So there’s all this stuff that they got wrong and a bunch of random details that they got right.”
Yet Zuckerberg and Facebook continued to succeed, in spite of the criticism. Time magazine named him Person of the Year in 2010, and Vanity Fair placed him at the top of their New Establishment list. Forbes also ranked Zuckerberg at No. 35—beating out Apple CEO Steve Jobs—on its “400” list, estimating his net worth to be $6.9 billion.
Since amassing his sizeable fortune, Zuckerberg has used his millions to fund a variety of philanthropic causes. The most notable examples came in 2010. In September of that year, he donated $100 million to save the failing Newark Public Schools system in New Jersey. Then, in December 2010, Zuckerberg signed the “Giving Pledge”, promising to donate at least 50 percent of his wealth to charity over the course of his lifetime. Other Giving Pledge members include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and George Lucas. After his donation, Zuckerberg called on other young, wealthy entrepreneurs to follow suit. “With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts,” he said.
Zuckerberg made two major life changes in May 2012. Facebook had its initial public offering, which raised $16 billion, making it the biggest internet IPO in history. How Zuckerberg’s company will handle this influx of cash remains to be seen. But Zuckerberg may be looking at more acquisitions. He personally negotiated the company deal to buy Instragram the previous month.
After the initial success of the IPO, the Facebook stock price dropped somewhat in the early days of trading, though Zuckerberg is expected to weather any ups and downs in his company’s market performance.
Family Life and Personal
On May 19, 2012—a day after the IPO—Zuckerberg wed his longtime girlfriend, Priscilla Chan. About 100 people gathered at the couple’s Palo Alto, California home. The guests thought they were there to celebrate Chan’s graduation from medical school, but instead they witnessed Zuckerberg and Chan exchange vows. In May 2013, Facebook made the Fortune 500 list for the first time—making Zuckerberg, at the age of 28, the youngest CEO on the list.
In November 2015, Zuckerberg and Chan welcomed a daughter, Max, and Zuckerberg announced he would be taking two months of paternity leave to spend with his family. He and his wife also pledged in an open letter to their daughter that they would give 99 percent of their Facebook shares to charity. “We are committed to doing our small part to help create this world for all children,” the couple wrote in the open letter that was posted on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. “We will give 99% of our Facebook shares — currently about $45 billion — during our lives to join many others in improving this world for the next generation.”
In September 2016, Zuckerberg and Chan announced that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the company into which they put their Facebook shares, would invest at least $3 billion into scientific research over the next decade to help “cure, prevent and manage all diseases in our children’s lifetime.” Renowned neuroscientist Cori Bargmann of The Rockefeller University, was named the president of science at CZI.
They also announced the founding of Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a San Francisco-based independent research center that will bring together engineers, computer scientists, biologists, chemists and others in the scientific community. A partnership between Stanford University, University of California, San Francisco, and University of California, Berkeley, Biohub will receive initial funding of $600 million over 10 years.
In March 2017, Zuckerberg and Chan announced on Facebook that they were expecting their second child. Daughter August was born on August 28.
The CEO has undertaken a personal challenge at the start of every year since 2009, with previous efforts including learning to speak Mandarin and only eating meat he had killed himself.
Fake News and Cambridge Analytica Scandal
After enduring criticism for the proliferation of fake news posts on his site leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Zuckerberg in early 2018 announced his personal challenge to develop improved methods for defending Facebook users from abuse and interference by nation-states.
“We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.”
However, Zuckerberg came under fire again a few months later when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, had used private information from approximately 87 million Facebook profiles without the social network alerting its owners. The resulting outcry seemed to shake investors’ confidence in Facebook, its shares dropping by 15 percent after the news became public.
Following a few days’ silence, Zuckerberg surfaced on various outlets to explain how the company was taking steps to limit third-party developers’ access to user information, and said he would be happy to testify before Congress. On Sunday, March 25, Facebook took out full-page ads in seven British and three American newpapers, penned in the form of a personal apology from Zuckerberg. He promised the company would investigate all of its apps, and remind users which ones they can shut off. “I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time,” he wrote. “I promise to do better for you.”
Amid increasing calls for his resignation from investor groups, Zuckerberg traveled to Capitol Hill and met with lawmakers ahead of his two-day testimony, scheduled for April 10 and 11. The first day of hearings, with the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees, was considered a tame affair, with some senators seemingly grasping to understand the business model that powered the social media giant.
The follow-up hearing before House Energy and Commerce Committee proved far testier, as its members grilled the Facebook CEO over privacy concerns. During the day’s testimony, Zuckerberg revealed that his personal information was among the data harvested by Cambridge Analytica, and suggested that legal regulation of Facebook and other social media companies was “inevitable.”
The negative PR seemingly did little to slow the company’s progress, as Facebook rebounded to see its stock close at a record $203.23 on July 6. The surge bumped Zuckerberg past Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett to become the world’s third-richest person, behind fellow tech behemoths Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. However, the gains were wiped out when Facebook shares dropped a staggering 19 percent on July 26, following an earnings report that revealed a failure to meet revenue expectations and slowing user growth, erasing nearly $16 billion of Zuckerberg’s personal fortune in one day.