Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Facebook at 5: Remembering the Early Years, and Measuring Up Against Google

Happy Birthday, Facebook! You’re 5 years old today, and that’s pretty cool. But the party you’re throwing yourself? Not much fun.

How about this instead: Some brief reminiscing, via this June 2004 Harvard Crimson article, written “nearly a semester after” 20-year-old Mark Zuckerberg had launched At the time, it had 160,000 users.

It’s a great story (thanks to the excellent Nieman Journalism Lab for pointing this out via its Twitter feed), but let’s just zoom right ahead to the end:

Zuckerberg participated in a live television interview for CNBC, and says he has been wined and dined in Harvard Square by representatives from major software companies.

Still, he is maintaining the same approach: don’t sell.

“That’s just like not something we’re really interested in,” he says, referring to selling out “I mean, yeah, we can make a bunch of money—that’s not the goal…I mean, like, anyone from Harvard can get a job and make a bunch of money. Not everyone at Harvard can have a social network. I value that more as a resource more than like any money.”…

“My goal is to not have a job,” he says matter-of-factly. “Making cool things is just something I love doing, and not having someone tell me what to do or a timeframe in which to do it is the luxury I am looking for in my life.”…”I assume eventually I’ll make something that is profitable,” he allows.

The site is currently running some advertisements, but Zuckerberg says they are only being used to offset server costs. Nonetheless, the facebook’s business manager has posted notices soliciting ads on multiple websites, and a rate card shows that the site is interested in attracting national advertisers….

“There are a couple ads on the facebook because [the site] costs money and servers don’t grow on trees,” Zuckerberg says.

But will the facebook ever be auctioned off to the highest bidder?

“Maybe when I’m bored with it, then we’ll work something out,” he says. “But I don’t see that happening anytime in the near future.”

Cool foreshadowing, huh? (Harvard kids! So smart!) But let’s put Facebook’s success in context–by comparing it to Silicon Valley’s most successful start-up of the last couple of decades. Here’s how Facebook today stacks up against the Google of 2003, when that company was 5 years old.

I’ve pulled the Facebook stats from various sources, so please consider them estimates. The Google (GOOG) stats are much more solid: I’ve pulled most of them from the company’s 2004 IPO prospectus.

Workforce: 700+
Revenue: $260 – $300 million
Net income: None (EBITDA of perhaps $50 million)
Valuation: Something in the $4 billion range, based on reports of share sales
Motto: “Facebook is about helping people to share information and share themselves.”

Workforce: 1,907 (as of March 2004)
Revenue: $962 million
Net income: $106 million
Valuation: Something in the $20 billion range, based on press reports
Motto: “Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served–as shareholders and in all other ways–by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.”

So take a bow, Mark Zuckerberg. You’ve built something really cool. But if you want to keep up with Larry and Sergey, you’d better get back to work.

[Image Credit: deneyterrio]

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