How I Lost 170 Million Dollars: My Time as #30 at Facebook by Noah Kagan
I ALWAYS wanted to start my own company and ran many little businesses in college , but I expected to get a real job. It’s what everyone was doing. Going against that, your peers, family, and expectations at that point seemed too daunting to me. Helps me appreciate people who do. So I figured I’d work at a big company to get experience, raise some capital, and then launch my own thing at night.
In retrospect, I would have focused on working at a company where I could have learned a lot from someone on the marketing team and really understood how to start a business.
How the hell did I end up playing with an Excel sheet as my full - time job ? You could say I wasn’t in heaven working at Intel.
The reality was that I spent most of my time looking at an Excel chart that was manually processed while talking with our supply partners in the Philippines and Costa Rica. The rest of the time, I was on conference calls where I’d throw on a headset , hit the mute button , and chime in “ Yes ” every few minutes.
Intel was the place where parents with two kids, a mini-van and a mortgage spent the rest of their lives — not the place for someone hoping to start their own business.
On many days, I would bring my sleeping bag, strategically position it under my cubicle, block my door with a second chair, and get a good 2–3 hour nap. The rest of the time, I would take a two-hour lunch, work on my own businesses (a student discount card, Ninja Card; coordinate events called Entrepreneur27, and attempt to create a college Craigslist, CollegeUp) or go make out with my girlfriend who worked on the second floor. Hey, some nice perks of having so many conference rooms!
The best part of my job was with this master Excel sheet that I worked with. Everyone did it manually, but with macros and the solver function, you could automate a lot of repetitive tasks or guessing and checking numbers. So, I set that up after a month on the job and basically limited my actual amount of work to maybe one hour a day.
One of the biggest advantages of having a cushy day job was that it gave me a lot of time to work on my own projects. My mind had the freedom at night to work on whatever I wanted, and I had no risk if one of my side projects failed. To this day, I encourage people to not quit their day jobs until they have their side business going.
First Day at Facebook
Taking the elevator up to the third floor, I had no idea what to expect besides this boy wonder from Harvard who created this site and maybe a few other people helping him work on it. It was, as expected, a mess. Upon entering, the office was a hybrid of fraternity house and office. Wooden Ikea desks were spread wherever they could fit in, cables were falling from the ceiling providing power outlets to all the computers, and everyone was on the latest MacBooks and huge monitors. This is at a time when Mac was still struggling and most people were on Windows laptops.
Facebook - The Interview
The first question I was asked was,“Why do people play on a console over a PC?”My answer :“Uh … I have no idea … ha ha ha”
I preferred this kind of interview to the Google - style questions : “How many toilets are there in the United States? ”How many are there??? What does that have to do with anything I’d do at the job?
Core people at Facebook
Dustin, who was then the CTO of the company, had never programmed before. He wanted to be a part of Facebook so he taught himself to code to work at the company. Lastly, there were four founders after Mark who were the core of the company: Eduardo Saverin who we’ve all read about as he got pushed out of the company and recently got tons of Facebook shares for it; Chris Hughes who’s now the editor of The Atlantic; Dustin Moskovitz, who now runs Asana, a to - do list company; and Andrew McCollum who is now an entrepreneur in residence (EIR). The last person who was critical to the company was Adam DeAngelo, Mark’s childhood friend. This guy is pure genius and very socially awkward, similar to Mark. They are shy, introverted and spend a lot of time thinking by themselves. That was the core group of people who really put the site together and got it to the million - user level. And subsequently have each amassed huge amounts of wealth.
I took up that same elevator with a ton of jitters and excitement about what I’d get to work on and my future. On arriving, Dana, the other recruiter, handed me a laptop, welcomed me to Facebook and said to sit wherever I felt liked. Ha, what a drastic difference this was than the welcome package, online sexual harassment training, and meetings that welcomed me to my first day at Intel. Stumbling over the cables and pizza boxes, I found the first person I recognized from my interviews, Ezra Callahan (now an hotelier in Palm Springs), and sat down at the Stanford graduate’s desk. As I set up my new Apple PowerBook G4 laptop, my new boss, Doug Hirsch, hurried by and reminded me that we had a meeting at 1 pm.
Then he appeared. Mark walked in and everybody went silent. He looked flustered — a surprise, given that all I had seen by this point was his awkward, happy grin on TV and all over the Internet. But here he was, boy genius, wunderkind, in the flesh.
It reminded me of when I was around Bill Gates. Awkward, very methodical in his speaking (he didn’t talk right away), and spoke with a precision and brilliance that I hardly experience to this day.
Compared to the office, his nearby Palo Alto apartment at the time seemed like poverty to me . It had a small bed, some clothes (mostly his signature Patagonia jacket, jeans, Adidas sandals, an assortment of Facebook t - shirts ), and a teapot. That’s it! No TV, barely any dishes or utensils, hardly any food, and I don’t even think there was Internet.
The minimalism reflected his personal preference and why Facebook, the website, is as minimal as possible.
Excel is everywhere.
And projects got more complex than I could handle or was interested in. I was starting to have to deal with massive Excel spreadsheets, just like at Intel.
To commemorate his passing, I was expecting a day off work where we’d go for a bike ride together, add a bike rack outside our office, something, anything. Instead, there was a ceremony from one of his friends for just 15 minutes. Immediately afterwards, everyone went back to work like a normal workday. It was almost as if he never existed or contributed at the company. That bothered me, and I thought we could have spent a little more time commemorating Dan’s life.
This is something I’ve learned for myself, and is valuable advice for all other burgeoning entrepreneurs. Don’t quit your day job. If you hate your job, that should motivate you to stay up later or get up earlier. Work weekends if you are really serious. There’s no point jeopardizing your livelihood until you are nearly certain that what you are working on is, indeed, working. So, once this app worked, I made it for all the other sports teams and then made it for the top 10 TV shows at the time. This started generating around $ 3,000 / month for me.
Learn what truly motivates me, learn what I really want to be doing each day, explore why I wrote this book, and understand what the real root problem was that I felt post - Facebook . For me, it’s living in Austin, Texas, working on AppSumo, writing about marketing on Okdork.com, and doing my Friday bike rides to eat Tacos with my good buddy, Anton .