A Facebook Tale: Founder Unfriends Pals On Way Up Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook in his Harvard University dorm room. Within months, he became the youngest self-made billionaire in history. Ben Mezrich's new book The Accidental Billionaires charts his meteoric rise.
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A Facebook Tale: Founder Unfriends Pals On Way Up

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A Facebook Tale: Founder Unfriends Pals On Way Up

A Facebook Tale: Founder Unfriends Pals On Way Up

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Facebook reached another milestone this past week: the social networking site said it signed up its 250 millionth user on Tuesday.

Just five and a half years ago, Mark Zuckerberg invented the program in his Harvard University dorm room. Within months, he became the youngest self-made billionaire in history.

Zuckerberg's rise to Internet royalty is dramatized in a new book, "The Accidental Billionaires." In that book, Mark Zuckerberg goes from Harvard miscreant to Silicon Valley playboy, all the while callously shedding himself of the little people who helped him on his way up.

Ben Mezrich wrote that book, something he calls a dramatic narrative account. Mezrich is best known for chronicling an MIT blackjack ring in the book "Bringing Down the House."

He describes how Facebook was started as a prank in the fall of 2003 - actually a malicious prank, called facemash.

Mr. BEN MEZRICH (Author, "The Accidental Billionaires"): Mark Zuckerberg, after a particularly bad date, was home in his dorm room. He was a sophomore, and he was drinking some beers, and he hacked into all of the computer systems at Harvard, and he pulled pictures of all the girls on campus up, and he created a hot-or-not Web site where you could vote on who the hottest girl at Harvard was.

And this ended up crashing all the servers at Harvard as everyone tried to log on at the same time, and Mark almost got kicked out of school. So he decided to launch Facebook, originally called The Facebook. Instead of voting on who the hottest girl was, everyone put their own pictures up, and you could all meet each other, and it would be like your own, actual social network put onto the Web.

RAZ: And this originally was designed just for Harvard students. It was exclusively for Harvard students.

Mr. MEZRICH: I believe part of that was that Mark and Eduardo, who was his good friend at the time, were both trying to get into one of the finals clubs at Harvard, which are the semisecret societies. They're kind of like fraternities. But the idea was if you get into one of these clubs, they're very exclusive, you get to be one of the cool people on campus. And I think Mark started Facebook as an exclusive site to be his own finals club.

RAZ: You mention Eduardo - Eduardo Saverin. He was also very much tied to the founding of Facebook.

Mr. MEZRICH: Right. Well, he was the really the one in there - he was there in the beginning. I mean, he was Mark's best friend, and when Mark came up with the idea of Facebook, he came to Eduardo and said, I want to do this site. I need some money.

Eduardo had money. So he offered to put up $1,000, and Mark said, you get 30 percent of the company, and I get 70 percent.

RAZ: How did Mark Zuckerberg end up in California in the summer of 2004?

Mr. MEZRICH: He met this kid, Sean Parker, the bad boy of Silicon Valley. Sean Parker was the kid who co-founded Napster with Shawn Fanning. He saw Facebook on someone's computer and then met with Mark.

RAZ: So Mark goes to California. Eduardo doesn't. He stays behind on the East Coast, and that's really where their falling out begins, right?

Mr. MEZRICH: Right. These are two best friends, but when Mark starts building this company, Eduardo goes to New York. He's trying to sell advertising for their Web site but really, he goes and finishes school, and that's the beginning of the separation.

RAZ: So what eventually happened between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin?

Mr. MEZRICH: Well, what's interesting is, you know, you have a bunch of points of view what really happened. Eduardo was, you know, finishing school and realized that Mark was moving on without him, and he got very upset, and one of the things that he did is he froze the bank accounts, and this was a signal to Mark that something had to be done about Eduardo.

Mark and Sean Parker then went and found their first angel investor, Peter Thiel, who put $500,000 into the company.

RAZ: And eventually, they freeze Eduardo out, and then Sean Parker, who helps introduce Mark Zuckerberg around Silicon Valley, is also sort of shut out.

Do you believe that Mark Zuckerberg betrayed these friends? I mean, even in your account in the book, it's clear that this is Mark Zuckerberg's brainchild. I mean, he essentially comes up with everything.

Mr. MEZRICH: Right. I think it's more than Mark doesn't think like other people do. He's socially different, and it seems that he sheds a lot of friends along the way because he's so focused on building this company.

I completely understand his point of view. From his point of view, he built Facebook. From Eduardo's point of view, we were two best friends in a dorm room who built Facebook.

I do think that Mark has a way of sort of losing the people that he's been with all along, but it may just be his focus is so intense that everything else kind of just turns gray.

RAZ: Now, much of your book is based on interviews with Eduardo Saverin and others who are unnamed. You didn't interview Mark Zuckerberg for this book. Why not?

Mr. MEZRICH: No, Mark opted out of talking to me. I spent a year attempting to talk to him. It was kind of like waiting for Godot. It was a continuous process of almost, almost, almost getting to talk to him. And in the end, he and Facebook are somewhat terrified of what I was going to write. They didn't want me writing the story of their sophomore year, you know?

RAZ: He has agreed to cooperate with another writer.

Mr. MEZRICH: Right. He's - yes, he's cooperating with, I think, one or two writers, I'm not sure, and they'll write a very different book than what I wrote. My feeling is that what I'm doing is very true, and in truth, any of the characters in the book who are sitting in their room reading my book, they won't hate it because I'm the biggest proponent of Facebook. But, you know, there's some salacious stuff in there, and Mark didn't want to talk to me, and it's understandable.

RAZ: Salacious, you say, Mr. Mezrich. As you know, a lot of people have criticized your book - reviewers, and people who know the story of Facebook's founding. BusinessWeek actually calls this a fictionalized account.

Mr. MEZRICH: Right.

RAZ: You argue that it's not.

Mr. MEZRICH: Well, listen. There are a lot of journalists out there who don't quite get what I do or are frustrated by the way that I write. I write these narrative nonfiction stories. They're true stories but written in an exciting, entertaining way. They're written almost like a movie.

Everything in that book is based on sources - and numerous ones, not just Eduardo - many, many thousands of pages of court documents and lots of different articles. And then I take that information and I turn it into scenes that are active and visual, and I'm extremely clear about what I'm doing.

There are certain scenes in the book where I say, this is what probably happened, because I have a lot of information about what happened there, but I can't say for sure. So I say this scene is how I believe it took place.

RAZ: I mean, some scenes, as you've admitted, are actually invented.

Mr. MEZRICH: Well, I mean, you know, I'm very open about my process, much as anybody who's trying to speculate, based on facts, what happened in a place. There are certain chapters where I can only speculate based on the facts. I don't have Mark Zuckerberg telling me. And even if I did, whether he was telling me the truth or not is something I wouldn't know.

RAZ: And do you know whether Eduardo or Mark Zuckerberg have read this book?

Mr. MEZRICH: I don't know. I think that Mark really, if he sat down and read the book, he would actually like it because I feel like he and I have a lot of things in common, this sort of geek bond and this view of the world. But, you know, I don't know what Mark will really think of it.

RAZ: Ben Mezrich is the author of "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook." It's published by Doubleday.

Mr. Mezrich, thanks so much.

Mr. MEZRICH: Thank you very much.

RAZ: We contacted Facebook for its take on the book. No one would talk to us but Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of global communications, sent this email reply. Quote: Ben Mezrich clearly aspires to be the Jackie Collins or the Danielle Steel of Silicon Valley. In fact, his own publisher put it best: The book isn't reportage, it's big, juicy fun. We particularly agree with the first part of that, and think any readers will concur.

You can read an excerpt from "The Accidental Billionaires" on our Web site, npr.org.

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