Today's Globe column: Why Facebook Went West
In April of 2004, two Harvard undergrads walked into the Charles Hotel for a meeting with a venture capitalist. What happened next either highlights Boston's deficiencies as a greenhouse for a new generation of Web start-ups, or illustrates the incredible magnetism of Silicon Valley - or a bit of both.
I didn't get to talk with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the piece, unfortunately, but pretty much everyone I spoke to said that he had his heart set on going to Silicon Valley for the summer after his sophomore year. (I do believe that for aspiring techies, Silicon Valley exerts a powerful pull the way Hollywood does for aspiring actors.) Scott Tobin of Battery Ventures, the one VC firm I could find that was aware of Facebook in early 2004, wrote in an e-mail:
Zuckerberg was into going out to Palo Alto for the summer if I remember correctly, however it’s impossible to tell if whether he had influential advisors in NY or Boston working with him & suggesting to him that Boston was his place – that he would have considered doing so.
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and the first investor in Facebook, said:
I think there was a sense that it made sense to start an Internet company from California. It was seen as a friendlier environment. It is really amazing that people in Boston missed out on it, even though it was a very risky deal, with lots of open questions.
David Sze, a partner at Greylock, said, "There is definitely an ecosystem advantage [in Silicon Valley]. There isn't a history for consumer Internet on the east coast, and I think Mark sensed that and wanted to have every advantage."
I mention the large number of local companies now building Facebook apps in the story....while I don't want to try to be comprehensive here, there are apps from Kayak.com (just launched today - a nifty one that lets you spin an animated Globe and then answer travel trivia), Tourfilter, Fafarazzi, TripAdvisor, StyleFeeder, OurStage, Finetune, GoLoco, Geezeo, and Plum.com.
The video that accompanies this week's column is an interview with Stephen Kaufer, co-founder and CEO of TripAdvisor, a Web 2.0 company founded here in Boston that stayed. In it, he talks about raising money, building a team, and staying flexible enough to find a business model that would work. (TripAdvisor was acquired a few years back by InterActiveCorp for $200 million.)