The Facebook mafia is a social network. The band of early Facebook employees who built the online world of friending, liking and poking are starting their own companies, and relying on their real-world connections with each other for advice, investment and collaboration.
Their new ventures vary from a workplace tool to a prescription-drug comparison site, but they all have several things in common, predominantly their appeal to investors, who have so far put tens of millions of dollars into these companies.
“The early team at Facebook, the first 60 to 100 employees, are wicked smart and very entrepreneurial,” says one “angel” investor who has backed two Facebook mafia companies.
They also think big. In their early 20s they built technology that affected hundreds of millions of people. Now, these entrepreneurs have identified new problems to solve.
Taking on challenging data problems when young, and having such immediate impact on people, becomes addictive, according to Doug Hirsch, who worked at both Yahoo and Facebook in their early days. And while success on the scale of Facebook is not guaranteed, they bring from it the confidence to try.
“You know there’s a chance you’ll fail,” says Scott Marlette, who left Facebook in 2010 to start GoodRx, a price comparison site for prescription drugs, with Mr. Hirsch. “What are the chances we’re going to make another product that 850 million people will see? But it also gives you some notion that there is scale out there, and there is a way to build great products that impact many people’s lives.”
The mafia is marked by key partnerships that were born at the social network. Working relationships became friendships and vice versa. These bonds echo those formed at companies such as PayPal, whose former employees still launch and fund start-ups. But few companies began with such unsuspecting engineers, then grew to such game-changing proportions as Facebook, and that sets these young engineers apart, say investors.
Investors are betting on the fact that these programmers defined the social Web and understand it. But many other companies have employed Facebook formulas, such as requiring users to sign up with their real names. And there has been an explosion of social network games or software startups that some early Facebookers warn is creating “a social bubble.”
But investors hope Facebookers have particular advantages which set them apart. “Most social sites are psychological experiments,” says the angel investor. “The Facebook crowd understands the core psychology of what motivates social; the dimensions of that are subtle.”
Technology venture capital funds including Accel, Benchmark, Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins are eager to embrace those early members, hoping to achieve even a fraction of Facebook’s success.
“[Social]impacts everything in our society from business to government to education to politics,” says Matt Cohler, a partner at Benchmark Capital, who joined after working at Facebook.
Though money is flowing easily from investors to these entrepreneurs, the bonds that they formed working through the night at Facebook, staving off server crashes and battling user uprisings border on unconditional.
“If somebody from Facebook came to me and asked me for money, I’d give it them in a heartbeat,” GoodRx’s Mr. Marlette says. “I trust the people I worked with.”
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Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever are quiet men. One of the key strengths to their working relationship is how little they need to say to understand each other.
Mr. Cheever recalls a meeting with Mr. D’Angelo when they worked at Facebook. Mr. D’Angelo said three words, and he responded: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you mean.” The third colleague present reeled in confusion.
The partnership began in 2005 when Mr. D’Angelo hired Mr. Cheever from Amazon to join Facebook and now extends to their joint venture as co-founders of Quora, a question and answer website.
“It’s the next step in the evolution of what a library used to be,” Mr. D’Angelo said. “To share knowledge and get knowledge.”