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“Facebook turned me down” (2009) (twitter.com)
388 points by zachlatta 1459 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 191 comments

Turned me down in 07' after a handful of phone interviews, flying me across the country, and 8 hours of in person interviews with 3 separate departments... but not before I got their CTO so shitfaced drunk he botched a 2AM code push to production and helped convince Zuckerbergs little sister into riding a mechanical bull.

I regret nothing.

edit: Worth noting I was a 22 year old self taught programmer that hadn't experienced addressing O(log n) in a CS course, working with massive amounts of data, or large scale Linux sysadmin stuff. I wasn't fit for the ranks when compared against ex Yahoo! and Google people running for the same positions. So at least I made the most of it.

edit2: I got the interview after finding a bug in their authentication system that would allow a password hash collision to spit out the e-mail of the user that the collision occurred with. Meaning I type in a bogus email, and a password, after the post the login form would come back with the email pre-populated of the user that the hash collision had happened on, I type in the password again, and I was logged in as said user. It was a small bug I found by accident and then afterwards asked if they were hiring...

edit3: http://i.imgur.com/sePVdgI.png

> Turned me down in 07

Telling the story now is an interesting historical anecdote, but you probably didn't blog or tweet about it in 2007, right?

I can't quite understand why Brian Acton was so public about the companies that turned him down. Isn't this bad for him if he's in a job search? Doesn't this send out a negative message (assuming any employer bothered to look)?

You could see it as a badge of honor that Google or another large company, which purportedly hires only the best of the best, deemed you worthy of an interview. The mere fact that you have been considered for a position might raise your standing with potential employers [citation needed].

I see that in academia occasionally. People will semi-publicly mention that they didn't get the job at MIT, which is a kind of roundabout way of advertising that MIT was considering them for a job.

In academia interviews are how you get a raise. In a lot of places, the only way to get more money is to say you got the offer elsewhere.

Honestly, Google calls me regularly wanting to set up an interview and I'm no one special. I just view it as the market really is getting tight for talent.

I got one of those calls and went in for a day of interviews. Half of the interviewers were incapable of making eye contact and the others half were only interested in Fermie problems. I suggested that Glass was a terrible product and they should have started with a beachhead market like skiing goggles before building a mass consumer product. Needless to say, they didn't like my ideas and didn't make an offer.

Then, a few months later I got another recruiting call from them. Then another. It didn't stop until I suggested they create some sort of engine for searching potential candidates to make sure they weren't wasting anyone's time tba the calls stopped. Once again, they didn't seem to like my idea ;p

After spending a day at LinkedIn and being declined, when they did their resume churn a year later and pinged me I asked if there was a specific job they had in mind and they said they'd find out and get back to me. Crickets.

I think this persistent inquiry from the large companies is an attempt to gauge the market and basically waste peoples' time. They interview in the hopes that the person will fit enough to slot into an available headcount, but it's pretty generic and highly unspecific. It's something like, hey, if you're looking to change jobs, come spend a day and take a chance that we'll be able to find something for you. I think it biases toward cookie-cutter employees and is by no means an indication of real interest.

I got an email from them last week about a job. I realise it's almost certainly a mass form email, but I was surprised, as I'm not someone people will have heard of; I work for a small software company and my name is on zero well known projects. I'm good at what I do, but not magical or anything.

It was in Switzerland though, and I'm not, my ethical qualms about working for Google aside (and I know I wouldn't be hired as I could never bring myself to lie about their privacy invasion, Google Glass being a stupid idea, Google+ being hideously invasive and useless, etc.).

I'm nothing special and I just got approached for a "principal" position with one of the largest tech companies in the world. The market is tight!

The attitudes about FB & Google were very different in 2007 compared to what they are now.

Google and/or Facebook were my dream jobs at the time, if not for the work and peers, the bragging rights and resume fodder alone had an appeal. In 07' they were the cream of the crop hotbeds, you had Facebook poaching talent from Goog and both of them poaching talent from Paypal, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. Even the early backers that had left FB had gone on to found things like LinkedIn.

It was a case of "if you work here, you're certified as knowing your shit" and "it's not what you know, it's who you know."

As said, I was self taught programmer, so for me this was a type of validation which meant the job had more significance for me at the time. If I could make it onto the Facebook staff, I was legit. It took me a lot of hard work and dedication to overcome that mental set back. I think all of us self taught devs have a lingering suspicion we're not good enough, not vetted enough, not seasoned enough, etc. Having a major life goal (@ 22yo) sitting at your doorstep and missing it due to your own shortcomings pretty much brought those back of mind doubts to the forefront and crushed my self worth, for me.

Luckily I'm not a "ah well, guess I'll go cry" kind of guy and adhere more to the "oh yeah?! well fuck you too!" attitude and having this happen to mean early in my career did nothing short of light a fire under my ass to be better than I was and better than I think I need to be. The salary offered for the position was about $28k more than I was making at the time and through a lot of self teaching, negotiations, and job jockeying I was making more than that position offered by about $5k within 1 year.

Despite all of this, that FB denial still has a tinge of "you suck, give up, go home, raise rabbits or something... you'd be a good ditch digger..." that still sits in the back of my mind reminding me constantly that some goals just aren't achievable... even if I don't want them at this point in my life anyways.


>"The mere fact that you have been considered for a position might raise your standing with potential employers [citation needed]."

Personally, the weeks following my interviews with one of those big players saw me approached by a couple of established start-ups and a major financial company - far more attention than I'd ever received previously.

How did the other companies learn about your interview with the big players?

> established start-up

The word you're looking for is "company".

Nah, Google interviews anyone with a pulse.

For me the first contact by their recruiters actually resulted in a job. But the interviews weren't particularly challenging.

Doubt that was the reason for him. He was already very established engineering leader at yahoo.

Nah, I didn't announce it publicly, I was pretty ashamed of it at the time. Most people didn't even know I was up for it and I liked it that way. I'd rather surprise my friends with a "So I'm moving to Palo Alto!" message than a "Dang, apparently I'm not good enough." follow up/pity party.


I don't remember seeing this in the movie.

Get the extended edition on BluRay.

> he botched a 2AM code push to production

I have come to think that pushing code to production when your person is noticeably compromised in some way should be prevented thorough technical means. Perhaps a CAPTCHA is an acceptable solution (which probably should also get more difficult the later the hour).

Tailing syslog while under the influence and patching an error should be a senior developer right of passage.



edit: As an aside, it was entertaining watching a drunk man use Emacs under the gun.

I thought you had to be drunk to even consider Emacs.

If you're so drunk you can't solve a CAPTCHA then you also probably can't sit at a chair and type on a keyboard.

Exactly this. I've done/said inadvisable things while drunk enough to do so, and not even made typos. I guess the function of using a computer is just natural due to practice.

USB breathalyser?

They won't hire you but are begging to get more H1b workers...

Yeah, how awful it would be for America if the world's brightest become citizens.

I'm all for the best and brightest becoming citizens, but we should offer visas for the most in-demand, high salary professions first. We can tell from salaries that the shortage of CEOs, lawyers and hedge fund managers is much more acute than the shortage of programmers and engineers.

Since when do CEOs, lawyers, and hedge fund managers ever have visa problems?

Certain categories of US visas can basically be bought, but it is not cheap.

I think michaelt was being ironic.

I would think you are responding to a sarcastic comment.

I don't know about lawyers and hedge fund managers but CEOs are able to manipulate their own pay and avoid accountability due to their position of power within a company. The labour market has no bearing on someone who effectively writes their own paycheck.

That isn't at all what the H-1B Visas are being used for in practice. They are being used for cost cutting and facilitating outsourcing.



Indentured Servantry sounds like a plan B.

NBD is H1-B fails.

Along with 10 million physical laborers, just to kick in the teeth of the middle class a bit more.

The middle-class doesn't benefit Silicon Valley. Cheap nannies on the other hand...

You're aware Jan, the CEO and other founder, is a Ukrainian immigrant, right?

My point was more that he was here, is good enough to get past all of the phone screens, probably did pretty well in person, but was passed over. My thinking is more that large companies with many open positions might want to consider the person for another position at least.

In 2007 Facebook was not in the club of "large companies with many open positions", just another startup on University Avenue with some series B in the bag.

...and therefore would have even more of an incentive to hire local.

He didn't fit their needs. If he doesn't and H-1B workers do, they should get the job.

Yeah because with the engineer crunch and all, there clearly just aren't quality folks out there. :-\

Let's drive down wages first with lots of visas and companies colluding to not recruit amongst themselves.

Unfortunately, there aren't. Or, rather, there are, but not easy to find and not so many. Not enough for the amount of work that is out there.

Bullshit. If you are turning down people for "culture fit" or perceived ramp-up time, there is no shortage.

You are assuming "culture fit" is just an excuse to interview somebody, waste all that valuable time on evaluating them and then reject them under a transparent ruse. Why would a company do that, where's a upside in that? Culture fit is a real thing and if the person does not fit the team, it would be an expensive mistake to hire that person. Shortage of talent does not mean the company would hire anybody. It just means it is hard to find people that they want to hire. There could be plenty of people that they don't want to hire, still.

I'll second this. I recently interviewed at a bunch of companies and couldn't get any offers. The interviews are getting ridiculous - we all know how pointless the coding questions are getting by now. Companies are too picky, in part because there's so much labor supply. I know there are loads of H1Bs around here, SV is like a third-world country.

if your comment is intented to mean 'foreigners are coming over stealing our jobs', feel free to leave it as it is. Otherwise, you might wanna rephrase what you wrote..

I'm in SV with an H1B. I'm not from a third world country though, I'm from Canada. Even if I was from Africa or Asia, so what? If goods can easily cross borders these days, why not people?

If the government doesn't want to protect my interests, fine. Don't take my taxes either.

But it is in your interest to allow people to cross borders. In many ways.

Here's one: What if you wanted to move to another country? Don't assume that everything will always be going super great in your current country. Other countries will be more likely to accept you if your current country accepts citizen of the other country. Free trade!

>SV is like a third-world country


Lol looks suspiciously like racism.

Startups are picky, large employers are less so. Try Cisco or Intel.

> Startups are picky, large employers are less so. Try Cisco or Intel.

I hope this is sarcasm.

Where did you end up?

Jumped around a bit, handful of companies you've probably never heard of but paid better than FB due to geography and talent shortage. Worked on a lot of fun projects for smaller and more adventurous groups that I wouldn't have ever gotten a chance to touch at a big corp like FB.

Everything from sneaking around pop-up blockers (sorry everyone) to video chat applications to real time messaging platforms to media conversion clusters to penetration testing (I use that term very lightly, but correctly... I wasn't cracking WPA or trashing stacks to pop boxes, just abusing poorly designed systems with permission and stuff with a touch of forensics and systems hardening).

I think back at the opportunity and I was devastated that I didn't make the cut, but honestly, I'm pretty happy I was left to find my own way... it's lead to a lot of great experiences over the past 7 years and I wasn't able to just slide by on resume fodder and has left me the freedom to live in MIA, NYC, and LA... cross the country via road trip multiple times (once on motorcycle!), and met a lot of very talented peers along the way. Not all of the best and brightest are in the Valley... just the chest thumpingist.

Cannot see any picture there

This is pretty hilarious. It's as if he knew what would happen.

It's interesting how neither of the founders fit any of the stereotypical valley founder profiles. They don't look like Mark Zuckerberg, they are older, Brian Acton barely used twitter, and his tech background is more traditional (C, C++, Perl, etc).

You may be getting your stereotypes from the wrong teen-beat outlets!

Koum: No-nonsense immigrant from group persecuted in home country, family emphasis on education, using computers since a teen, drops out of college when career responsibilities grow.

Acton: Early employee at one of the most-successful companies of an era, lots of deep systems experience, takes time to consider "next adventure", cofounds with prior coworker and leans on other colleagues for seed funding.

That's about as stereotypical as real Valley founders get.

"I want to stress the importance of being young and technical," Facebook's CEO (now 28) told a Y Combinator Startup event at Stanford University in 2007. "Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30? I don't know. Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what's important."


Over 30's programmers raise our glasses to Acton and Koum.

Eh? What? Is that for real?

While it is true that GREAT developers can also be young, they are not magically getting dumber when they age. Also it may be easier to be disruptive if you're young (meaning you are naïve enough to think you can change stuff, most of the times you'll be wrong, though) but smarter? Really?

I find this a quite stupid statement, to be honest...

I was there. It's for real. He's wrong about chess masters, too, Magnus Carlsen notwithstanding. (Chess players typically peak in their mid-30s or early 40s.)

Sounds like pandering to the target crowd which is under 25 at the university and hoping some of them would come work for FB at that point of time.

Thats good.. because stereotypes for people are a stupid thing.. human beings will break all of them..

Someday it will be a elderly woman, a kid, etc.. The Ocidental culture has a severe problem dealing with the impermanence and the unpredictable.. we need to get over it.. more zen-budhism, please?! :)

Last I checked, Buddhism was a caste religion.

Since people addressed your inaccurate observation.. let me explain my comment better..

The Ocidental culture has a collective neurosis toward objectivism (eg. Kant, Descartes ...) and trying to measure and antecipate everything, and put everything under control, because of its constant fear in dealing with the uncertainty in life.. which is unavoidable..

I have cited buddhism, because its a great philosophical umbrella for subjectivism and uncertainty.. a medicine we need badly over here.. given(over-objectivism) its a common root for a lot of stupid reasoning.. so that was really what i was talking about

Note: I have a ocidental tradition

Note II: Objectivism can be great when used in the right way (lead invention of Calculus, Computers..) but can be a poison if used everywhere

Buddhism is not Hinduism. Other dharmic religions that disavow castes include Sikhism and Jainism.

"...various forms of the caste system are practised in several Buddhist countries, mainly in Sri Lanka, Tibet, and Japan where butchers, leather and metal workers and janitors are sometimes regarded as being impure. However, the system in these countries has never been either as severe or as rigid as the Hindu system and fortunately it is now beginning to fade away. The exception to this is Nepal where Tantric priests form a separate caste and will neither initiate into their priesthood or allow into their temples those of other castes."


Read what you linked to again. It says Brahmanism was a caste religion. It then goes on to say "The Buddha, himself born into the warrior caste, was a severe critic of the caste system." Then "Even during the time when Buddhism was decaying in India and Tantrayana had adopted many aspects of Hinduism, it continued to welcome all castes and some of the greatest Tantric adepts were low castes or outcastes."

It then states that "despite this, various forms of the caste system are practised in several Buddhist countries".

"Buddhist" countries having castes is not the same as Buddhism being a caste religion. Buddhism is not a caste religion.

>"Buddhist" countries having castes is not the same as Buddhism being a caste religion. Buddhism is not a caste religion. //

The practical effect is largely the same though surely. Like a majority Christian country having racism.

How does a caste system survive in a country where the majority of adults oppose it?

I suspect the answer is "it doesn't". People who label themselves proponents of a particular religion often don't follow it's precepts, traditions or philosophies.

Japan's feudal-era caste system was part Confucianism and part Shintoism. Buddhism had nothing to do with it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_society#Four_class_order https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kegare

> Other dharmic religions that disavow castes include Sikhism and Jainism.

...and don't forget Hinduism.

It's very frustrating when people try to portray Hinduism as a single, monolithic religion - it's like talking about Catholicism, Baptism, and Mormonism (in the US) as if they were the same entity.

Despite what /r/worldnews might have one believe, the caste system is by no means universally followed. It varies greatly by region and other demographic factors.

In some parts, the caste system is virtually nonexistant, or is (at most) a more formal codification of the same socioeconomic-racial social discrimination that exists everywhere.

Any word on if either were married?


"I’m 42, essentially married with a kid. I don’t give a shit about this. I’m not sexting with random strangers."

And if they were, I hope they were also smart enough to have prenups.

This brings up a question: Is it even possible to make a prenup that covers future windfills? E.g., a prenup that protects your wealth in a company that hasn't yet been founded.

By definition, a prenuptial agreement only covers entering into the marriage. Future assets, especially in community property states, usually have to be specifically disclaimed by the other party in the marriage before they can be considered separate property. For example: A prenup can't specify that a house bought after marriage is separate property, but the non-owning spouse can voluntarily sign away rights to that property as a recorded instrument. This is why some deeds say "John A. Doe, Grantee, a married man as his sole and separate property." (Some states allow for property purchased with separate assets to remain separate inside the marriage but the paper trail on this better be meticulous if a divorce ever happens.)

Editorializing: Why would a spouse be no less entitled to reap the rewards generated by the other spouse's start-up? A relationship, especially a marriage, is inherently two people acting as a unit, so just because one spouse didn't sling PHP and research lambdas all night doesn't mean that either spouse's contribution is more or less valuable. If my spouse accomplished something like this, I'd be thrilled at the success and genuinely looking forward to our life together with much less time and stress investment from both of us, since that means that I was also picking up a lot more of the "home life."

> Why would a spouse be no less entitled to reap the rewards

OK, I'll bite. What if one of these situations:

1) What if the spouse was dead set against the start-up, and did everything possible to dissuade you, but you succeeded anyway.

2) What if you used your own money and assets from before the marriage to finance it? And what if those monies and assets were covered by the prenup; the company financed by those investments would or wouldn't be covered?

3) What if you founded the company when the marriage was in obvious decline and you both knew you'd eventually get divorced? What if you founded it when you were already separated?

4) Many companies with 2 founders don't have a 50:50 split. Why does the split with the spouse need to be 50:50 in the case of a company? Why shouldn't it be 60:40 or 90:10 assuming we accept the notion that the spouse must have been contributing something and is entitled.

Then tear up the pre-nup and sign a new contract.

>Why would a spouse be no less entitled to reap the rewards generated by the other spouse's start-up?

Because just sitting around giving emotional support to someone doesn't entitle you to half of everything they get. It doesn't work that way with any other relationship (parent, friend, etc), so why should a marriage? This is especially true if both partners are working.

I think if you view marriage as "just sitting around," this is not the type of romantic relationship that describes what typical founders likely seek out.

To answer your point more directly, one difference is that a marriage tends to produce children in a way that platonic friendships tend not do. My sense is that equal division of significant income and equity post-marriage will help, not hurt, children.

To answer your point a different way, the default marital property settings tend to work well for most people. Of course you can change those defaults to some extent with prenups, postnups, trusts, and so on. If you're still dissatisfied with your ability to alter those defaults, well, nobody's forcing you at gunpoint to marry someone you like to live with, have sex with, and even raise kids with.

Because that's what marriage is. If you don't like it, there's an easy solution - don't marry. You can do practically everything - from sex to going to movies together to emotionally supporting - without being married. If the concept of sharing your life with another person sounds weird - just don't do it. It's not mandatory, you know.

No, there are different kinds of marriages. One can have an agreement that past and future assets are not divided. If you don't like it, don't get such an agreement.

>If the concept of sharing your life with another person sounds weird - just don't do it.

Sharing your life with another person doesn't imply sharing property.

Careful about community property/common law marriage, though. Most of the liabilities, few of the benefits.

"Prenuptial agreements" can cover 'future assets' in Finland, if agreed upon. Actually, there's a term called 'antenuptial agreement' which can cover future assets.

Of course you could just get married for life.

The tricky part of adhering to that doctrine is not the married part. It's the not getting married if it might not be for life part.

>Is it even possible to make a prenup that covers future windfills? E.g., a prenup that protects your wealth in a company that hasn't yet been founded.

Yes. It's a contract; you can do what you like within the normal legal boundaries (although certain provisions, e.g. child custody are likely to be thrown out if ever challenged).

Note that per Forbes [1], Brian Acton was Yahoo employee #44.

So it's not like Facebook (or Twitter) was overlooking a diamond-in-the-rough. More likely, it was some other key-role/compensation/fit mismatch.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2014/02/19/exclusive-...

Turns out false negatives can be pretty costly too, it seems.

If he was hired by Facebook, he wouldn't have (co)developed WhatsApp. If Facebook hired him, he would most likely be worth (to Facebook) as much as any other random Facebook programmer.

Unless he's the one who started WhatsApp, it would have been developed and successful anyway and Facebook would have to buy it for the same amount of money.

The reality is that product/market fit is much more powerful force than programming capabilities of any single engineer.

I think the real issue is that when Facebook didn't hire him, he went on to found a competing company which Facebook felt compelled to pay 16 billion for. That's a big cost.

If FB hired him, then one of the other N messaging apps would have become the biggest one, and Facebook would have bought that company.

That value may never have been created otherwise. If the acquisition turns out successful then not hiring him may absolutely have been the right thing to do, even in hindsight

Is it his programming capabilities that make him so valuable?

Or something else?

Can those traits be identified and valued in the hiring process?

I would say that the reason he struck gold (which is different from being valuable) is because he's a good programmer who happened to work on a break away product.

There are much more good programmers out there than break away products like WhatsApp.

You can't create successes like WhatsApp just by hiring good programmers. There are plenty of great teams that didn't achieve product/market fit and failed.

There are plenty of great programmers at Facebook or Google that do important but not wealth creating work (not on the scale of WhatsApp wealth).

In cases like this most likely the reason why WhatsApp is popular is that there was a person in charge who had the right vision for the app and came up with just the right set of features and a little bit of luck.

But even that person isn't valuable per-se in the sense that you should hire him for your company at all costs hoping that he will create similar wealth for your company.

I'm sure I'm butchering the analogy, but those are Schrödinger's successes: you can only tell they're successful at the time of the exit, but not at any time before that.

I'm not sure- great programming skills, algorithm knowledge et all still one thing.

The key here is 'gumption'. Raw enthusiasm, high spiritedness and child like courage in approaching ideas and implementing them. To work on projects that kill you. To take routine, crippling failure and weather and grow stronger every time that happens. Most companies have processes to avoid hiring these kind of cowboys. Companies have processes to exactly avoid hiring these kind of people.

You see bulk of these things have nothing to do with skills, or genius or talent. If fact these skills can build other skills.

The problem is most companies check problem solving skills. Do these companies test problem identification skills? Do they check how a person can take failure? Do they measure how hardworking a person is?

If you see it in a way, we don't seem to check the actual skills at all.

Most companies have processes to avoid hiring these kind of cowboys.


Do these companies test problem identification skills?

On the mark. Maybe it's because the problems prefer not to be identified.

> I would say that the reason he struck gold (which is different from being valuable) is because he's a good programmer who happened to work on a break away product.

'Happened to work on' makes it sound accidental. Maybe he's a good programmer and a good businessperson?

I'm curious what you mean by wealth creating work? I think you have thought about this deeply. So, if I code as an employee, that is not wealth creating (for me). Is working for yourself always wealth creating (or at least, an attempt at it)?

They're not working at the "minimum viable product" level on core features that either make billions or nothing (high upside, but also 95% of the time all downside)

They're working on "something worth $200 an hour always" extra bonus features and bug fixes and getting paid $100 an hour compensation for it.

"The reality is that product/market fit is much more powerful force than programming capabilities of any single engineer." - kkowalczyk

I'll start using this quote! May I know your full name for proper attribution? :)

Are you Kacper Kowalczyk of https://github.com/kkowalczyk ?

+1 for having the big picture

This makes a perfect HR case study.

Do you test a person's ability to mug up algorithm puzzles?


Do you test a person's ability to build a $16 billion company?

Sounds like the latter is a more result oriented goal.

> Do you test a person's ability to build a $16 billion company?

This is called "being a VC"

Add 1 to that list. Wow!

In this case, he was probably rejected more for fit/pay/cultural reasons but this should be a reminder for candidates to never be dejected when they're turned down by these companies. I have a friend who tried to kill himself because he failed the Google interview. Rejection by the "smartest" engineers at this companies is by no means an invalidation of your abilities. At the end of the day, none of them are solving the grand unified theory.

[ have a friend who tried to kill himself because he failed the Google interview.]

WHOA, talk about extremes

"Google turned me down" (2008)

(have been calling me back in since 2012. Haven't gone (yet). Currently laughing all the way to the bank NOT rendering ads in every place imaginable).

I should add that I would love to work there (but I'm sure I'd fail the interview (again)).

Just goes to show, on paper, founders aren't always the most appealing employees.

I think in many cases great founders would make terrible employees. Imagine trying to tell Steve Jobs what to do.

So if you're a giant company, hire them and don't tell them what to do. Let them run free on your dime. Own whatever they make.

(Not that Twitter was a giant company in 2009, and Facebook was just getting there)

Google tried to do this right up until Larry took over as CEO. It can sometimes succeed spectacularly, like with GMail and Chrome. It can also fail miserably, like with Wave, Google Video, and Buzz.

I think ultimately the problem is that you end up lacking a competitive advantage against startups, who are more highly incentivized to take risks and under fewer constraints (legal, PR, infrastructure, etc.) Most of the ideas that Google put out during that 2004-2011 period were really stuff that could've been done as startups and would've probably been even better products as such, but because Google was able to put them out for free they basically "strangled" the startup ecosystem. Witness how the much-decried Reader cancellation has opened the door for Feedly to really take off.

One of the biggest lessons for me, having worked at Google from 2009-present, is just how context-dependent strategy is. It's been really interesting to see Larry make (or try to make) certain changes in company culture, understand why they're being made and that Google and the world as a whole is probably better off for them, and yet also realize that they aren't very good for me as an entrepreneurially-minded Google employee.

Too high of a risk for companies.

Better to let the market sift out the successful founders than to payroll a hundred of them, hoping for a big win. Think of how many unsuccessful founder types that Facebook didn't hire too.

Also if this guy was working for Facebook, odds are he would have ended up on messenger, and someone else would have filled the SMS market need for Whatsapp in India. Then Facebook would be acquiring that company instead.

> Better to let the market sift out the successful founders than to payroll a hundred of them, hoping for a big win.

Sorry, I can't help myself, but at a salary of $160k a year, payrolling "a hundred of them" per year would only cost 1/10th of what FB just paid for whatsapp.

It's too bad companies like FB and Twitter would rather let the 'founder' types slip by than to take more chances. When Facebook last tried to recruit me, they described themselves as "a bunch of startups that just happen to work under the same company." Yeah, right.

I think you mean 1/1000th of what FB just paid... seems like it would be a good investment to me!

I meant to write 1/100th - still a mental math fail!

Stated in a different way - Facebook could have paid 1,000 teams of 10 (founders + engineers) at 160k/yr per person, for 10 years... for what they just paid for whatsapp. The collective diversity of products developed by said teams would probably be worth more than whatsapp.

Only out of context. It's assuming that he would have founded WhatsApp while working within facebook.

> Too high of a risk for companies.

The problem with PARC and AT&T labs wasn't that having a bunch of really smart people doing interesting stuff failed to produce brilliant, world changing ideas, it was that the companies in question weren't always good at capitalising on them (arguably for the better, in the case of Unix).

> it was that the companies in question weren't always good at capitalising on them

There's lots of fun evidence for this - AT&T had an answering machine 1934 but shelved it for 60 years.

>AT&T firmly believed that the answering machine, and its magnetic tapes, would lead the public to abandon the telephone.


AT&T Labs wasn't too bad at capitalizing on their inventions, though they didn't do equally well on all of them. For a pretty long time the lab was definitely in the black, though. Their most profitable invention, which came about halfway through the Labs' existence, was probably the transistor, which made AT&T a ton of money. I don't remember where I read it, but some old Bell Labs people calculated that it made AT&T so much money that that single invention paid for something like 40 years of the Labs' operating costs.

I've heard the same thing about early Xerox. I think that it requires both the idea AND the execution to make it work.

Did WhatsApp make a profit?

I also believe that a significant portion of the deal value is "So Google doesn't get this and buy inroads into 'our turf'".

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it supports the idea that not only do you let the market pick the winner, but that once the market HAS picked a winner, sometimes you have to buy that winner partly as a defensive strategy; it's not enough to find a cheaper way to "play offense".

>let the market sift out the successful founders

Sure, of course that's exactly what they're doing.

But just giving up on being able to identify these sorts of people when there's tens of billions of dollars at stake seems like an irresponsible business decision.

At these acquisition prices, it's worth putting a great deal of effort and money into alternative processes.

> Too high of a risk for companies.

Yeah and this is why Valve is a struggling company. Hiring really smart people and letting them make whatever products they want is doomed to failure.

Oh wait...

Actually, this is what acquihires are great at. An interesting article recently about eBay's turnaround and how CEO John Donahoe started acquiring startups to drive innovation with talent they can't simply hire or grow internally. http://www.businessinsider.com/explaining-ebays-turnaround-2...

> But beyond the tactics, Donahoe realized there was a deeper issue bedeviling eBay. It had stopped innovating. [...] eBay also had a problem attracting and retaining innovative, entrepreneurial people into its executive ranks ...

> Andreessen’s second theory of innovation is that the people who are the very best at it are the people who create successful technology companies — founders. They are the people who have a proven ability to develop a concept and bring it to fruition.

> For this reason, Andreessen believes that tech companies should be run by their founders.

> The problem for eBay is that its founder, Pierre Omidyar, had no interest in running it. And Donahoe, a talented manager, had the wisdom to know he was not the kind of visionary who could found an innovative tech company.

> So he decided he was going to have to go after the next best thing. He was going to have to build a team of founders, or founder-types, and give them the run of the place.

That goes against everything engrained in big org culture.

An entrepreneur with no resources will get you one exasperated entrepreneur.

Imagine trying to tell Steve Jobs what to do

Easy, do what you want.

I think this is the biggest thing. I'd love to do a data collection on founders and see what percentage of jobs they collectively got rejected for.

P.S. Care to hire me?

That's because successful founders are just lucky. That's it. Not qualitatively different from any of us. You'd have no better luck picking lottery winners by the looks of the guys entering the gas station.

You overplay your hand. There is a very large luck component to it, sure. But I mentor at entrepreneurship events, and there is a very wide distribution of people who want to start companies. Some of those people are obviously more suited to the work than others.

I think that's especially true for people who, like WhatsApp, do things that are different than the common wisdom [1]. I had dinner recently with a friend who worked for Jeff Bezos years ago. She remembered Bezos coming into a meeting in something like 1999 excited about eInk and how it was the future for electronic books. Everybody single person in the room thought he was crazy. They didn't get the Kindle out the door until 2007, and most people thought it was crazy then. But it worked.

You could call that pure luck, but I think that's only true in the most abstract sense, where everything we are is luck.

[1] http://sequoiacapital.tumblr.com/post/77211282835/four-numbe...

If Mark Zuckerberg was a freshman in college again in 2014, what chances do you give him of creating a $170B company in the next decade? How about in his lifetime? How about a $1B company in his lifetime?

I'd say on the order of 1. 1 in a billion 2. 1 in 100 million. 2. 1 in a million.

Sure he is smart and driven and has had every opportunity available to the one guy on planet earth who will achieve what he has. But that doesn't mean he's qualitatively different than the millions of others equally intelligent and talented who didn't buy the winning ticket.

Pretty slim because Facebook exists in 2014 buddy.

Your problem is that you're associating the biggest most overhyped entrepreneurs as being the typical entrepreneur. And they indeed do hit huge luck. So you're right there.

What the media doesn't talk about -- are the thousands of founders running profitable companies in the tens of millions or even low hundreds of millions.

If you do something of value to society, the world will make you rich with a smile on its face.

No I agree completely there. I think we all have reasonably good chances of creating successful small businesses and extracting our fair value out of society of a few million or even 10 million. But to start something that grows to billions or tens or hundreds of billions that quickly--that isn't skill, that's luck. It takes being the kind of guy who can make the 5 million dollar successful small business to have a chance to play the lottery, but I'm saying that most HN readers are of opportunity to play that lottery. Zuck is much, much different than the typical member of planet earth, but not MUCH (a little better, I'll give him that) than the average silicon valley engineer.

> If you do something of value to society, the world will make you rich with a smile on its face.

Said no teacher, cancer researcher, etc. ever

That's one way to look at it. But there are what, 2 million freshmen a year? If we start slotting random freshmen into Mark Zuckerberg's room at Harvard, how many of them would have made it to be a billionaire?

Yes, he got lucky. (Which I already acknowledged.) But successful founders aren't "just lucky".

If in this "what if" scenario we assume the 2014 freshman Zuckerberg has the same drive as the 2004 one, then I would say that the odds of him becoming decently successful (whatever that might mean) would be pretty high.

If you look back at his history, he had a string of very college-student-useful projects before Facebook. He knew he was onto something. Assuming that he would have the same kind of curiosity/initiative/wtv in 2014, chances are he would find new problems to solve.

Seems like he was pretty qualified on paper. Stanford grad and former VP of Engineering at Yahoo. With that in mind, maybe he just had a bad set of interviews. I think this would be more meaningful if we knew the position he was going for.

Some people are really bad interviewees. Forgivable because interviews are really bad at predicting fit and performance.

So, in the movie The Social Messenger I hope we see a scene in which Facebook made a Final and Best offer to acquire and this guy said "No. One more billion. Because you turned me down." :-)

"We only hire the best engineers"

He only had a BSCS from Stanford and had been a VP of Engineering at Yahoo leading over 300 engineers. Facebook turned him away, and as someone else mentioned here, Twitter.

It kind of puts in perspective that blog post from yesterday that claimed companies in Silicon Valley can't find rock star ninja engineers ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7259845 ).

This isn't all that unusual. Most people realize that hiring processes are really random. In some ways just hiring anyone who applies, firing them after 90 days if they don't work out, and keeping track of who has been through once is probably a better system overall.

The recent work on how SAT scores don't predict college success is similar. There is a huge amount of influence around 'fit' and environment. Some people just "click" and some people don't. Genius rock star programmers that don't click are poor employees, and some times former washouts that do click are your key hires. Hard to predict.

> This isn't all that unusual. Most people realize that hiring processes are really random. In some ways just hiring anyone who applies, firing them after 90 days if they don't work out, and keeping track of who has been through once is probably a better system overall.

"EMPLOYERS: avoid employing unlucky people by immediately tossing half the CVs in the bin" - Viz top tip.

I'll have to remember that one :-) But on a more serious note, its been interesting to see the different sort of talent location ideas that have emerged. So I person I met a long time a go as a production assistant for the TV series Robotica was trying to come up with a new series and I suggested "American Hacker" where folks would go on the show and compete for a spot at Facebook or something. His comment though was pretty funny which was "That won't work Chuck because too many people are like you and they don't care about being on TV, you really need people who will cut off their own leg if you promise to put them on during prime time." Which was a sad sad commentary.

Things like the Stripe CTF contests are good recruiting tools, hackathons kinda sorta, resume scanning and the 5 - 10 person interview panel? Hard to get repeatable results.

> I'll have to remember that one :-)

Also hilarialously wortwhile is the C. Northcotte Parkinson take "The Short List, or Principles of Selection" (e.g. https://www.google.com/search?q=c.+northcote+parkinson+candi... )

that's a great one. going to have to use that one.

"The recent work on how SAT scores don't predict college success is similar."

What do you mean? SAT predicts GPA pretty well and it predicts it better for harder than easier subjects.


SAT predicts GPA better for high ability subjects: Implications for Spearman’s Law of Diminishing Returns Thomas Coyle,a, Anissa Snyder,a David Pillow,a and Peter Kochunovb

Abstract This research examined the predictive validity of the SAT (formerly, the Scholastic Aptitude Test) for high and low ability groups. SAT scores and college GPAs were obtained from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Subjects were classified as high or low ability by g factor scores from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. SAT correlations with GPA were higher for high than low ability subjects. SAT g loadings (i.e., SAT correlations with g) were equivalent for both groups. This is the first study to show that the predictive validity of the SAT varies for ability groups that differ in g. The results contradict a presumption, based on Spearman’s Law of Diminishing Returns, that a test’s predictive validity should be lower for high ability subjects. Further research is needed to identify factors that contribute to the predictive validity of the SAT for groups that differ in g.

FWIW this is the news story that triggered the SAT comment: http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/national_worl... the folks at Pitzer have been running the 'ignore them' test for a while now.

I think this has more to do with detail orientedness and hard work. I thought I could take the SAT without any prep. Lol. If there is one important thing for a higher schooler to do, it is to master that test.

It almost makes him a folk hero for anyone else running up against the "cultural fit" barrier.

I think that would be an incorrect way of reading it. At his level, he would be negotiating executive responsibility and a huge salary. I'm sure any of these companies would love to have had him as a "senior engineer".

"Stanford right across the street... that must be pretty handy for recruiting efforts." - Me

"Hah! Yeah, we hire them to answer our phones." - Them

It does sound difficult to find someone who has an engineering degree, a stadium-touring band and practices ninpo.

I've known quite a few programmers that really should have access to the types of resources these big companies command; but just end up in situations simply paying the bills.

To be fair, we don't know what position he was interviewing for at Facebook.

That means "We would rather accidentally reject great engineers than accidentally hire bad ones. Our hiring process reflects this."

You don't know if he applied as an engineer. He was VP of Engineering at Yahoo! by the time he left the company, it's somewhat unlikely he was probing for an individual contributor position.

Hardly. There are way too many engineers fitting this description (and ones that don't) that apply to big companies than those companies can hire. Also, the hiring is done by people so it's bound to be imperfect like anything human. This is just marketing ploy. "We only try to hire the best" is the best anyone could really claim, however even that would be inaccurate as many of the best engineers are likely to not apply (already working, different area, don't want to put up with the interview, don't want to work for said company etc.).

"... others, we buy."

Coincidental hindsight aside, just given his background as it stood in the 2009 timeframe I'd love to be a time traveling fly on the wall to see his interviews and/or the decision making process that had both Facebook and Twitter passing on him.

Looks like he won't have to worry about working for a living anymore...

Ask Threaders:

What code does Zuckerberg write? I've seen the film and googled "mark zuckerberg". From what I gather, he did some programming in Atari BASIC, and he's just another perl hacker. Common sense would conclude that he is multi-lingual (yeah, I'm aware he was rusty a year or two ago), but does anyone know any specifics?


So no, I don’t think it is deliberate that PHP gets very little press. PHP is about as exciting as your toothbrush. You use it every day, it does the job, it is a simple tool, so what? Who would want to read about toothbrushes?

Rasmus Lerdorf, http://www.sitepoint.com/phps-creator-rasmus-lerdorf/2/

He knows the language of love.

Seems like a pretty smart way to get a job at Facebook.

I think this post now is rather appropriate http://www.paulgraham.com/determination.html Imagine a world where he would of given up.

NYTimes actually pointed out another curiously-related Tweet [0] from the other co-founder, Jan Koum:

"totally agree with Vinod Khosla. people starting companies for a quick sale are a disgrace to the valley... 3:47 AM - 17 Jul 2012"

[0] https://twitter.com/jankoum/statuses/225134737285578752

edit: I am not criticizing Jan at all and would gladly do the same given the same position.

Whatsapp may be many things, but one thing it isn't is a "quick sale" - it's something of lasting and useful value. I'm willing to wager 5 years from now, Whatsapp will still have a significant portion of the world's messaging traffic.

Wasn't criticizing the sale at all (edited to clarify tone), just found it interestingly related.

I use it myself, but not sure about the 5 years wager. One of the main reasons quite a few people I know use it is precisely because it wasn't Facebook. My bet is FB guts it and tries to {force, gently-push} everyone to switch to their well-designed app. But the FB app is probably too bandwidth-hungry for most WhatsApp users.

> My bet is FB guts it and tries to {force, gently-push} everyone to switch to their well-designed app.

http://instagram.com Ctrl-F Facebook

Starting companies to sell them as soon as possible is not disgraceful. Haters gonna hate.

Well he turned Surfmark down and decided to follow his gut :) (Some 'gut' that was!) https://twitter.com/brianacton/status/1997180708

And I have 'immortalized' this using...surfmark http://www.surfmark.com/viewsm/GzFRmNKFeUqCGZBiZRzChw#page1

Sweet victory. They didn't hire so he built it anyways.

And yet in both cases of being denied by Twitter and Facebook he aired the negative news and kept a positive outlook.

That's the sign of a smart person in my book.

If success is the best revenge, this guy is god-tier.

Fine! If you guys won't hire me I'll go out and start my own world dominating business you'll want to buy and then you'll have to.

See you in a few years suckers!

Just goes to show that the skills required to get a job are different than the skills required to start a company

They still hired him. The only difference is they payed him a small signing bonus.

What's that latest tweet of him? Probably a misspelling ;)

He was too expensive.

Cool! Haha!

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