Over the years networking has been cloaked with a negative connotation. Social media (esp. Linkedin and Facebook) has cheapened relationships from lifelong to one-click wonders. The most powerful networkers I know focus on helping others connect, not themselves. It’s not about how many business cards you can dish out or how many friends you can “collect” on Facebook. True networking involves getting to know people and keeping your eyes open for opportunities to connect them with others.
For example, lets examine two people who share a similar passion for programming: Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker.
Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker
Mark Zuckerberg was born on May 14, 1984. He studied at Ardsley High School before transferring to Phillips Exeter Academy for his junior year. During the 1990s, he learned Atari Basic Programming through his father and studied under software developer David Newman.
While Mark’s friends played computer games, he created them. In his teens, he built the Synapse Media Player under the Intelligent Media Group. PC Magazine rated it 3 out of 5. In September 2002, he enrolled at Harvard University instead of accepting job offers from Microsoft and AOL. By this time, he was already known as a “programming prodigy.”
During his second year in college, he created CourseMatch, an online platform that allowed students to choose their classes based on other’s choices and to join study groups. Eventually, he created Facemash – where students selected the most attractive students by voting online. Facemash became so popular that it overwhelmed the school’s network switches. Some students complained that their photos were used without their permission. He apologized, and soon took down the site.
During that time, students were also looking for a site that would allow them to voluntarily share photos and contact information. Mark saw the perfect opportunity. He and his roommates – Eduardo Saverin, Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskowitz started working on the project. On February 4, 2004, thefacebook.com was launched. It became so popular that after a month, Mark left school to work on the project full time.
Sean Parker was born in 1979 in Herndon, Virginia. At the age of 7, his father taught him programming on an Atari 800. By the time he was 16 his hobbies were programming and hacking. FBI agents tracked down his IP address one night while hacking a Fortune 500 company. Being a minor, he was only made to do community service as a punishment.
He spent two years at Oakton High School in Fairfax, Virginia before moving to Chantilly High School in 1996 for junior and senior high. He won the Virginia state computer science fair for creating a Web crawler and was recruited by the CIA. He spent his high school life writing code and starting companies. Earning $80,000 a years through different projects enabled him to become an entrepreneur and skip college with his parents’ permission.
He launched Napster in 1999 together with his friend Shawn Fanning, which was eventually shut down after lawsuits from various record labels started surfacing. In November 2002, he launched Plaxo, which was considered to be the precursor of networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. He also became an advisor for Friendster in 2003. In 2010, he helped fund Votizen. He launched Spotify in the US in July 2011. In the same year, he launched Airtime.com with other investors.
How Mark and Sean crossed paths
A girlfriend of Sean’s friend showed him thefacebook.com. Being a veteran of online networking sites, he took interest and sent an e-mail to Facebook’s generic e-mail address. He met with Mark and Eduardo Saverin in the spring of 2004.
Facebook was born
Sean was considered the Facebook veteran. He helped Mark and his friends to network and meet important people in Silicon Valley and generate funding for Facebook. Sean first went to Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn’s CEO, who declined because it posed a conflict of interest with his current position. He introduced Sean and Mark to Peter Thiel. Thiel liked the idea and agreed to become its first angel investor with $500,000 for 10.2% share in the company. Mark Pincus, co-founder of Zynga, also joined in.
In August 2005, thefacebook.com officially became Facebook. They bought the domain name for a reported $200,000. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In an e-mail, Mark mentioned the following about Sean, “Sean was pivotal in helping Facebook transform from a college project into a real company. Perhaps more importantly, Sean helped ensure that anyone interested in investing in Facebook would not only buy into a company, but also a mission and vision of making the world more open through sharing.”
From a college project that started in a room dormitory to a company that is reportedly worth more than $100 billion today, we cannot help but wonder whether it would have survived if the Sean Parker failed to connect with Mark and help him connect with the Silicon Valley elite.