Facebook will probably soon be worth $100 billion. If you saw The Social Network, you know the story about Mark Zuckerberg coding drunk in his Harvard dorm room and the Winklevoss twins and how everybody's scrambling to lay claim to early involvement in the company. Imagine if you'd invested $1,000 in Facebook, like Eduardo Saverin did just after Mark Zuckerberg launched the site in the spring of 2004. Or even $500,000 like Peter Thiel did later that year. Both men are now multibillionaires. And based on Facebook's expected valuation, they've each tripled their net worths in the past year. Even the Winklevoss twins will never have to work again.
So, now the sad side of the story. Battery Ventures, a venture capital firm based just outside of Boston turned down Mark Zuckerberg and his little social network in 2004. It's unclear how much Battery considered and who else may have been approached, but according to a Reuters report, venture capitalists from all over Beantown are still scrambling to regroup after what's become the greatest investment successes of a generation. (In a rough read of the numbers, Saverin got something like a 1,000,000 percent return his original investment.) Howard Anderson, co-founder of Battery Ventures and a lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, says that Boston area investors were just too old to understand how big social networking would become:
“It became a generational issue. You couldn’t really understand social networking here,” he said. “To understand things like Facebook, you have to be 19 to 24 years old. If you’re 56, you don’t quite get it.”
Battery, formed in 1983 in Boston, used to find technology deals because partners would hang around MIT’s campus in Cambridge, Anderson said.
This is kind of a silly thing for Anderson to say, since Battery's second and third investments ever were in the social network Friendster. With a $2.4 million round in 2002 and a $13 million round in 2003, Battery seems to have been well aware of this youngster phenomenon. Friendster is still around, by the way, but their net worth seems to consist almost exclusively of money they earned from selling old patents to Facebook.
Anderson does make a good point about a social media bubble. To put the bubble into perspective, Reuters points out that Facebook's current valuation makes the social network worth nearly 60 percent more than Ford. "They’re getting too excited,” Anderson said of the investors like Thiel. “For people who say this is not a bubble, I reminded them that 10 years ago they were saying, ‘it’s different this time.’ And it never was.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.