The Facebook Generation Comes Of Age

With Facebook's IPO debut upon us, we're seeing a shift in perception of the once immature founders: They've gone from a bunch of lucky kids to shrewd entrepreneurs and CEOs. 

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With Facebook's IPO debut upon us, we're seeing a shift in perception of the once immature founders: They've gone from a bunch of lucky kids to shrewd entrepreneurs and CEOs.

As founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stands to make a whole lot of money and power after this week's roadshow, he no longer looks like that nervous, sweating nerd, who happened to build the most popular social network on the planet. All of a sudden, Zuckerberg, per a New York Magazine cover story by Henry Blodget, "has grown up." Throughout the piece, Blodget uses lots of serious, grown-up terms to describe the formerly awkward coder. That piece appeared a day after Laura M. Holson's New York Times Style section profile of former Facebooker and founder Chris Hughes, who has since left the company but has also gotten all mature on us. Perhaps it has something to do with all the money about to come flowing right into Zuckerberg's hands, or maybe it's just that these guys now have eight years of experience and don't look like kids anymore.

Actually, as you can see above, Zuckerberg still looks like the young billionaire CEO he did in April 2009 on the cover of New York. Hughes, too, still looks like a baby. "Are you twelve?" begins The Times article, with a middle aged woman joking about his baby-face. The difference between 2009 and now, however, is that these boyish faces are now getting taken quite seriously in their respective fields. With Zuckerberg now a serious CEO of a soon-to-be powerful public company and Hughes the majority owner of The New Republic and a political scenester.

More than power or money, scrutiny has led to the grooming of this generation. Zuckerberg's public appearances only strengthened his portrayal in The Social Network as an awkward nerd. It's one thing to have a fictional caricature of yourself out there, it's another to come off as sweaty and weird live on stage at an AllThingsD conference in 2010. With his every move watched by the press and investors, Zuckerberg has somehow convinced the world that his Aspergers-like characteristics are working for him and the company. So even though Zuckerberg still hasn't quite gotten over his über-nerdy reputation, having ushered his company from dorm room start-up to the powerhouse it is today, his quirks, which he has toned down, come off as shrewd. "One quirk of Mark Zuckerberg that frustrates colleagues is that he often doesn’t appear to be listening to them," writes Blodget. "But he is. A week after the diner intervention, Zuckerberg held his first 'all hands' meeting. He held more one-on-one meetings with members of his senior team and scheduled an executive retreat. He got better at explaining priorities."

Hughes, who was always the more social of the Facebook founders, has thrived on this scrutiny. He has taken the public face he earned both starting Facebook and leading the Obama campaign to work with his fiancé Sean Eldridge as NY-DC political power brokers. "Since moving to New York in 2009, Mr. Hughes and his even younger fiancé, Sean Eldridge, 25, an investor and political activist, have emerged as a significant force in political circles, becoming enthusiastic fund-raisers for the progressive issues they support," writes Holson, describing these two as serious political activists, rather than two kids with hobbies. "Chris and Sean are fairly serious for their age,' Richard Socarides, a Democratic political strategist and former White House aide during the Clinton administration and friend of the couple told The Times.

One also can't discount the eight years of experience these guys have had. Over time, Zuckerberg has gotten better at hiring, firing, and managing in general. "The team Zuckerberg has built at Facebook, one insider argues, is 'pound for pound one of the two strongest management teams in the industry,'" writes Blodget. "That did not happen by accident. Mark worked his way through it, position by position," an industry insider told Blodget. Zuckerberg, it seems, has adopted the "hacker way," in which things get done quickly and either lead to bad decisions or genius innovations, to managing people. The way Blodget describes it, to cultivate this "strongest management teams in the industry," Zuckerberg makes lots of bad hires, whom he has no problem firing, if it doesn't work out. "The criticism [of CEOs like Zuckerberg] is that they’re overly Machiavellian and don’t care about people," a former Facebook executive fired by Zuckerberg told Blodget. Hughes, too, has had years of experience to learn how to act less like a boy and more like an adult.

But of course, the money and power have helped. Hughes and Eldridge impress with their swanky New York apartment  "They are very generous with their money and time. They are young, rich, smart and good-looking. It’s a pretty powerful combination," continues Socarides. And, with Zuckerberg about to take his company public, he looks to earn a stake for $25 billion. That type of money will make anyone look all grown-up.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.