Facebook’s Founding Mythology
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, my home turf, there is a good-natured intramural rivalry between Harvard and MIT. Each may be a bastion of higher learning but they are very different places with different cultures. The rival taunts go something like this: Harvard people are good with letters but not so much with numbers. The engineers down the road only use letters but, then, only in equations.
I thought about this the other day when I learned that Harvard wizkid Eduardo Saverin, a Brazilian native, had cashed in his U.S. citizenship in an attempt to out wit the taxman. You might recall that Saverin was the kid who co-founded Facebook, according to his successful lawsuit against his former friend Mark Zuckerberg.
The wonders never cease. Severin was naturalized when he moved to this country as a kid because his wealthy parents were afraid that he could have been kidnapped and held for ransom in his native Brazil.
In context for this story, Severin has an estimated four percent of the company and what’s really mind numbing is that he’s moving his mailbox to Singapore just to avoid paying tax on the stock when he sells it. One must wonder if international kidnapping has been quelled over the years making it safe for the ultra rich to consider such strategies.
Many people have already commented on the shallowness of stiffing his adopted homeland and about the absurd luck this kid had in landing as a room mate one Mark Zuckerberg. But no one, to my recollection, has mentioned the fact that life gets a tiny bit harder than that once you leave Cambridge.
No one has remarked on the stupidity of this logic either. Life is a game of base hits. Very often you strike out, rarely you hit a home run but to win games you manufacture runs, one at a time with base hits, stealing a base and getting walked. I feel bad for someone who thinks his life’s ambition was met in college. There is something inversely Gatsbyesque about this story. Severin’s move should have been to take some money off the table, pay some taxes and move on to the next big idea, assuming he had one.
This failure to appreciate the logic of the base hit and the impetuousness of cashing in his citizenship, are what reminds me of the Harvard-MIT rivalry. I can’t imagine an MIT person doing this. Maybe I am naïve but my reading of the culture at MIT is that they truly like making things and finding solutions and most of the people I have met from MIT would do what they do regardless of the pay simply for the thrill of it. Money matters but beyond a certain point, meh?
So let’s recap the Facebook founding mythology. Facebook was founded in a dorm room at Harvard by some of the most privileged kids on the planet. Zuckerberg turned out to be not exactly a boy scout, then the Winklevoss twins asserted their rights to Facebook, in court, repeatedly, and now Severin can’t stick around to do the honorable thing.
If the engineers at MIT like making things, I wonder what motivates the kids at Harvard other than whining. Is it just the art of the deal, going in for the kill? Is it addictive? Does it take more and more to keep you sane?
These are things I will likely never know. But in the age of the 99 percent, I have a new sense of where the .01 percent come from.