I didn’t have the faintest idea what Chris Hughes did at Facebook before he took the stage during tonight’s PandoMonthly event in New York. Being listed as a co-founder offers exactly zero insight into someone’s function at a company. For all I knew Hughes could have been Facebook’s designated driver. If only I had paid more attention during “The Social Network.”
Now I know that his primary job during Facebook’s early days was answering phones and acting as the then-startup’s customer support center and spokesperson. Later, when the company moved to Palo Alto, Hughes joined the product team, which he describes as where he “really found [his] home.” And then he left to join Obama’s 2007 presidential campaign and, later, purchase the New Republic.
“When I joined the Obama campaign in 2007, Obama was a longshot. Nobody thought he was going to win,” Hughes said. He joined the campaign anyway. “It felt a little crazy, but it also felt really natural and [was] really what I wanted to do.” When the campaign was over and, after working on nonprofit-focused social network Jumo, Hughes purchased the New Republic with the capital he earned from being a Facebook co-founder.
Making money wasn’t his or anyone else on the founding team’s goal, Hughes said. “We started Facebook, because this was a fascinating idea, something that could be useful at Harvard, and something that could change the world,” he said. ”It wasn’t like there was some market analysis, and we weren’t making it for a fast exit or a high valuation.”
Yet the high valuations came, and with them the financial perks of believing that a social network could best MySpace and eventually take over the world. (Or, at least, a significant portion of it.) Those funds allowed Hughes to follow his passion — creating content — and did the same for Facebook’s other founding members and early employees, he said.
So if you’re wondering how a 29-year old can come to own a magazine that’s been around far longer than he has, the answer is: identify a problem and co-found a company with your roommates to solve it, even if your primary contribution (in the beginning) is answering the phones. It’s either that or luck — but what kind of story is that?
“I think we tend to look for heroes and we tend to look for mythological heroes when it comes to companies, when it comes to campaigns, when it comes to whatever,” Hughes said. And he couldn’t be more right, so let’s go ahead and pretend that the preceding paragraph is really a viable way to find success.
[Photo by Timothy Briner for Pandodaily]