Mark Zuckerberg - Facebook Developer Garage Paris 2008 (1)

In 2018, Facebook has encountered a new level of flack from the public and the government over what seemed to be a lackadaisical consideration of data privacy and user information. To many, the attitude in the Cambridge Analytica revelations came as a surprise, but according to a new book by Adam Fisher, Valley of Genius, freedom to a fault has been cooked into the company from the beginning.

In an excerpt published in Wired, Fisher recounts a few stories from Facebook’s early days that show how that devil-may-care approach manifested in some NSFW ways.

Here are the juiciest ones, cherry-picked for your consumption.

1. Facebook Paid David Choe with Stock to Paint Sexually Explicit Office Murals

As Facebook was signing the lease on its first office, Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, came up with what seems like a brilliant idea — commission David Choe, a famous graffiti artist and personal friend of Parker’s, to paint edgy murals inside the office.

The results were not exactly safe for work, including what Facebook co-founder Ezra Callahan called a “huge buxom woman with enormous breasts wearing this Mad Max–style costume riding a bulldog.”

David Choe mural
A David Choe mural at Facebook's first office.

In the women’s bathroom, there were also “two completely naked women intertwined and cuddling with each other”, and elsewhere a “four-inch by four-inch drawing of someone getting fucked.”

2. Zuckerberg (Maybe) Smoked Weed With Potential Hires

In statements given at Harvard in 2005, Zuckerberg reportedly suggested that he or his colleagues smoked weed with potential hires, saying:

Most businesses aren’t like a bunch of kids living in a house, doing whatever they want, not waking up at a normal time, not going into an office, hiring people by, like, bringing them into your house and letting them chill with you for a while and party with you and smoke with you.

In the book The Boy Kings, Facebook employee number 51, Katherine Loss, presents contradictory evidence to this conclusion, however, writing “[Zuckerberg] hated drugs. I was told that he’d go pale at just the thought of them. At Facebook, we all knew never to mention the word drugs near him.”

3. Zuckerberg Wore Sweatpants and Adidas Flip Flops to One of His First Funding Pitches

Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga, was one of the first investors in Facebook. Despite his importance in getting Facebook off the ground, he says that Zuckerberg was literally in sweatpants and flip flops during their first funding meeting:

So it’s probably like September or October of 2004, and I’m at Tribe’s offices in this dusty converted brick building in Potrero Hill — the idea of Tribe.net was like Friendster meets Craigslist — and we’re in our conference room, and Sean says he’s bringing the Facebook guy in… Zuck is in a pair of sweatpants, and these Adidas flip-flops that he wore, and he’s so young looking and he’s sitting there with his feet up on the table, and Sean is talking really fast about all the things Facebook is going to do and grow and everything else, and I was mesmerized.

Zuckerberg flip flops
Zuckerberg in his trademark flip flops.

4. There Was Prolific Office Drinking and a Keg-Bot

Perhaps the most acceptable early-Facebook practice that still lives on in many tech offices today, was prolific drinking. Throughout the excerpt, drinking and beer were frequently mentioned.

Former engineer Ruchi Sanghvi says that there was a patented keg robot that would alert teammates whenever someone was pouring a pint.

Katie Geminder, an early project manager at Facebook, said that at a house where some of the engineers lived, there was an “ongoing beer pong party.”

Ezra Callahan described mornings in the first office: “I would walk in and hear beer cans move as I opened the door, and the office smells of stale beer and is just trashed.”

5. Sleepless Nights

Going hand in hand with the heavy drinking was sleeping until noon. Callahan says that in their first office, he would religiously come in at 9 a.m. to lock the doors, which automatically opened at that time, because no one else would be in the office until noon, and he was concerned about theft.

Max Kelly, former Chief Security Officer for the company, described a brutal schedule, where engineers would begin at noon, and at 5 p.m. go to bars to work and drink. By 11 p.m., they would have scheduled updates and releases for the night.

“Around 1 am, we’d know either we’re fucked or we’re good. If we were good, everyone would be like “whoopee” and might be able to sleep for a little while. If we were fucked then we were like, “OK, now we’ve got to try and claw this thing back or fix it,” Kelly says.

Those nights could last until 5 a.m.

Katie Geminder says the schedule could take a toll on people with families or in relationships: “If you look at the adults that worked at Facebook during those first few years—like, anyone over the age of 30 that was married — and you do a survey, I tell you that probably 75 percent of them are divorced.”

6. Office Dating

With close quarters and a life dominated by work, Facebook saw its share of office dating and mating — something that many HR departments explicitly forbid.

Ruch Sanghvi says many employee relationships turned into marriages: “We found our significant others while we were at Facebook. All of us eventually got married. Now we’re in this phase where we’re having children.”

7. “I’m CEO Bitch”

Zuckerberg famously had business cards that read “I’m CEO, Bitch,” which reportedly came from a phrase he would actually utter.

In the same style, the company aggressively rejected a merger offer from Yahoo, literally tearing it up, according to Max Kelly.

We literally tore the Yahoo offer up and stomped on it as a company! We were like, “Fuck those guys, we are going to own them!” That was some malice-ass bullshit.


While Facebook’s power and the level of scrutiny it’s under has forced the company to clean up its act, the stories of its early days still provide insight into the values that made the company what it is today and that would go on to shape the rest of the tech world.