Could Facebook be coming to Boston?
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, confirmed the possibility today at Harvard University, where he made his first official visit since he dropped out of the school seven years ago to bring his online social media company to California’s Silicon Valley.
Asked by reporters when he might open an office in the Boston area, Zuckerberg said, “Hopefully at some point soon, but no plans in the near future.’’
Zuckerberg said that Facebook would expand first in Seattle to get “the culture right’’ for its first satellite office before heading east. Facebook is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.
Before visiting Harvard, Zuckerberg stopped at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At both schools, he met with students to scout potential employees and interns for Facebook.
About 100 students lined up at MIT for Zuckerberg’s noontime appearance, which was accessible only with a ticket. “I was lucky enough to get in,’’ said Rob McQueen, 22, a senior and computer science major. “I’ll be looking for jobs. Start-ups are the life for me.’’
Before meeting with students at MIT, Zuckerberg made a brief appearance before the press, where he addressed his recent comments that if he were starting Facebook today, he would remain in Boston.
Zuckerberg said his remarks were meant to convey to start-ups that they don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to succeed. “There are so many smart people out here,’’ he said.
After the MIT talk, McQueen said he still wasn’t convinced Facebook is the place for him after graduation, preferring to find a small tech start-up so he can get the same kind of experience as Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg stressed to students that Facebook gives its employees a chance to have a “big impact’’ — a good argument to join the company, McQueen said, if if he isn’t buying Zuckerberg’s pitch personally. “It’s just cool to see him here,’’ McQueen said.
Students said that the Facebook chief executive didn’t say much that many didn’t already know about the massive social network. “It’s more significant that he’s here than what he said,’’ said freshman Austin Hess, 18.
Zuckerberg was an undergraduate in 2004 when with the help of friends, he founded Facebook in his dorm room.
He was unable to find financing from local venture capital firms. Some investors in Silicon Valley, Calif., were willing to fund Facebook, so he moved to Palo Alto, Calif., and dropped out of Harvard.
Today, Facebook has more than 800 million registered users, and is one of the most visited sites on the Internet.
These days, Harvard students refine their projects through events and classes offered by the school.
A number of projects are launched during the annual weeklong, midwinter “Hack Harvard’’ incubator program, when students are taught how to translate ideas into business models. A start-up competition, the Harvard Innovation Challenge, annually awards $10,000 to two projects. The introductory computer science course CS50 is now the second-most-popular class on campus, attracting more than 600 students. And in less than two weeks, the university is opening its Innovation Lab next to the Harvard Business School, with a mission to promote innovation and entrepreneurship campus-wide.
Harvard sophomore Zachary Hamed, who created a website that helps students prepare financial aid applications, is one of the students Zuckerberg may be looking for. A computer science major, Hamed created AidAide.com, a “TurboTax for financial aid,’’ during his freshman year. Last summer, he partnered with a Chicago-based start-up called Alltuition.com and accompanied the larger site’s team to an “accelerator’’ event called 500Startups in Palo Alto, California’s white-hot center of technological innovation.
“I loved it,’’ he said. “It was an infectious place to be.’’
At the end of the summer, Hamed could have stayed in Chicago and worked on his project. He decided to return to school. “I had more to learn here,’’ he said.
One factor that kept him at Harvard was its expanded commitment to entrepreneurship. This year, for example, Hamed is serving as a student coordinator at the Innovation Lab.
“It’s really a different environment from when Zuckerberg was here,’’ Hamed said. “He was working with his roommates in his dorm room; I’ve been able to work with an innovation lab. I’ve talked to venture capitalists; I’ve looked at term sheets. I have office space and people to work with.
“If Zuckerberg were here today, I bet he would have stayed a little longer,’’ he said.