- 10 Oct 08, 18:58 GMT
The door opened and a tired-looking man in jeans, t-shirt and trainers walked into a cavernous room at London's Excel centre. He seemed pleasant, if shy, and younger than his 24 years - but this was the founder and chief executive of a business valued at 15 billion dollars last year.
It's quite sobering to meet a billionaire (on paper at least) who is half your age, and I was a little concerned about how our interview with Mark Zuckerberg might go. He's halfway through a whistle-stop tour of Europe and I'd been warned that he was jet-lagged and had been irritated by questions from German journalists about his youth, the way he dressed and his huge wealth.
And once we got underway another terrible thing became clear - he'd been media-trained. So at first his response to just about any question sounded the same. "We're all about new ways to share information...." The only answer was to interrupt, and that seemed to wake him out of his media-trained trance.
It was when we got down to the question of money that I really thought we were getting somewhere. When I interrupted him to ask whether he shouldn't have sold up and retired last year, when Facebook was being offered billions by the likes of Yahoo, he laughed. "What would I do?", he asked, obviously incapable of imagining a life of idle luxury, rather than one spent staying up all night coding and eating pizza.
He wouldn't tell me whether Facebook was now profitable - and one can assume it isn't - but insisted that the priority was to keep on building membership rather than worry too much about revenue. That sounded to me like a worrying echo of those dot com days of the late 90s when the accepted wisdom was that you worried about "eyeballs' on your site, rather than dollars in the bank.
Earlier this year, Bebo's founders, who'd once seemed equally determined to stay independent, sold up to AOL for $850 million, netting a fortune for Michael and Xochi Birch. That now looks like a fantastic deal - and in the deepening economic gloom, there won't be many more where that came from.
What came across though was Mark Zuckerberg's enthusiasm for what he did - he kept telling me how "psyched" he was - and his focus on the technology rather than the commercial side of the business. But you can't help wondering whether this time next year Facebook's founder will be a little less confident about the wisdom of staying solo.
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