After years of freezing out cofounder Eduardo Saverin over a dispute about money, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has deigned to recognize his former Harvard buddy. Why now? Perhaps to derail a forthcoming Facebook tell-all?
The evidence that the two have ended their feud, which began when they were both students at Harvard and Facebook was just getting off the ground: Saverin is now listed as a company founder on Facebook's website.
There's an excellent reason for Zuckerberg to make nice with Saverin, though: Ben Mezrich, author of Bringing Down the House, is writing an account of the founding of Facebook which relies heavily on Saverin as a source. Aaron Sorkin, the West Wing creator, is already planning to adapt the book, which doesn't have a publication date yet, into a movie.
If Saverin has made up with Zuckerberg, he may not be as willing to cooperate with Mezrich. One hopes the author got his interviews done before Saverin's name went back up on Facebook. A book proposal leaked to Gawker last year has some factual errors — Zuckerberg and Saverin dined on the yacht of then-Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, who says he has never owned a boat. But even if it gets close to the truth of Facebook's origins, it will be embarrassing, since it claims that Zuckerberg and Saverin set up the website to meet girls. The feud between the founders was central to the plot.
It has been almost five years since Zuckerberg has acknowledged Saverin as having anything to do with the company, which Saverin incorporated and managed for Zuckerberg from their college dorm. According to Rolling Stone, Zuckerberg reincorporated the company and squeezed Saverin out after he accused Zuckerberg of spending company money on personal expenses:
In July, Zuckerberg and Saverin had a mysterious falling out. Zuckerberg has filed a lawsuit, claiming Saverin jeopardized the company by freezing Facebook's bank accounts. Saverin countersued, claiming that Zuckerberg never matched his $20,000 in seed money and, further, used that money for personal expenses. That summer, Zuckerberg transferred all intellectual-property rights and membership interests to a new version of the company in Delaware.
Saverin reportedly told Cameron Winklevoss, another student embroiled in a legal dispute with Zuckerberg, that Zuckerberg had "screwed him, too." Zuckerberg moved the company to Palo Alto, Calif., and raised hundreds of millions of dollars, making the company worth a notional $15 billion on paper. Saverin saw none of that.
With hard feelings seemingly over (possibly smoothed over by some cash or stock), Facebook flack Brandee Barker explains Saverin's official co-founder status this way:
We made the change recently to make sure Eduardo gets the credit and visibility he deserves for his contribution to Facebook.
That's quite a change from Facebook's official stance in 2007, when Barker herself denied on the record that Saverin cofounded Facebook, even though he was listed in the company's documents of incorporation.
Since the lawsuit centers around who did what for Facebook when, it seems absurd to think that Zuckerberg would publicly acknowledge Saverin with a lawsuit hanging over his head. Barker repeatedly refused to answer any questions about the status of the lawsuit. Saverin and his lawyers did not return inquiries. Now, with an ending that seems to have zipped Saverin's lips, will Sorkin and Mezrich have any story to tell?