Zuck & Me: What I Learned Competing Against Mark Zuckerberg’s The Facebook

Zack Price Squares Off Against Mark Zuckerberg over The Facebook

(The following is a guest post from Zack Price. Zack is not a real blogger but a serial entrepreneur who is currently turning blogs into books.  His latest publication is “We On: An Inside Look at Michigan’s Final Four Run” by Josh Bartelstein (Foreword by Zack Novak, Excerpts from Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Stu Douglass). You can find Zack on Twitter and Google+ and read his other silly stories about CEOs at ZackPrice.com.)

WARNING: In a few months you’re about to be spammed by the media about the 10 year anniversary coming up of Mark Zuckerberg’s founding The Facebook at Harvard University in late February of 2004.

What you probs don’t know is it’s also the 10 year anniversary of when I founded a networking site for students at the University of Michigan.

I’m getting all sentimental about it so SocialTimes asked me to do a little bloggy story about the experience of when Zuck & Zack were disrupting shit at our respective universities at the same exact moment in time…

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It was a freezing Midwestern February in 2004, I was fresh outta college, had just met Google founder Larry Page and I was pretty busy running an online fitness training service as well as a book publishing company with my brothers, but I had an itch that needed scratching …

Why wasn’t there an online community among university students where they could trade ideas, goods, and meet up with new people from the comfort of their dorm? (and not running around posting fliers in the cold).

The epicenter of Ann Arbor’s campus is famously known as “The Diag” and sure enough in early ’04 TheDiag.com domain name was available.  I scooped it up and spent the next two weeks building a basic platform for students to auction off their goods at the end of the school year before they left town.

Textbooks, Couches, summer sublets, parking spots and more started going up for sale.

Some girl offered a live hamster up for auction … IDK if it was legal (but I didn’t stop the listing and I think the snuggly little guy got a new home).

Then, on March 30, 2004 the campus newspaper that every student read during boring lectures, The Michigan Daily, ran a front page article about my site and TheDiag.com went bonkers with thousands of users sending tens of thousands of messages to each other.

Next thing ya know it was September – and with it, the Michigan Football season.  That’s when the fun really began.

If you don’t already know, they’ve been playing football in Ann Arbor since 1879 and The Big House is the largest damn stadium you’ll ever see (held 115,000 fans last week!)

Every fall on a few Saturdays the city of Ann Arbor turns into a college football carnival/zoo, as schools such as Notre Dame, Michigan State, and perhaps the greatest rival of all time – The Ohio State Buckeyes roll into town, school colors and all that.

I made a new category on TheDiag.com … “Football Tickets”.  Students could now auction off their ticket to the highest bidder. You could list your UM vs. Notre Dame ticket for $1 on TheDiag.com and other students would bid it up to over $100 every single time.

I had hit the virtual G-spot of the hyper-local market in Ann Arbor.  A perfect market had formed matching buyers and sellers, supply and demand.  Glad to see my Economics degree was good for something.

I sat back, relaxed, and made nearly 8% per transaction … on one Monday after a big home game I charged so many students’ credit cards that the student credit union bank solicited Federal authorities to call me and find out what the hell was going on.

Suddenly students from other schools started requesting I bring a site like this to their own school.  I started forming plans to expand my little Ann Arbor site to campuses all across the country

when out of nowhere I got a bunch of @Harvard.edu signups but I couldn’t figure out why…

Just when life looked like easy street there was danger at my door …

His name was Mark Zuckerberg and it was called “The Facebook”.

The Facebook was fascinating … not only was it bringing college students together in one digital place, but they were all connecting with their network of friends, uploading photos, and sharing statuses about their happenings (and relationships).

I quickly added features to TheDiag.com to make it more “social” such as a database of all Ann Arbor restaurants where students could post reviews (this was before Yelp).  It ended up being a shit show for a few specific restaurants and never took off.

I WAS TOO LATE TO THE SOCIAL NETWORKING PARTY.  My site was well known as a place to buy/sell your tickets and textbooks but Zuck’s The Facebook was already spreading fast to other campuses and event got an investment from Sean Parker of Napster fame.

College marketplaces began popping up all over the country and I was receiving partnership offers from many of them.  One of them was Chegg (back then called Cheggpost) and their founders made aggressive acquihire offers with cash and stock and an invite for me to move out to Silicon Valley.  (They’ve since raised $195,000,000 in funding).

What was an entrepreneur to do?  I was just 23 and this was a side gig for me, a hobby, an economic experiment, a fun theoretical idea I shipped to the public that was now taking up a lot of my time and competition was getting fierce.  If you ask me, shipping an idea is what separates true entrepreneurs from wantrepreneurs.

Once Facebook dropped the “The” and their traction trajectory path was clear – Zuck was going for the jugular.  It was gonna be tough marketing my Ann Arbor online service to incoming freshmen who were already on Facebook, among other competition.

Just as the busy holiday shopping season was hitting my other e-commerce startups the 2006 college football season heated up – with both Michigan and Ohio State heading into the final game of the season ranked #1 and #2, both undefeated.

This was the national championship, big 10 title, and ultimate rivalry wrapped up into one celebration of college football pandemonium.  Nicknamed “The Game of the Century”.

Tickets to the game at the Horseshoe in Columbus were averaging over $1,000 per seat, and I was salivating at the possibility of Michigan going to the Championship bowl game … another round of ticket sales opportunities for The Diag, not to mention next year’s lucrative game in Ann Arbor’s Big House.

Then on the eve of the big game the most unexpected news broke first across all of Michigan, then Ohio, then around the nation and college football world.

Bo Schembechler, Michigan Football’s greatest icon had fallen dead. The very moment I heard the news I knew what needed to be done.

I struck a deal with the next generation – three entrepreneurs in Madison from the University of Wisconsin were aggregating all Big 10 student marketplaces into one hub called ExchangeHut.  They eventually sold to an even larger conglomerate.

Zuck and Facebook eventually took over all college campuses, and then the rest of the world.

I was just 23.  He was just 19.  It’s been almost 10 years, but damn…

I LEARNED A LOT BY STARTING UP AGAINST MARK ZUCKERBERG.

Scale, vision, tech expertise, pushing the limits.  Trust your instinct, focus on your goal and go full steam ahead.

I went e-commerce … Zuck, he went social.  Facebook is now at an all-time high of $50/share, valued at $130 billion and Mark owns a huge chunk of it.

I never did meet Mark Zuckerberg and maybe I never will… but I can tell you that he is a brilliant man who will continue to do many innovative things.  He isn’t perfect and he will be criticized.  That’s just what happens when you disrupt (and create) industries.

So when you proclaim you’re sick and tired of Facebook, the baby photos and pet pics, pokes from stalkers, shirtless dudes at college football games and girls dressing slutty for Halloween for all the world to see.

Tired of the political propaganda and annoying advertisements, the rants the raves, check-ins and updates, links about new blog posts (such as this one) …

Think back to the monumental February in 2004 when Zuck & me were just kids with ideas to change how we interact with the world.

Throw your digital thumb way up in the air “Like” you just don’t care.  And ask yourself this:

What would the internet be like with no FB and instead a billion users on MySpace?

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