Ex-Washington Post Owner Don Graham on Doing Business With Zuckerberg And Bezos
This week’s Big Technology podcast guest is Don Graham, the former owner of the Washington Post. Graham is a fascinating businessman who’s spent countless hours working with the world’s top tech CEOs. He sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos in 2013. And he met Mark Zuckerberg when the Facebook founder was 20 years old, proposed an investment — which Zuckerberg turned down — and eventually joined the board. I had Graham on the show this week to get a sense of how these founders operate and to hear about his interactions with them. Here are some highlights:
Facebook almost didn’t take VC money
Facebook was opposed to taking venture capital, at least initially. Sean Parker, who was influential at Facebook early on, was still steaming about his treatment by VCs when he ran Napster. So Parker convinced Zuckerberg that VC money was bad and the two told Graham they’d actually prefer his investment. The parties hammered out a potential deal. But Zuckerberg then saw the dollar figures coming in from Silicon Valley VCs, landed a major proposal from Accel Partners, and called Graham with a moral dilemma “I will release you from your moral dilemma,” Graham said, “go get every cent you can out of those guys.” Imagine how different Facebook would be if Zuckerberg took Graham’s investment instead.
Growth as a primary value
When Graham realized that Facebook had signed up 95% of Harvard undergrads, he figured the college newspaper was in trouble. “Well, there goes the Crimson,” he said. Zuckerberg laughed, and said Facebook had to get its product rooted in campuses first and couldn’t distract itself trying to win over college advertisers. Growth has long been Facebook’s priority, ahead of short-term revenue gains, and sometimes other priorities that should’ve taken precedence.
The value of shadowing
Zuckerberg never worked for anyone. He went from college dropout to running Facebook, so he had to learn how to…