silicon valley tell-alls

Facebook Insider Spills Secrets on Office Culture, Zuckerberg’s Odd Birthday Tribute [Updated]

In 2005, Katherine Losse was just a copywriter who, like most bored cubicle jockeys, used Facebook to procrastinate during work. Then one day, she saw a bulletin on the site’s homepage that read: “Do you want to work at Facebook? Send us your resume.”

Later that year, Losse joined Facebook as a customer-service rep, becoming employee #51 and one of only a handful of female Facebookers. Over the next five years, she would rise through the ranks, witness the company’s kudzulike growth and eventually become Mark Zuckerberg’s personal ghostwriter.

Now, she’s writing for herself. Losse’s book, The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, published today by Free Press, is a tell-all about her half-decade at Facebook, with details about the behind-the-scenes politics and back-room shenanigans of Facebook’s early days. (Of special note: a scene in which Zuckerberg plays “Wonderwall” on his guitar while Losse and other Facebookers sing along.)

In a telephone interview today, Losse said she had gotten “no direct word” from Facebook about her book yet, though some of her friends at the company had given her feedback.

It’s a bit of a different take than what they would have written, but I think they thought it was fun,” she said.

Losse, who now lives in Marfa, Texas, and is still Facebook friends with Zuckerberg, also said she hoped the book wouldn’t be seen as a lurid exposé.

For me, this is a way of telling my story in a format that I enjoy writing in,” she said. “I believed everything that I wrote about. And ultimately, a lot of it is rather benign.”

Still, Losse’s book is hardly kind to Facebook. She maligns the company’s early gender imbalance, dishes dirt on executives like Sean Parker, and describes Zuckerberg as a competitive, socially aloof hacker who could be tin-eared on certain issues. (“I dated a model once who was really hot, but my girlfriend is actually smart,” Losse quotes him as saying.)

A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment on the book or Losse’s time at the company.

Here’s a sampling of what’s inside:

Sean Parker, party animal: At the 2007 Coachella music festival, Losse and a group of fellow Facebookers rented a house and took in acts like Daft Punk and Ratatat. One night during the festival, Losse writes, Sean Parker — Facebook’s first president and the co-founder of Napster — showed up at the house with what Losse was later told was “a doctor’s bag full of drugs, which everyone politely declined.”

A bunch of twentysomethings turning down drugs at a music festival might seem odd, but Losse says it was a product of Facebook’s hacker culture: “Standard methods of being bad, like doing drugs, seemed inefficient and superfluous to us.”

Hacking the birthday: On Zuckerberg’s 22nd birthday, Losse writes, Facebook’s employees were given a set of instructions: women were supposed to wear “a T-shirt with Mark’s picture on it,” and men were told to wear Adidas sandals in tribute to Zuckerberg’s trademark flip-flops. Where others might have seen an innocent birthday homage to the boss, Losse saw idol worship:

The gender coding was clear: women were to declare allegiance to Mark, and men were to become Mark, or to at least dress like him. I decided that this was more than I could stomach and stayed home to play sick that day. I was the only one.

What hostile work environment? At times, Losse writes, Zuckerberg could seem oblivious when it came to dealing with the concerns of female employees:

When a female employee reported being told by a male coworker in the lunch line that her backside looked tasty — “ I want to put my teeth in your ass,” was what the coworker said — Mark asked at an All Hands (it was hard to tell whether it was with faux or genuine naiveté), “What does that even mean?”

I’m the package, bitch: When Losse traveled with Zuckerberg to Brazil for a press tour, she learned what makes a billion-dollar CEO different from a workaday millionaire. When one of Zuckerberg’s security guards referred to her and other Facebook employees as “the straps,” she was confused.“You are the straps,” they explained. “Mark is the package. He’s number one, he’s the guy we have to protect at all costs. Everyone else is the straps, because you’re the hangers on. You’re only important because he is, but we can’t have you falling into the wrong hands.”

Dustin Moskovitz, clairvoyant: Despite employing her as his ghostwriter, Mark Zuckerberg never completely trusted Losse, she writes. But Moskovitz, Facebook’s co-founder, took his suspicion one step further:

A year after I started working there, we were talking at a smoke-filled party somewhere in the Stanford hills when he said to me, matter-of-factly, “You’re going to write a book about us.”

And, lo and behold, she did.

Facebook Insider Spills Secrets