It turns out there really is a secret society of the incredibly rich who are succeeding in altering the course of history. This shadowy cadre of young guns have more power than the IMF, the Bilderburg Group, and the Knights Templar put together and they operate beneath the foothills of Palo Alto. They are known under the springtime-and-flowers-suggesting moniker of The Mayfield Fellowship Program. And you just missed the application deadline.
Mayfield Fellows (not to be confused with the nautical-themed Cloverfield Fellows) are Stanford University students initiated into a community of venture capitalists, technology giants, and multi-billionaires, like a frat devoted to world domination. For example, this week offers a fairly good window of what it means to be a Mayfield Fellow. Kevin Systrom (’05 Fellow) and Mike Krieger (’07 Fellow) put together a little iPhone app called Instagram. Now, just about everyone, including your crazy cousin, has built an iPhone app by now and most of these are on page 2000 of your search results for free games.
Systrom and Krieger, who have been in business for just 15 months and hired only 13 employees, just sold their app to Facebook for $1 billion. Yes, that was a letter “b” as in “But… how?” Systrom is pocketing $400 million and those unfortunate 13 employees now have to look for jobs and divide up $100 million amongst themselves. No fighting, kids.
Call it luck, timing, absolute financial insanity, or another day in the Fellowship. Stanford University offers the 9 month Fellowship every April to 12 undergraduates. There must be some ritual significance to the number 12. The program offers courses on technology startups, and internship at one of them (Systrom landed Twitter) and ongoing mentoring activities. It now appears that “mentoring” involves numbers with 0’s and commas.
In an interview with FastCompany magazine last year, Systrom casually mentioned that he met Mark Zuckerberg eight years ago, and was offered a job at Facebook to work on their photos. The thing is: those sorts of things don’t happen outside the Fellowship.
Systom’s connections also include Marc Andreessen, who created the world’s first web browser by in ‘93. Remember Mosaic? Andreessen hopes you don’t. Now he’s known mostly as an investor and one of Facebook’s early financial supporters. Andreessen wrote a check to Systrom for $250,000 a year before Instagram was born. This supports the theory that all startup ideas are crazy if you pitch them to the wrong people.
Systrom really is changing the world. Instagram’s digital photo filters are the first technology that can make your lame pictures of last night’s dinner actually look cool. Valuable but worth a billion?
Andy Ihnatko at the Chicago Sun-Times said it best:
My best theory was that Mark Zuckerberg stood to inherit a trillion dollars from his eccentric uncle, but only if he could spend a billion dollars in less than an hour without acquiring any tangible property.
The real answer may be a) that Instagram mastered mobile, which is where Facebook needs to go; b) Instagram brings 30 million users and a feel-good vibe that Facebook lacks; c) Facebook had the money and not the time to make their own; d) dropping a cool billion makes them look like a player in the days before their IPO when public perception means everything. My theory is that by granting a large chunk of that billion in Facebook stock, they are keeping the money within The Fellowship. In any case, all their scheming may come to naught with the coming of the insect overlords.
A list of successful Mayfield Fellows on Quora is a great place to start a serious investigation or Fringe-style paranoia session. If you are merely curious, take a look at current crop of Mayfield Fellows here in these halcyon days before you will be obliged to kneel before their massive golden statues
Instagram logged 26 photos/sec and other cool stats on the Year in Review.