Card Designer: The Inspiration For Zuckerberg's "I'm CEO, Bitch"? Steve Jobs.

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“I’m CEO, Bitch.”

While the story of this title appearing on Mark Zuckerberg’s early Facebook business cards has been around outside the company since at least 2009, when Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires was released, it really exploded into legendary status last year. That’s when the Acadmey Award-winning film, The Social Network (based on Mezrich’s book), launched the phrase into pop culture by having Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker utter it as the exclamation point at the end of a key speech meant to inspire Jesse Einsenberg’s Zuckerberg.

“This time you’re gonna hand them a business card that says, ‘I’m CEO, bitch!’ — that’s what I want for you,” Parker says. Later in the film, Zuckerberg opens a box of business cards that have the title on them.

Of course, that’s Hollywood. That’s not what really happened. But the phrase, and the business cards were very real.

David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect, confirmed the existence of the business cards last year. The key excerpt:

As the Facebook boys started dealing increasingly with real business professionals, a reputation for rambunctiousness spread throughout the valley. “It’s Lord of the Flies over there,” one executive told an executive recruiter. Zuckerberg had to be careful which business card he handed out at meetings. He had two sets. One simply identified him as “CEO.” The other: “I’m CEO…bitch!”

Early Facebooker Andrew Bosworth (“Boz”) later confirmed this even further when he answered a question about the card on Quora last summer. But Bosworth downplayed the card:

I believe it was intended as a joke for his friends and speaks to how unclear it was even in his own mind at the time that he would someday become such an important (and scrutinized) leader in our industry.

But yesterday, Bryan Veloso, a Facebook Designer from 2005 to 2006, gave a more more interesting and enlightening answer on Quora. And he should know — he designed the actual card. According to Veloso, the idea for the “I’m CEO, Bitch” card stems from the fact that Zuckerberg actually used to utter the phrase. And as Veloso tells is, he did so to be more “aggressive” and to emulate the style of one man: Steve Jobs.

The key part:

As for Mark’s, it’s no secret that Mark looked up to Steve Jobs at the time. When Aaron Sittig and I were the only designers in late 2005, he would hold his design meetings with us in that classic “aggressive” Steve Jobs-style. It was during one of those meetings where I remember him first uttering the phrase, “I’m CEO, bitch…”

Veloso goes on to note that the cards was in many ways a “happy accident” in that he felt comfortable making thanks to his relationship with Zuckerberg at the time. He also says that eventually the cards were pulled towards the end of his tenure at Facebook. “In this designer’s view, these retired cards were an excellent representation of the company culture at the time. Their replacement reflected the changes a young Facebook needed to go through in order to be where it is today,” he writes.

Indeed.

So, no, the card was not inspired by a drunken nightclub party with Victoria Secret models. But it was very real. And you can thank Steve Jobs for that.

Update: And as Dan Frommer reminds us on Twitter, the actual phrase itself sure seems like it may have been derived from comedian Dave Chappelle’s portrayal of singer Rick James on Chappelle’s Show. The phrase, “I’m Rick James, Bitch!” was pretty hard to avoid in the early-to-mid 2000s.