The Friendster Tell-All Story

Gary Rivlin at the New York Times finally wrote the Friendster “tell all” piece that everyone’s been threatening to do for some time (me included). It’s not pretty. I get the sense the most people mentioned in the article are not going to be very happy with the way it turned out. Many of them have actively been trying to stop an article like this from being written.

Friendster turned down a $30 million buyout offer from Google in 2003.

Everything went downhill from there.

Instead of selling to Google, founder Jonathan Abrams raised venture capital. Friendster eventually raised money from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, BenchMark Capital and Battery Ventures. Some of the most successful and well known venture capitalists in silicon valley joined Friendster’s board of directors.

Friendster stumbled just as MySpace rose. Many people point to Friendster’s massive slow down as traffic grew as the reason people bailed out for the then hot new MySpace. If Friendster had been able to handle its growth, MySpace may never have gotten the space it needed to become the 1 billion plus page views per day behemoth it is today.

Key points of failure seem to be a disastrous initial architecture that just couldn’t scale, a succession of high profile but out of touch CEOs (Tim Koogle, then Scott Sassa, then Taek Kwan), infighting at the executive level (particularly between the VP Product and VP Engineering) and a general level of arrogance at the board and executive level. No one is spared in the article, including Kleiner Perkins Partner John Doerr and former partner Russ Siegelman

After a failure to sell the company in late 2005, they recapitalized early this year and Kent Lindstrom, one of the founders of Friendster, took over as President. He’s not one to talk about his own accomplishments, but Friendster seems to be trending upwards now at least. He brings the company what it needs – a steady and low key leader who focuses on the product.