Would You Turn Down A Billion Dollar Offer?

AT 22, Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, is being labelled as the next Bill Gates. But even the Microsoft founder might have hesitated before blowing the chance of a $1.6 billion (£819m) offer for his fledgling business.

Zuckerberg, founder of the Facebook social networking website, has told Yahoo!, the internet giant, that $1 billion is not enough to sell out. Now leaked documents suggest that Yahoo! was willing to raise its bid to $1.6 billion.

Facebook, which he launched as a service for Harvard students in 2004, has become the seventh busiest website on the internet, and with 13m users is the second biggest social network in America.

It has also become popular on British campuses, partly because it allows users to ensure that only people from their own university or place of work are put in touch.

However, it has also been blamed for carrying abuse about students and tutors. In one case, an Oxford University don found that someone had created a false profile in his name, claiming that he had been a member of the Hitler Youth. Although Facebook does have a facility to report unpleasant comments, few universities have the resources to patrol its pages.

There have also been warnings that students who post embarrassing personal material on the site could find it being used against them by future employers.

Zuckerberg cultivates the appearance of a dishevelled student but he keeps a tight grip on his company. He used to hand out business cards which said “I’m CEO . . . bitch” and has joked that the company is aiming for “world domination”.

His stake in the company is thought to be about 30%, worth $500m at the highest of Yahoo!’s valuations. Industry sources suggest that he has rebuffed suitors because he thinks he can do even better and because he does not relish the restrictions of corporate life.

One story has it that Microsoft had to abandon a planned 8am conference call with Zuckerberg because he said that he would still be in bed then. Zuckerberg, who often turns up to his office in Palo Alto, California, wearing Adidas sandals, took exception to a drawing in The Wall Street Journal because it showed him wearing a shirt with a collar instead of his habitual T-shirt.

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