Back in 2004, a group of Harvard students gathered together in their dorm room to start working on a little project called thefacebook.com. Originally intended to serve as an online directory of Harvard’s students, it rapidly developed way beyond its original remit to become a global phenomenon. In the process, it turned Mark Zuckerberg into a household name and the rest of its creators into extremely wealthy young men. One of those creators is Dustin Moscovitz. Despite quitting Facebook in 2008, Moscovitz ranks as one of the wealthiest figures in tech. Today, he’s estimated to be worth in the region of $17 billion. How did he do it? Believe it or not, the answer doesn’t begin and end with the word ‘Facebook’…
The Facebook Years
Moscovitz was born in Gainesville, Florida. After graduating from Vanguard High School’s IB Diploma Program, he won a place studying economics at Harvard University. It was at Harvard that he met Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, and Chris Hughes. After deciding to create a website that allowed residential students at the university to recognize members of other residences, the four friends created ‘thefacebook.com’. After it proved a hit with students, they decided to quit their studies, relocate to Palo Alto, and set to work turning thefacebook.com into Facebook.
Although Zuckerberg has become the ‘face’ of Facebook in the years since, Moscovitz’s involvement shouldn’t be underestimated. Despite being entirely self-taught, he was responsible for writing most of the code of the prototype. As moneyweek.com notes, many of the infrastructural elements he built are still in place today. As the company’s first chief technology officer and later, the vice president of engineering, he was the chief orchestrator of the company’s mobile strategy and development. After 4 years with the company, Moscovitz announced in 2008 that he would be leaving Facebook to launch a new startup named Asana with Justin Rosenstein, an engineering manager at Facebook.
Unlike co-founder Eduardo Saverin who left Facebook in 2012 under bitter circumstances, Moscovitz’s parting of the ways with the company that made his name was amicable. He remains friends with Zuckerberg to this day – so much so, in fact, Zuckerberg has called him one of his most trusted advisors and confidantes. But it was more than just friendship he took with him when he left. It was stock. Although he’s offloaded several million dollars’ worth of stock since the company went public in 2012, Celebrity Net Worth estimates he still owns around 3% of Facebook made up of 95 million class A and class B shares combined.
The Move to Asana
In 2012, Moscovitz and Saverin launched their eponymous web and mobile app, Asana. It received an outstanding reception on its release, with PC Magazine calling it “one of the best collaboration and productivity apps for teams.”
The previous spring, the company had closed a $1.2-million angel round from a group of investors that included former Facebook Director of Mobile Jed Stremel and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel in their number. By January 2018, Asana had over 35,000 customers, including AB-InBev, Viessmann, eBay, Uber, Overstock, Navy Federal Credit Union, Icelandair, and IBM. Just 9 months later, its customer base had expanded to 50,000 and the company had raised another $50 million during the fifth round of funding, pushing its valuation to $1.5 billion. Earlier this year, Asana announced plans to file its initial public offering. Clearly, Moscovitz’s decision to leave Facebook for Asana wasn’t the reckless decision many people predicted at the time. Although Asana has yet to turn a profit, its exponential growth over the past few years is a predictor of solid success to come. And until then… well, he’s still got his 3% stake in Facebook to fall back on.
The Reluctant Billionaire
As the Daily Mail writes, one of the most interesting aspects of the Facebook story has nothing to do with the site itself. Nor to do with how much money each of its creators has made. It’s how they’ve each chosen very different lives. Take Eduardo Saverin. Since leaving Facebook in acrimonious circumstances, he’s renounced his US citizenship to avoid an estimated $700 million in capital gains taxes and is now living as a tax exile in Singapore. Having gained a reputation as a notorious playboy, his activities extend to running B Capital, a venture capital firm whose most noteworthy investment is in a cosmetic company run by a former Miss Universe, and quaffing vast amounts of Moet.
In contrast, Moscovitz eschews the accouterments of wealth. More interested in yoga poses than flash cars (fun fact: Asana is a Sanskrit term used in yoga), Moscovitz is a reluctant billionaire who seems more interested in giving his wealth away than in adding to it. Like Zuckerberg, Moscovitz has signed Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s ‘Giving Pledge’ that encourages the extremely wealthy to donate most of their wealth to philanthropic causes during their lifetime. Along with his wife, Cari Tuna, he also runs the philanthropic organization Good Ventures which seeks to “do as much good as possible”. Since 2011, Good Ventures has donated over $100 million to causes such as Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, and Deworm the World Initiative. Moscovitz has spoken openly about the burden of suddenly going from a broke student to a billionaire investor. During an interview with Forbes, he explained, “For most people, wealth accrues slowly… I went from the dorm room to having a billion dollars. It isn’t easy.”
The Bottom Line
Forbes quotes Moscovitz as saying “Success is very much the intersection of good luck and hard work.” In his own case at least, he’s bang on the money. It was luck that led him to meet Mark Zuckerberg, and luck that meant Facebook launched at just the right time in human history. But it was hard work that led to Facebook becoming something more than a student directory, hard work that allowed him to turn Asana from an idea into a reality, and hard work that turned him from a struggling student with a bright idea into one of the youngest billionaires of all time. And that, in a nutshell, is how Dustin Moscovitz achieved a net worth of $17 billion.