For Rent: Office space with the Friendster founder
Jonathan Abrams ignited the social networking craze by making it easy for people to connect with groups of acquaintances on Friendster, the first successful social networking Web site launched in 2002.
But for his new project, a shared-work space/private hangout for up-and-coming Web startups and entrepreneurs in San Francisco, Abrams has made it so that not just anyone can join the club.
“We want to be very selective. We’re choosing companies that we think are cool and people we think are cool,” Abrams said of the project. “Because if you’re an asshole, or if you just want to sit in your corner and never talk to anybody, what’s the point of coming into a shared space and being part of a community?”
Dubbed the Founders Den, the 8,500-square foot office space in the city’s South of Market district is a place where entrepreneurs can set-up shop and code away during the day, and pour a drink from the bar and sidle up to the poker table at night, or drop-in on one of the many events to be held in the lounge area.
The space, which officially opens this week, can accommodate between 10 and 15 startups, with rents leased out in six-month increments. The idea is that startups will move into the space after receiving a bit of angel funding, and move out after they land their first Series A round of financing and begin hiring a larger staff.
“A lot happens in the six months at that startup phase,” Abrams explained during a recent visit to the Den which was interrupted when one unidentified tenant hobbled by, aided by a crutch and alluding to an incident involving tequila and a curb.
For Abrams, who is also the co-owner of San Francisco Slide nightclub and who looks more the part of a polished New York media executive than a scruffy Silicon Valley geek, the Founders Den is a side-project, as he works on his own secret new Web service (he left Friendster years ago and sold his last start-up Socializr in November for terms that were not disclosed). His three partners for the Founders Den, Jason Johnson, Michael Levit and Zachary Bogue are all working at the space on their own projects as well.
Abram’s latest project comes as social networking’s new top-dog, Facebook, recently fetched a $50 billion valuation, courtesy of a cash infusion from Goldman Sachs, and counts more than 500 million users worldwide.
“When I started working on the prototype of Friendster, I had no idea if 50 people would use it,” recounted Abrams, who is no longer involved with Friendster. “The idea was pretty goofy at the time. You know, a Web site where people were going to say who all their friends were on a Web site, and they’d have to say yes or no and all this stuff.”
Asked if he ever imagined that a social networking company would one day be worth $50 billion, he said: “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that. And obviously what we did at Friendster ended up being bigger than any one company. There were so many companies that were influenced by Friendster. Not just Facebook,” he said.
That legacy is now manifesting itself in the explosion of two or three-person Web start-ups developing newfangled services that harness social, mobile and geo-location technology. Founders Den is one of several venues offering a home for budding companies. New York’s General Assembly offers stylishly-furnished office space, and Google Ventures recently opened its own on-campus workspace for its portfolio companies.
Among the ten start-ups that are already tenants at the Founders Den are Inporia, a shopping recommendation engine whose founders previously sold companies to Google and Playdom, and JungleCents, an online deal company backed by Mark Cuban. The Founders Den also counts more than a dozen “advisors,” who Abrams said will be involved with various goings-on at the space, including Keith Rabois of Square and Blippy co-founder Philip Kaplan.