Tech: Just missed millions: These 8 people walked away from early jobs at billion-dollar companies
These Silicon Valley techies turned down job offers from startups like Facebook or Instagram, or jumped ship too early. Today, they'd have been worth millions.
Ali Fedotowsky walked away from Facebook when she opted to be ABC's Bachelorette.
It's impossible to know which startup is going to become the next billion dollar success story, and the risk of letting a golden opportunity slip through your fingers is something that tech workers grapple with every day.
While some who turn down lucrative offers still achieve success — Instagram's Kevin Systrom is a prime example — others may come to live in regret.
Here are how some Silicon Valley techies missed opportunities to make millions at companies like Facebook and Instagram:
Instagram wanted Amanda Wixted to be its first hire but she was cozy at Zynga.
Now, Wixted is the founder of Meteor Grove Software and serves as CTO for e-learning company Homer.
Ali Fedotowsky left Facebook to become the lead on ABC's "The Bachelorette." Sadly, she and the guy she picked didn't work out.
In 2009, Ali Fedotowsky faced a dilemma: She was a contestant on "The Bachelor" dating pilot Jake Palveka. In a tearful goodbye, she left Palveka to return to her job at Facebook. Fedotowsky had run out of vacation days while filming the show and didn't want to miss out on millions.
But when ABC offered to make her its Bachelorette, Fedotowsky left her sales rep gig at Facebook. Two years after her March 2010 departure, Facebook had a massive IPO that turned many of its employees into millionaires.
Fedotowsky's engagement to contestant Roberto Martinez ended shortly after the show aired and while Facebook didn't re-hire her, she went on to be a host on NBC's "1st Look." Now, Fedotowsky is married to TV and radio host Kevin Manno and writes a blog called Ali Luvs.
Julian Targowski was offered a role at Instagram in 2011 but walked away to launch his own app.
Julian Targowski was offered a role at Instagram in October 2011 but walked away to launch his own app.
He says he wasn't even interested in the offer because he was loyal to his own team.
"I don't regret a thing," he says on Quora. "You realize a lot of things about yourself (how content you are with your current situation, how hard you're working, where you want to be in the next few years, etc) when things like this happen."
Targowski went on to work at a startup called DailyBooth, which was acquired by Airbnb in 2012.
Sahil Lavingia left Pinterest just before his one year mark, so none of his stock options vested.
Sahil Lavingia now has a startup called Gumroad that's raised $8 million from Silicon Valley investors. But to start Gumroad, Lavingia had to walk away from his position as the No. 2 employee at Pinterest.
His timing could have been better (or worse): Lavingia left Pinterest about one month shy of his one-year mark at the company, which means none of his stock in Pinterest had vested.
Hopefully he'll make it back on Gumroad. Meanwhile, Pinterest is valued around $11 billion.
Robert Cezar Matei had a chance to be on Instagram's founding team. He walked away from it for Quora.
Robert Cezar Matei has missed a few golden opportunities. First, he turned down an opportunity to work for Facebook and decided to stay at Stanford instead. Then, he wasn't impressed by Square and turned down an early opportunity there.
But his most costly decision may have been turning down Instagram: He was offered a job as Instagram's second engineer. Plus, the founders had only made one other offer prior.
"When I was deciding where to work next, they made me build a follow recommendation algorithm using their API. I guess they liked it," he wrote on Quora. "We talked about their vision. We had sake in the Tenderloin at 1 in the morning. Kevin crafted a lovely letter, peppered with shared experiences and pictures, as he did for every offer. I was touched."
Instead, Matei went to Quora. He was more passionate about its vision and the position.
"If you're in the Valley for any amount of time, you'll have missed opportunities," writes Matei. "Whatever. Opportunities were rarely as close as they might seem in hindsight. There are a million ways my life could have turned out worse, too."
Matei is still working in product for Quora today.
Mark Zuckerberg's college roommate and co-creator of Face Mash opted not to join Facebook's founding team.
When Joe Green was at Harvard, he was roommates with Mark Zuckerberg. He and Zuckerberg created Face Mash together, which got the pair in trouble with the university.
Green's father, a professor at UCLA, cautioned him not to work with Zuckerberg anymore. So when Zuckerberg asked him to head up Facebook's business operations, he declined. The position would have granted him about 3% or 4% of the company, Green estimates, which would have made him worth about $3 billion.
He still scored some Facebook stock for being an advisor to the company and he later cofounded Causes and NationBuilder, companies other early Facebookers backed. He later left NationBuilder to join Andreessen Horowitz as Entrepreneur in Residence, and continues to serve as an executive board member at Causes today.
He tells Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "Every once in a while you can have a moment of bitterness but in general I've been so blessed with what I have been able to do."
Joe Jackson also turned down a chance to be on Facebook's founding team when he took an internship with JP Morgan instead of hanging out at Facebook's summer house in Palo Alto.
When Facebook was taking off and Zuckerberg rented a house in Palo Alto for the summer, he invited Harvard classmate Joe Jackson to come with him.
Instead, Jackson went to New York for a J.P. Morgan Chase internship.
"I completely missed the boat," he told Bloomberg BusinessWeek of his missed Facebook stock options. "I wasn’t thinking about it as 'This could be my chance to be rich and famous.' It was more like, 'This is going to Palo Alto and living in a house with a bunch of kids and programming for a startup that may not go anywhere.'"
Joshua Inkenbrandt turned down Instagram to become an engineer at Pinterest.
Like Wixted, we should note that Inkenbrandt will be just fine. He chose Pinterest over Instagram, which seems likely to yield a decent payout of its own.
But with Instagram, he could have been a millionaire already. Inkenbrandt wrote on Quora:
"I chose to work at Pinterest over Instagram. It was not an easy decision by any means because I really like Instagram and the guys who built it. I'll keep my reasons for choosing Pinterest to myself, but I will say that I don't regret the decision."
These guys all turned down Facebook but made millions other ways:
Kevin Systrom turned down Facebook and later sold his company, Instagram, to Zuckerberg for $1 billion.
Mike Abbott became Twitter's head of engineering.
Steve Chen worked for Facebook for a few months then founded YouTube, which he sold to Google for $1.6 billion.