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Before Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg built a chat network called ZuckNet

He was dethroned by AOL, but Zuckerberg has been building products longer than we thought.

DLD Conference 2009 Sean Gallup/Getty Images for Burda Media

It turns out Mark Zuckerberg has been building tech products for much longer than we thought.

The Facebook founder and CEO actually built a chat service for his family — and for his dad’s dental business — when he was a pre-teen growing up in New York City.

“Growing up, one of the neat things was that [my dad’s] dental office was actually connected to our home,” Zuckerberg explained on a recent podcast with Greylock Partner and early Facebook investor Reid Hoffman. “The dentists and hygienists needed to share data on the patients. So I built a system where he could communicate with folks across rooms, and also communicate with me and my sisters upstairs— and I called it ZuckNet.”

Zuckerberg, who was somewhere around 10 or 12 years old at the time, says that eventually ZuckNet was beat out by a rival: AOL Instant Messenger.

“It was basically our little network, inside the Zuckerberg home, and it was fun,” he added. “Basically, that was the predecessor to probably a bunch of different social software ideas that I explored over time, but very early on, very early on. And then, of course, AOL Instant Messenger came, and then everyone just used that.”

What’s ironic, of course, is that AOL was eventually dwarfed by a Zuckerberg creation: Facebook. Zuckerberg actually owns two messaging services, Messenger and WhatsApp, that each have more than 1.2 billion users.

Zuckerberg shared the ZuckNet story and info on other early inventions (like a computer game for digital snowball fights) on an episode of Hoffman’s new podcast, called Masters of Scale. (The New Yorker apparently heard about ZuckNet before any of us, but we forgot about it and figured you had, too.)

Hoffman has known Zuckerberg since the earliest days of Facebook, and participated in Facebook’s first round of funding alongside board member Peter Thiel. In the conversation, Zuckerberg also spoke about his early expectations for Facebook, which were not very high.

“I didn't mean to move out [to Silicon Valley],” Zuckerberg explained. “Sophomore year is when I started Facebook. Dustin [Moskovitz], my co-founder at Facebook, and I wanted to get out of Cambridge for the summer, so we're like, ‘All right, where should we go to work on Facebook?’ We’re like, ‘All right, let’s go to Silicon Valley. That’s this mythical place where all these companies come from.’ And I remember we explicitly talked about, one day, we might start a company — and this was after we’d started Facebook ... [Facebook] was obviously not the company that we were going to create.”

Times have certainly changed. The ZuckNet story also reminded us of this fantastic video from when Zuckerberg was accepted into Harvard.

You can listen to the full podcast beginning at 3 am ET Wednesday.

This article originally appeared on

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