In 2005, Matt Jacobson was 44 and looking for a new job after leaving Quiksilver, the surf brand. A friend suggested he meet with an unknown startup based in Palo Alto, Calif.
Jacobson flew from Los Angeles, where he lives, to a graffiti-covered office where he was greeted by the company’s chief executive, who didn’t look much older than a teenager. The two men bonded and decided to work together. But there was one problem.
The young startup couldn’t afford to pay Jacobson; instead, he could work for equity.
Jacobson decided to take a chance. He shook hands with Mark Zuckerberg and became employee No. 8 at Facebook. Needless to say, the bet paid off.
Today, Jacobson lives in a Ray Kappe-designed home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., with his wife, Kristopher Dukes, who is an interior designer, and their pit bull, Luscious. In addition, the couple recently purchased a designer home on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park that resembles a fossilized dinosaur.
And at Facebook, where he has been an employee longer than anyone (besides Zuckerberg), he has emerged as a powerful gatekeeper, not just for Silicon Valley, but Hollywood, as Facebook becomes increasingly im- portant for TV and movie studios. That relationship is destined to become increasingly intertwined as social networks look for more content to keep users engaged. And as social media cuts into the time that people spend in front of movie and television screens, Hollywood is looking for new ways to interact with consumers. Having someone like Jacobson at Facebook ensures this happens seamlessly.
Jacobson dresses like a Seventh Avenue fashion executive (he is partial to Thom Browne suits, custom Freddy Vandecasteele shirts, cordovan classics ties and J. Crew pants).
He exhibits none of the awkwardness commonly associated with Silicon Valley types.
Though Facebook has made celebrities out of Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Jacobson has largely kept a low profile. But that may change as his influence grows.
Since Facebook’s nascent days, he has helped broker some of its earliest partnerships. Before Facebook had a news feed, Jacobson worked with Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Entertainment, to build social media awareness for new releases among college-age users. Jacobson also helped Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012, figure out how to sell ads without undermining the user experience.
His official title at Facebook is head of market development, but a more accurate one would be chief relationship officer.
“Matt manages to work as a Rosetta stone between the way Hollywood thinks and the way Silicon Valley thinks,” Lynton said.
While Hollywood and Silicon Valley are separated by a one-hour flight, the two sectors of California still feel worlds apart. Technology engineers see Hollywood as superfluous and outdated, while Hollywood sees Silicon Valley as a bunch of programmers who know nothing about content.
“I think that if all of these tech companies had a guy like Matt, with that sort of internal access at Facebook, and the relationships with the studios, that it would really turbocharge the ability for tech companies and entertainment companies to align,” said Michael Burns, Lionsgate’s vice chairman. “People ... just really like him.”
Even Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp., took a break from his yachting vacation to give special thanks to Jacobson.
“Over the years, Matt has maintained his relationship with me and senior leadership at 21st Century Fox and News Corp.,” Murdoch emailed. “It’s great for us to have a friend who understands us and our business at Facebook.”
Jacobson could have walked away from Facebook several years ago and become an insanely rich beach bum (he’s an avid surfer), but at 54, he now seems to be taking on more work than ever. He sits on the advisory board of Leica, the high-end camera company. He is a trustee of the Chadwick School in Southern California. He has set up “mentoring circles” at Facebook to help new and old employees.
He has also pursued his interest in fashion. Last year he bought Birdwell Beach Britches, a popular surf clothing brand based in Los Angeles. And he sometimes writes about fashion for The Hollywood Reporter.
But fashion is more than a hobby. For Facebook to be taken seriously, he said, he has to dress the part. “Hollywood is probably the last bastion of coat and tie, other than Wall Street, and I felt like I was too old to wear ironic T-shirts,” he said.
And as one of the oldest and best-dressed execs at the company, he still looks out of place on Facebook’s campus.
“I get stopped by security all the time because they think I am a visitor,” he said. “Security will ... ask to see my visitor’s badge and say, ‘Who are you?’”