January 27, 2023

New Venture Focuses on Science of Deal, Not Art of the Deal

A friend calls a friend who knows a guy. A meeting is taken. Wine is drunk (at, say, Madera lounge in Menlo Park). A business plan? Sure, whatever. But how does it feel?

This is decidedly not how Google, that apotheosis of our data-driven economy, wants to approach the high-stakes business of investing in the next, well, Google. Unlike venture capitalists of old, the company’s rising V.C. arm focuses not on the art of the deal, but on the science of the deal. First, data is collected, collated, analyzed. Only then does the money start to flow.

Google Ventures and its take on investing represent a new formula for the venture capital business, and skeptics say it will never capture the chemistry — or, perhaps, the magic — of Silicon Valley. Would computer algorithms have bankrolled David Packard or Steve Jobs? Foreseen the folly of Pets.com?

The data provides one answer to those questions, at least for now: Since its founding in 2009, Google Ventures has stood out in an industry that, for all its star power, has been dealing its investors a bad hand. In recent years, an investor would have done better with a ho-hum mutual fund that tracks the stock market than with some splashy V.C. fund. Venture capital funds posted an annual average return of 6.9 percent from 2002 to 2012, trailing major stock indexes, according to Cambridge Associates.

Google Ventures, like all venture funds, does not publicly reveal returns. But its partners can count on one hand the number of its 170 investments that have failed, though it is too early to know how many will succeed, and it has missed investing in some superstar companies. Its successes include companies that have gone public, like HomeAway for vacation rentals and Silver Spring Networks for smart grid software, and start-ups sold to Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter.

Whether Big Data — that label for technology and decision-making that is upending so many businesses — can truly transform the industry that helped spawn it remains to be seen. Few deny that crunching data is increasingly important. But some insist that those old intangibles, like instinct and luck, are still paramount.

“V.C.’s, just like all of our portfolio companies, need to be analytically intuitive in the modern era of data analytics,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, which has invested in companies like Amazon.com and Redfin, the real estate site. “But the intuition part is ultimately the biggest factor. And even with all that, a little good luck goes a long way.”

Google Ventures was the first major firm to rely heavily on data. Since then, established funds like Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator have followed suit, and new firms like the Ironstone Group and Palo Alto Venture Science have been created to test the strategy.

Many venture capitalists agree that something needs to change. In the tech industry, where engineers believe any problem can be solved with data, the solution seemed obvious.

“If you can’t measure and quantify it, how can you hope to start working on a solution?” said Bill Maris, managing partner of Google Ventures. “We have access to the world’s largest data sets you can imagine, our cloud computer infrastructure is the biggest ever. It would be foolish to just go out and make gut investments.”

Google Ventures has $1.5 billion under management — a pittance in the wider world of Google, which made $50 billion in revenue last year. It employs seven people who gather data, analyze it and present the results to the investors. Jerome H. Friedman, a prominent statistician at Stanford who writes papers with names like “Data Mining, Inference and Prediction,” consults for a few hours a week.

The firm feeds its algorithms data gleaned from academic literature, past experience and due diligence about start-ups and their founders. Even college dropouts who have never started a company have a quantifiable track record, Mr. Maris said.

Google declined to reveal its secret sauce — the algorithms it uses to parse the data. But it has learned a few lessons.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/technology/venture-capital-blends-more-data-crunching-into-choice-of-targets.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: I.B.M. Buys Cloud Computing Firm

The acquisition of SoftLayer is the largest deal that I.B.M. has made so far under the leadership of Virginia M. Rometty, who became chief executive in January 2012.Feature Photo Service for IBMThe acquisition of SoftLayer is the largest deal I.B.M. has made under the leadership of Virginia M. Rometty, who became chief executive in January 2012.

9:51 a.m. | Updated

I.B.M. announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to buy SoftLayer Technologies, a cloud computing company, in an effort to strengthen I.B.M.’s position in the fast-growing market for computing sold to businesses as a service delivered over the Internet.

The purchase price was not disclosed. But it was about $2 billion, according to a person told of the negotiations, who has asked not to be named because he had not been authorized to speak publicly about the terms.

SoftLayer, a private company based in Dallas, has a network of 13 data centers in the United States, Singapore and Amsterdam, and revenue of about $400 million a year. GI Partners, a private equity fund based in Menlo Park, Calif., is the majority owner of SoftLayer.

The acquisition is the largest made under the leadership of Virginia M. Rometty, who became chief executive in January 2012. The move, analysts say, also gives I.B.M. a broader presence in the business of cloud computing services.

I.B.M.’s first moves in the cloud market date back to 2007. But its early emphasis, analysts say, had mainly been on so-called private clouds, in which the computing is delivered to users as service over the Internet but from data centers owned by I.B.M.’s corporate customers.

But the SoftLayer acquisition will sharply expand I.B.M.’s capability to deliver computing services remotely to customers from I.B.M. data centers – the so-called public cloud model.

The SoftLayer data centers will be added to the 10 cloud services data centers I.B.M. now has worldwide. Erich Clement, a senior vice president of I.B.M. technology services unit, said SoftLayer “completes our portfolio.” It expands I.B.M.’s public cloud operations, he said, while adding expertise and technology for private clouds and hybrid services, which blend the public and private models.

Lance Crosby, chief executive of SoftLayer, said his company’s long-term goal has been to become “the de facto and most flexible platform for Internet cloud computing. And we couldn’t get there on our own.” I.B.M., he said, has the financial resources and relationships with corporate customers to accelerate the adoption of its cloud technology.

Amazon is the leader in the public cloud arena, and its roster of customers includes not just start-ups and research projects, but also large companies like Netflix.

Amazon does not break out the revenue for its cloud business, Amazon Web Services, but it is growing fast. The unit had estimated revenue of $2 billion last year, according a recent research report from Barclays, which forecast that Amazon’s cloud business would reach $5 billion or more by 2014.

I.B.M. executives say its strategy is to compete in the public cloud market not with basic computing capabilities like processing and storage, but with software for marketing, procurement and customer service delivered as cloud offerings. Since 2007, the company has spent $4.5 billion on more than a dozen acquisitions to build up its cloud software and services offerings.

“We’re focusing on business services that leverage the cloud model,” said Ric Telford, vice president of I.B.M. cloud services.

Beyond the acquisitions, I.B.M. hopes to offer the company’s homegrown technology as cloud services, like its Watson artificial-intelligence software, which I.B.M. announced last month was being tailored as a smart customer-service assistant.

“Watson has a lot more potential because of the cloud delivery model,” Mr. Telford said.

Dannon, the yogurt maker, is a cloud services customer that reflects the I.B.M. strategy. It uses I.B.M. public-cloud software for optimizing its pricing, promotions and product planning. The cloud software has helped Dannon’s sales planning teams improve the percentage of products sold to consumers from 75 percent to 98 percent – crucial for a food stuff with a limited shelf life. The software was developed by DemandTec, which I.B.M. acquired last year.

In new projects, Dannon, owned by the French company Danone, is now pursuing a “cloud first strategy,” said Timothy Weaver, the chief information officer.

I.B.M. has earmarked its cloud business as an area for investment and growth. That business grew 70 percent in the first quarter of 2013 from the quarter a year earlier. By 2015, I.B.M. has forecast its cloud business should reach $7 billion, including private and public cloud services.

All the major technology companies – including Microsoft, EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle – are pursuing cloud strategies. But analysts say I.B.M., perhaps more than any other company, can assure corporate customers to feel comfortable putting their business information in remote data centers and buying public cloud services.

More than a decade ago, I.B.M. demonstrated that endorsement effect, when it made a big commitment to Linux, the open-source operating system, helping it become a mainstream technology in corporate data centers.

“I.B.M. is very much a trusted brand here,” said Steven Milunovich, an analyst at UBS Securities. “Once they show up, they tend to have a big impact.”

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/i-b-m-buys-cloud-computing-firm-in-deal-said-to-be-worth-2-billion/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Facebook Unveils a New Search Tool

Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's event on Tuesday.Jim Wilson/The New York Times Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s event on Tuesday.

In a move designed to challenge its biggest rival, Google, and draw new sources of profit, Facebook on Tuesday announced a tool for users to search through the piles of pictures, posts and “likes” on the social network.

The company’s co-founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, made the announcement about the search tool at its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., in a cavernous room packed with reporters. He called it “graph search,” and said it would be a way to find content posted by friends on Facebook — including information about people, places, photos and interests.

“Graph search is a completely new way to get information on Facebook,” he said.

Mr. Zuckerberg offered an example. As he searched for Mexican restaurants in Palo Alto, Calif., up popped a list of restaurants that his Facebook friends had reported visiting and clicked the “like” button for on Facebook.

The tool could offer the company a way to crack the online dating market and compete with Web sites like LinkedIn that specialize in job searches.

Mr. Zuckerberg took pains to say that the tool was designed with users’ privacy in mind. “On Facebook, most of things people share with you aren’t public,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “You want access to things that people have just shared with you.”

Graph search is rolling out modestly; it’s available on Tuesday to just “hundreds or thousands” of users, Mr. Zuckerberg said, in English only. There is no precise schedule of when it will be available on mobile.

Search is the next frontier for Facebook, analysts say, as the company looks for more ways to expand revenue from its gold mine of information. After the company’s coy announcement last week about Tuesday’s event, the stock rose upon speculation that the new product would somehow involve search.


Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/facebook-unveils-a-new-search-tool/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Redpoint e.Ventures Making Long-Term Bet on Brazil

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — At a time when the Brazilian economy is cooling, at least one Silicon Valley firm is doubling down.

Redpoint e.Ventures announced Monday that it had raised $130 million to invest in early-stage Internet start-ups in Brazil, South America’s largest economy.

The firm, less than a year old, is a joint effort between Redpoint Ventures of Menlo Park, Calif., and BV Capital of San Francisco, which has just renamed itself e.Ventures. Each firm had invested in Brazilian Internet companies separately, including the online travel site Viajanet and Grupo Xango, a tech holding company co-founded by a former Microsoft executive.

Jeff Brody, Redpoint’s founding partner, acknowledged Brazil’s challenges, including slower growth and sagging industrial production. On Friday, Brazil’s government lowered its 2012 gross domestic product forecast to 3 percent growth, from 4.5 percent.

“None of that is good news for us,” Mr. Brody said. “Europe and China slowing down will definitely impact Brazil.”

But he said that the firm was more focused on the long term, the next decade, and that recent economic concerns “were not mentioned at all” by investors in the new fund.

In fact, the firms raised more than their original $100 million target, said Mathias Schilling, a founder of e.ventures. Internet use is still growing, and so is the mobile Web, and Brazilians still face a large void in early-stage venture capital, presenting a major opportunity.

A few pioneering local firms have already tapped into the market, including Monashees Capital of São Paulo. In addition, Kaszek Ventures of Argentina holds just under $100 million, with two-thirds of its investments in Brazil.

Still, the Redpoint joint venture is the first such fund in Brazil originating from Silicon Valley, said Allen Taylor, director of global networks for Endeavor, an American nonprofit group that promotes entrepreneurship in emerging markets.

Redpoint “has really taken a leadership position from the beginning” in helping encourage Brazil’s start-up culture and seeking it out as a market, Mr. Taylor said.

The founding partners of Redpoint e.Ventures, based here in São Paulo, Anderson Thees and Yann de Vries, say they will typically make initial investments from a few hundred thousand dollars to $5 million.

For many, the benefits go beyond the cash.

Camila Souza introduced the fashion shopping site Sophie Juliete with her partner, Ronald Beigl, last week. It is backed by Redpoint e.Ventures and IG Expansion.

Thanks to the presence of the new fund, and what she hopes will be other funds to follow, she said “entrepreneurship will become a lot more professional now” and less dependent on wealthy families.

“It will influence people who before did not really believe it was possible,” she said.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/07/23/venture-capital-firm-makes-long-term-bet-on-brazil/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Crashing the Party in Silicon Valley

Felix InvestmentsChester Higgins Jr./The New York Times The partners at Felix Investments, from left, are John Bivona, Frank Mazzola and Emilio DiSanluciano. Felix has been buying shares in Facebook, Twitter and others.

When others were questioning whether Facebook was really worth $10 billion in February 2010, two Wall Street investors were quietly buying chunks of its shares at a $15 billion valuation.

The investors, Frank Mazzola and Emilio DiSanluciano, principals of Felix Investments, a Manhattan-based broker-dealer, are not part of Silicon Valley’s elite. Dressed in crisp wool suits, the two New Yorkers are more comfortable navigating the narrow streets of Lower Manhattan than on tree-lined Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, Calif., well known for its venture capital residents.

But in late 2009, the pair had a plan: buy as many shares of the largest private Internet companies as quickly as possible. And if valuations go up, just buy, buy, buy.

Felix, which manages more than a dozen funds, is part of a new wave of capital washing up on Silicon Valley’s shores.

Over the last year, a number of investment firms have created special purpose vehicles to buy shares in red-hot private Internet companies and sell slices to wealthy investors. The group includes small firms, like J.P. Turner Company and EB Exchange Funds, and a few large investment banks, like Goldman Sachs, which recently sold $1 billion worth of Facebook shares to its foreign clients. At the same time, new exchanges like SecondMarket and SharesPost have emerged to facilitate these trades.

The flood of new money, some investors and technology executives say, is inflating valuations and disrupting the way new Web start-ups have long been nurtured. The investment firms are not just competing with one another for private shares, but they are also jostling against venture capital funds and angel investors (generally, wealthy people who invest early in budding companies), the ones who have traditionally supported start-ups.

Felix was among the first of the new money, snapping up millions of shares in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Groupon at billion-dollar-plus valuations, according to two people close to the firm and documents obtained by The New York Times.

“In the fall of 2009, we saw this whole thing evolving,” Mr. Mazzola said in a recent interview at his firm’s headquarters in downtown Manhattan. “Because the I.P.O. market was shut there was an opportunity to get in at interesting valuations.”

What some called foolhardy bets in 2010 now seem like bargains.

Facebook, which represents the firm’s largest holding, is expected to go public in the next six months at a valuation above $100 billion. LinkedIn, which held its initial offering in May, is trading at a $6.5 billion market capitalization. And Groupon, the fast-growing daily deals site, is said to be seeking an offering valuation north of $30 billion — about 15 times the figure at which Felix started buying its shares.

After putting some $200 million to work, the firm’s holdings are now worth well above $1 billion.

“When we invest, we’re not looking for a board seat, we just want to bet on the right guys and get out of their way,” Mr. Mazzola said. Felix’s investment philosophy runs counter to the ethos of most venture capitalists, who argue that their value to a start-up goes beyond money because they provide a wealth of resources in connections and knowledge.

The firm has been one of the most aggressive buyers of private shares. Early on, Felix cold-called Facebook employees in search of shares — a tactic that some venture capitalists criticized as tacky. Mr. Mazzola said the practice was eventually discontinued. Earlier this year, the firm also received heat for an e-mail that went out to investors calling Twitter a “must buy.”

“This is the first Twitter stock we or anyone else has had in the past six months and like Facebook it will continue to trade up in price rapidly!” the letter crowed.

Mr. Mazzola acknowledged the letter was written by someone at Felix but said it had been sent only to current investors. “Look, we are over the moon about the opportunities we have, and everything we’ve ever said has turned out to be conservative,” he said, defending the e-mail.

Felix’s swagger and hardball tactics have not won it many fans on Sand Hill Road. On Quora, a questions and answers site, a thread on Felix is peppered with complaints from anonymous would-be investors and sellers, who claim the company was not able to fill their orders or failed to get enough funds on time. One well-known technology executive, who had sold some of his shares to Felix, said the firm did not close in a “timely manner.”

“They don’t have the strongest reputation,” said Bo Brustkern, a managing director at Arcstone Equity Research. “I get the sense that they stumbled into this market and very quickly learned how to take advantage of the hype around Facebook — but they’re not very sophisticated.”

Mr. Mazzola said it was difficult to keep every potential client happy because there are limited shares in the market and companies often reserve the right of first refusal. It also does not have a “captive pool of funds” to draw from, he said.

Several venture capitalists declined to comment on the record about Felix, highlighting a peculiar tension between venture capital and new money. While Felix is a threat, it also offers a possible exit — a buyer willing to pay at high valuations.

Venture capitalists are “certainly not happy with what we’re doing in their backyard,” Mr. Mazzola acknowledged. “We are not valuation-sensitive and the traditional community feels threatened.”

Tensions could escalate as Felix behaves more like a traditional venture capital firm by entering earlier rounds of investing in start-ups. Now that the firm has already racked up stakes in some of the largest Web companies, it is looking at the next generation. It has closed investments in Jumio, a payments company; Qwiki, a visual search start-up; and BadgeVille, a service that helps Web sites integrate game mechanics.

Felix has also started a new fund, called Binary Ventures, that will make angel investments of $50,000 to $1 million.

“After the obvious rounds, what’s next?” Mr. DiSanluciano said. “We have to go after the Series A rounds,” he added, referring to a company’s first major investment round. It’s a riskier strategy, but one Felix hopes will generate even greater returns. Not everyone is as optimistic.

“They have no venture chops, they are brokers with a good sales team,” Mr. Brustkern said. “They were able to get money, but they cannot compete with the Institutional Venture Partners of the world.”

While some entrepreneurs are not ready to team with Felix, it can be a blessing for more established founders, according to Daniel Mattes, the chief executive of Jumio. Mr. Mattes, who previously founded Jajah, an Internet phone company that was sold to Telefónica in 2009 for $207 million, said Felix’s willingness to invest at a steep valuation, with no strings attached, was too compelling to turn down.

“The question is, do you want to be dependent on a large venture capital firm or do you want to use your track record to get the best valuation,” Mr. Mattes said. For his latest financing round, he contacted Felix and said he needed about $5 million. Felix came back with $6.5 million from its investors, at a far better valuation than he had hoped for.

“We may be the dumbest guys in the room, but we’re opportunistic,” Mr. Mazzola said, adding that “Felix is Latin for ‘lucky.’ ”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6bdca804ee524752e7b95d4b2e46503a

A Blood Test Offers Clues to Longevity

Blood tests that seek to tell people their biological age — possibly offering a clue to their longevity or how healthy they will remain — are now going on sale.

But contrary to various recent media reports, the tests cannot specify how many months or years someone can expect to live. Some experts say the tests will not provide any useful information.

The tests measure telomeres, which are structures on the tips of chromosomes that shorten as people age. Various studies have shown that people with shorter telomeres in their white blood cells are more likely to develop illnesses like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease, or even to die earlier. Studies in mice have suggested that extending telomeres lengthens lives.

Seizing on that, laboratories are beginning to offer tests of telomere length, setting off a new debate over what genetic tests should be offered to the public and what would be the ethical implications if the results were used by employers or others.

Some of the laboratories offering the tests emphasize that the results are merely intended to raise a warning flag.

“We see it as a kind of wake-up call for the patient and the clinician to say, ‘You know, you’re on a rapidly aging path,’ ” said Otto Schaefer, vice president for sales and marketing at SpectraCell Laboratories in Houston, which offers a test for $290.

A company in Spain, provocatively named Life Length, has begun selling a test for 500 euros ($712), that says that it can tell people their biological age, which may not correspond to their chronologic age.

Another company, Telome Health of Menlo Park, Calif., plans to begin offering a test later this year for about $200. It was co-founded by Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, who shared a Nobel Prize in 2009 for discoveries related to telomeres.

Calvin B. Harley, the chief scientific officer at Telome Health, said the test would be akin to a car’s dashboard signal, a “check engine light.” He compared it with a cholesterol test, but more versatile since it can predict a risk of various illnesses, not just heart attacks.

But among the critics of such tests is Carol Greider, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University, who was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize with Dr. Blackburn.

Dr. Greider acknowledged that solid evidence showed that the 1 percent of people with the shortest telomeres were at an increased risk of certain diseases, particularly bone marrow failure and pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal scarring of the lungs. But outside of that 1 percent, she said, “The science really isn’t there to tell us what the consequences are of your telomere length.”

Dr. Greider said that there was great variability in telomere length. “A given telomere length can be from a 20-year-old or a 70-year-old,” she said. “You could send me a DNA sample and I couldn’t tell you how old that person is.”

Peter Lansdorp, a telomere expert at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, also had doubts. “If telomeres are short for you or me, what does it mean?” he said. Dr. Lansdorp started a company, Repeat Diagnostics, which conducts telomere testing for medical researchers only.

Recent media reports speculated on the tests and their possible implications, including ethical problems.

“You could imagine insurance companies wanting this knowledge to set rates or deny coverage,” said Dr. Jerry W. Shay, a professor of cell biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who is an adviser to Life Length.

Test vendors say the speculation is running wild.

“It doesn’t mean we will tell anyone how long they will live,” said María Blasco, a co-founder of Life Length and a molecular biologist at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid. Even if a 50-year-old has the telomere length more typical of a 70-year-old, she said, “This doesn’t mean your whole body is like a 70-year-old person’s body.”

Still, she said, “We think it can be helpful to people who are especially keen on knowing how healthy they are.”

Generally tests offered by a single laboratory do not have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But the F.D.A. has been cracking down recently on some tests offered to the public, saying they may need approval. The FDA said in a statement Wednesday that it was aware of the tests, and had not come to any conclusions.

Executives at both Telome Health and Life Length say they will require a doctor to be involved in ordering the test, though SpectraCell said it allowed individuals to order the test.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1aa87929d8aaa510b44bace0ed730ef5

Square Feet: A Corporate Campus Made to Mirror Facebook

Construction workers are already swarming over the campus, a series of stucco-covered low-rise buildings occupied by Sun Microsystems until Sun was bought by the Oracle Corporation last year. Facebook plans to move in some employees by July and have most of its 2,000 workers, including its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, on site within 10 months. The campus will resemble an urban streetscape, with cafeterias by Roman and Williams, the New York design firm behind the Ace Hotel and its Breslin and John Dory restaurants.

But if the campus will be a microcosm of a city, it’s not clear that the real city around the campus — including the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of Belle Haven — will benefit from Facebook’s presence.

For one thing, the Facebook site is surrounded on three sides by water, and separated from the rest of Menlo Park by railroad tracks and a divided highway. 

The site is so insular that in the two decades it was occupied by Sun Microsystems it was nicknamed Sun Quentin (a reference to San Quentin prison, about 40 miles north). And because Facebook provides its employees with three meals a day in its own cafeterias, there may be little reason for them to venture off the property.

At Mi Tierra Linda, a Mexican food store on Willow Road (which dead-ends at the Facebook site), workers said they were not aware that Facebook was heading their way. But one customer, Freddy Bueno, 24, said he knew the company was coming and hoped it would be good for local businesses.

“Facebook has a huge global presence,” said the city manager of Menlo Park, Glen Rojas, who said he was optimistic that the company would attract other businesses to the city, which has a population of about 30,000. At the same time, he said, there is concern about how large a presence Facebook will become. Sun had 3,600 employees on site; Facebook, with a work force that is growing by 50 percent a year, could exceed that number, said John Tenanes, Facebook’s director of global real estate.

In fact, because Sun’s engineers had private offices, while most Facebook employees work in unpartitioned spaces, Mr. Tenanes said the one million-square-foot campus could handle a much larger population than it was originally designed for.

But Mr. Rojas said the site could legally accommodate only 3,600 workers, as determined by an environmental impact report. To exceed that number, Facebook will have to negotiate with Menlo Park, which will be looking for civic benefits in exchange, he said. Those could include street improvements, bicycle paths and payments in lieu of taxes.

“They can start moving in tomorrow,” he said of Facebook. “But they can’t have more than 3,600 employees until they get City Council approval.”

As for what civic improvements Facebook may make, Menlo Park is not relying on the company for ideas. Soon after Facebook announced plans to move to the Sun site (which it is leasing with an option to buy from Rreef, a unit of Deutsche Bank that bought it from Oracle last year), the city asked the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects to conduct a charrette, a kind of brainstorming session for architects. Such events usually attract 40 or 50 people; this one drew nearly 200, said John Stewart, a local architect who helped organize it.

The event was held in the campus cafeteria, the same one Roman and Williams will be reconfiguring.  It began with local residents listing some of the ways Belle Haven could be improved; they mentioned walking and biking paths and greater access to public transportation and the wetlands alongside the Facebook site.

Then the architects got to work. One team, charged with connecting the Facebook site to the rest of Menlo Park, devised an elevated ringlike walkway that links the campus to the Belle Haven neighborhood, a proposed transit station and the San Francisco Bay waterfront. The architects named it Friends Circle. (Though Belle Haven is a tidy neighborhood, many of the homes are small and flimsy-looking.)

Mr. Zuckerberg stopped by to lend his support. The proposals will be presented to the City Council at a meeting on May 3, with Mr. Tenanes and other Facebook executives on hand.

But right now the focus is on getting the campus ready for Facebook employees. Contractors have already replaced rows of small offices in one of the Sun buildings with a loftlike space where desks will be pushed together in groups of four. “We like that you can sit at one end and see all the way to the other,” said Mr. Tenanes, showing off a section of building that had been stripped to concrete and ductwork — and will remain that way.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f06ca2c613b165eb6a0977ffbddf0f16