By the spring of 2004, Harvard computer science major Joe Jackson had already witnessed the online phenomenon called Thefacebook. He knew it had taken hold not just at his school but at many other universities. And yet, when his friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin asked him to move to California for the summer to write code for the site, he decided to stick with the internship he had lined up at JPMorgan Chase. “I wasn’t thinking about it as ‘This could be my chance to be rich and famous,’” says Jackson, 28. “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.’”
Accepting the offer would likely have made Jackson a member of an elite class: one of Facebook’s earliest employees who, along with investors, stand to make millions or even billions when the company holds the largest-ever Internet initial public offering later this year. “I completely missed the boat,” says Jackson, who worked at technology companies and a venture capital firm after college and is now at Harvard Business School. He’s one of many who turned down a chance for equity in the most successful startup of the last decade.