He quickly became an academic star at Andover, a WASP haven whose alumni include George H.W. and George W. Bush. Hughes won another scholarship, this one to Harvard. His sophomore-year suitemate in 2002 was a kid from the rival Phillips Exeter prep school, a computer-programming whiz named Mark Zuckerberg. Hughes, a history and literature major, didn’t have computer chops, but he was intrigued by the Web project Zuckerberg and two other classmates were developing. He offered suggestions. More important, he offered his personality. In contrast to the intense and focused Zuckerberg, Hughes was articulate and outgoing, and boyishly attractive. He was the group’s natural salesman and, eventually, its spokesman.
The project, of course, was “TheFacebook,” which grew from Zuckerberg and Hughes’s dorm room into an earth-straddling social-media colossus. Hughes would leave Facebook just a few months after graduating from Harvard in 2006. But his co-founding role, and several years of mostly part-time commitment to the company, earned him about 1 percent of its stock, a stake now worth an estimated $850 million.
He also left with a key connection. Before the elections of 2006, Reggie Love, personal aide to then-Sen. Obama, asked Hughes for help in setting up a Facebook page for his boss. A few months after leaving Facebook, he signed on to work as director of online organizing for Obama’s presidential campaign. His personal project was called MyBarackObama.com, which was incorporated into Obama’s site. Unique at the time, it was a kind of Facebook for Obama’s grass-roots organizers, canvassers and donors. MyBO, as it became known, helped raise $30 million for the campaign and engaged millions of Obama’s young supporters.
Since 2009, Hughes has sought a permanent place for his exploding Facebook wealth and an outlet for his progressive politics. First, he started a social network called Jumo, which aimed to do for charities and nonprofits “what Yelp did for restaurants,” as Hughes once put it. But the idea failed to gain traction and was merged into the like-minded Good media organization 10 months after its launch.
In the meantime, Hughes moved to an 80-acre estate in the Hudson River Valley with his boyfriend, Sean Eldridge. Since Obama’s election, the two men have raised their profiles as fundraisers and advocates of an array of causes: marriage equality (Eldridge was formerly political director of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry), a bipartisan effort at campaign finance reform in New York state, and the United Nations’ HIV prevention efforts in Africa, among others.
That Hughes and Eldridge are now among New York’s best-connected couples — the “A gays,” as one wag put it — was evident from the guest list at their wedding reception in New York on June 30. The reception at a posh Manhattan restaurant included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the actor Kal Penn, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), TV host Gayle King, Huffington Post publisher Arianna Huffington, and Zuckerberg.