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Entrepreneurship Lessons from 'The Social Network'

By January 21, 2011

I finally got around to watching The Social Network last night. For me, the most interesting character(s) were the Winklevoss twins. The Winklevi, as they've come to be known, created a perfect portrait of wannabe entrepreneurs and the factors that separate them from the genuine article. Putting aside how accurate the movie is or isn't, here's why the twins were unsuccessful and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was rather the opposite.

Winklevi Characteristics

  • Rule-bound: From the inception of their idea, the Winklevi constrained themselves with rules. The original idea was the HarvardConnection -- a social network exclusively for Harvard students. Because so much of W2's sense of self came from within the walls of Harvard, they didn't think beyond its narrow boundaries.
  • Disciplined -- in all the wrong ways: These guys are 6-feet-5-inches tall and weigh 250 pounds -- each! They were Olympic rowers. They worked hard at Harvard -- studying, training, eating, sleeping. What could fit  in between became the outlines of the HarvardConnection -- and it was not nearly enough.  So they outsourced the heart and soul part of the mission to Zuckerberg, whose character later said to them during a deposition, "If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you would have invented Facebook." You are correct, sir.
  • Money-focused: They were always about, and only about, the money. They were never about the idea. They had no vision.
  • Arrogant -- in the wrong way: Arrogance is a trait of many successful entrepreneurs. Sometimes arrogance gets a bad rap. A certain kind of arrogance that's about self-belief in the face of daunting odds is necessary. But in Winkle World, it's arrogance driven by a sense of entitlement and pedigree, rather than accomplishment.

Zuckerberg Characteristics

I wouldn't know the real Mark Zuckerberg if I fell over him, but I think the movie version provides a good template for a few key traits of successful entrepreneurs.

  • Obsessed: Once he started, he couldn't stop.  Remember the scene in which Zuckerberg is in the cafeteria with a friend who asks him if a girl they both know has a boyfriend? Zuckerberg doesn't answer.  He just sprints back to his dorm room to add the missing link -- Relationship Status -- to Facebook. Then he flips the switch to make the site live for the first time. I have known a lot of successful entrepreneurs, and they're mostly all like this. There is very little room in their lives for anything but their idea and driving it as far and fast as possible.
  • Ruthless, sometimes: In the movie (I have no idea what the truth is), Zuckerberg completely screws his co-founder, Eduardo Savarin (although being screwed and left with $2.5 billion or so in stock isn't so bad). Savarin  owned about a third of Facebook until Zuckerberg duped him into signing away his rights to not have his shares diluted when new investors came in. Prior to Savarin's lawsuit and settlement, Zuckerberg left him with approximately 0.03 percent of the company, which is enough to buy a couple of nice islands in Greece, but a far cry from his original stake. There is a certain degree of ruthlessness in many highly successful entrepreneurs. I can think of a bunch I know with whom I would not want to share a foxhole.
  • Non-Compliant: Zuckerberg could not have cared less about the rules and traditions of Harvard, or personal relationships with women, or anything else. He had no respect for anything conventional, which is why it was easy for him to focus on what he did care about, move to Silicon Valley and be at the heart of the money and talent to grow the company.

The Social Network -- two thumbs up for its insightful lessons on business. What's your review?

January 21, 2011 at 10:21 pm
(1) Chig says:

I TOTALLY agree with your assessment, and I especially love the fact that you correctly used “could not have cared less.”

So often I hear people say, “I COULD care less about….,” which of course means they care at some level and totally missing the point that I think they are trying to make.

January 22, 2011 at 9:35 am
(2) entrepreneurs says:

Thanks, Chig. I owe my correct usage of “could not have cared less” to my wife, who’s also my copyeditor. She catches all the dumb mistakes I make in writing, because I could care less about that stuff.

January 22, 2011 at 8:53 am
(3) Ari says:

Great review here.

After first seeing the movie only but a week ago, I viewed as a lesson in entrepreneurship. An entertaining one at that. The movie was extremely well written, true or not, it was simply enjoyable to watch the progression of (the) Facebook.

January 24, 2011 at 3:20 am
(4) Lillian says:

I completely agree with an entrepreneur being “non-compliant”! After having a heated discussion with a group of friends over why successful corporate job holders flop in business”, I agree; Entreprenuers “break the rules!” But for successful “Corporate job holders” the mantra is OBEY!

January 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm
(5) entrepreneurs says:

@Lillian, I agree. I did my best to be obedient and succeeded for 25 years until I just started disobeying. It was like someone else had taken over my brain. A year later I was entrepreneuring, never looked back!

January 24, 2011 at 5:48 pm
(6) Truthsayer says:

Its amazing how you can say that the originators of the idea (The Winklevosses) had no vision. Or that all they cared about was money. Where in the movie do they express this sentiment?

They gave the idea/vision/business plan to Zuckerberg (once he agreed to join the partnership), and he consequently used his skill set to harm and take advantage of them.

I have never seen a thief lionized to such an extent as this blog post.

January 24, 2011 at 6:26 pm
(7) entrepreneurs says:

@Truthsayer: Thanks for sharing your viewpoint. I didn’t mean to “lionize” Zuckerberg, but on the other hand, you or I could have stolen the idea and we wouldn’t have turned it into something worth $50 billion (at least I wouldn’t have). And there was nothing stopping the Dubya twins from dropping their oars and getting to work on their concept. Rowing was more important I guess?

January 26, 2011 at 5:39 pm
(8) Entrepreneur In You says:

I saw the movie last week and was truly inspired but after reading your note I am grooving about it. Very impressive and thoughtful writing, captures the true meaning of the movie. I have shamelessly shard it across my network.

January 31, 2011 at 2:34 am
(9) segun mcemmy says:

You are right about, enterprenuership is not all about the money.

January 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm
(10) Pear says:

Great article. I also believe what makes Zuckerberg so successful is he followed his intuition singlemindedly. (acutally, how else is there to do it?). It takes courage at times. But I’ve never heard of a successful person who went along with the crowd. I admire Zuckerberg’s independence. I also liked that the movie did portray with having a heart. By the way, did you hear he donated 100 million dollars ($100M) to tthe New Jersey school system? The man is doing well, very well. More power to him. I saw him on SNL.



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