The Social Network – Review, etc…

{Note: Do I need a SPOILER alert?  I wouldn’t think for a movie like this but who knows…don’t read on if discussing the movie would ruin it for you?}

I just saw the Social Network and was quite impressed.  It’s very well done story that weaves the lawsuits by the Winklevosses (the Harvard rowers that came to Zuck to make something similar to Facebook) and Eduardo Saverin (his initial business co-founder) into the backstory of Facebook’s early growth from Harvard exclusive site to over a million users.

First…a few things it missed:

1) Fundraising…

They only vaguely touched on it, and basically they suddenly had money, possibly after a stunt of Sean Parker getting Zuckerberg to give the middle finger to an investor.  There was no mention of trying to raise in Boston, which at least around here people talk as if he did.

2) Concept of time…

It was really hard to tell how long went by for Facebook between launching at Harvard and having 1 million users. The movie made it feel like it happened in under a year….and amazingly I just checked and Quora answers it was actually 10 months: http://www.quora.com/How-long-did-it-take-Facebook-to-reach-one-million-users So while maybe it was accurate, it wasn’t easy to track other than knowing there was a summer when they moved to the valley.

3) The move to the Valley…

This movie made it seem like it was totally inevitable and that Mark thought it was the only place to be (possibly partially motivated by Sean Parker).  I’m wondering how much that was the case.  I guess we’ll have to wait for Zuck’s autobiography, but even then…I wonder if he’d have rose-colored glasses at that point.

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So at the root of the story you have 4 key characters: Zuck, Eduardo, the Winklevosses (yeah, they’re one person or 2 halves…your choice) and Sean Parker.  Despite people freaking out about Zuck being painted poorly in this, I’d argue he did fine comparably… a bit of character noting:

Eduardo Saverin

Oh poor Eduardo. He puts up some early cash and tries to be the “good business guy.”  Unfortunately, he comes off as clueless and worthless to the company.  And it’s not for failing of Zuck trying; he repeatedly asks him to join him in the Valley, where he could have done some good. But instead, he was trying to convince advertisers, which wouldn’t hit Facebook until November 2007.  He seemed totally unqualified to be the business cofounder and also unwilling to do what it actually took to be a good cofounder to Zuck and so it’s hard for me to feel bad for him.   Given his settlement is undisclosed, I’d bet he got a bunch of shares back (note Wikipedia says he has 5%, which still makes him a billionaire).  Meanwhile, his absence in the Valley opened the door for Sean Parker…

Sean Parker

Leach. Social parasite.  Delusional.  All words it seems like would be appropriate for Parker.  Given I’d always heard that Shawn Fanning (of Northeastern!) founded Napster I was a bit surprised to hear his name associated. I tried Googling and while he’s credited, I couldn’t find much of an origin story as to how Sean joined (But I did find this *awesome* post by Don Dodge about Napster).  In the Social Network, he comes off as a party animal who wins the favor of Zuck and gives a few intros while also bringing trouble (his cocaine incident at the end of the movie, it turns out, was also when he was dismissed from the company…but not until after he had 7% of the company).  I find it hard to believe that he accidentally was in the neighborhood with Zuck and instead planned that and the subsequent partying that led Zuck to an opportunity to invite him into the house.  With Eduardo gone, it gave a leach the opportunity to move in.

I’m sure his intros helped and I bet he gave some good feedback from his past startup experiences, but you have to take the bad with the good…and at least in the movie Sean is painted as someone not to be associated with (I wonder how that intern felt about her cocaine charge…).

The Winklevosses

Ah, the essence of Harvard elitism.  Born with a silver spoon.  Gifted athletes.  Powerful families.  Great stature and an expectation that they deserve more and that the powers will protect them.  They had an idea for a site for Harvard. And they got $63 Million.  Must be nice.  I don’t know how you justify it, but I’m guessing Zuck must have done at least a few stupid things when he first “agreed” to work with them that gave them a shred of a case.  I also suspect that Zuck was willing to settle to get rid of the distraction; an underrated portion of this is the fact that Zuck was so committed to his team and even said so flatly to the lawyer as he emphasized part of his mind was on Facebook and not just on his questioning.  As if they hadn’t already hit the genetic lottery being 6’3″ and Olympic-level rowers from a rich and powerful family, they got the $63 million.  Disgusting….but maybe that’s because I’m an entrepreneur.

Mark Zuckerberg

Ah, the best for last.  Mark comes off slightly bitter, a little bit Gen Y entitled and a bit of an invincibility complex (he didn’t seem to think anyone could touch him).   He obviously didn’t treat the poor BU girl he degraded on his blog very well and overally seemed a bit cold to most.  I don’t think he’s the first (and certainly not the last) slightly socially awkward, resentful of the jocks/cool kids, dorky kid who is cold and calculating.  He’s just the first to be the public-facing founder of a startup that had a story interesting enough to justify a book and a movie.

In the end, he built Facebook. Did he lead on the Winklevosses? It appears that way, but he did it because he wanted to beat those elitist houses he didn’t think he’d be able to get into.  I’m sure he knew those guys might be able launch a Harvard site better than him because of their connections, so he strung them along to buy time to launch his version.  As we say in the startup community constantly…it’s about execution and these guys could never be bothered to really build something.

Meanwhile…Mark gave Eduardo every opportunity to be a part of it and he just couldn’t figure it out that he needed to come to the Valley.  He was hung up on making money and apparently had no concept of getting investment to cover costs before they figured out how to make money.  This of course opened the door for Sean Parker to weasel his way in, which had its obvious benefits and drawbacks.

Sometimes you learn more from success than failure and often it’s hard to explain why something succeeded except to combine a little serendipity and good timing. Despite these warts being dramatized and put into film, I believe they all played an important part in making Facebook what it is today.  Startups are a contact sport, so expect to get a little mud on you if you put your hat in the game.

2 thoughts on “The Social Network – Review, etc…

  1. Movies by necessity compress time lines, characters and plot and change facts willy-nilly so I am not sure how much you can really get out of the movie in terms of real entrepreneurial lessons. It might be a good idea to forever separate fact and history from the movies unless we are talking about a documentary.

    • oh Bobbie, you take all the fun out of it :P

      There were a lot of subtle things in the movie that I think only entrepreneurs can appreciate. If you only assume The Social Network is entertainment…you’re missing out.

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