An Older Entrepreneur’s 10 Takeaways from the Facebook Movie

I saw The Social Network last Friday night, and enjoyed it thoroughly. When it was over I was surprised. “What? Two hours already?”

Here are 10 (mental) notes I took as I watched:

  1. This movie is fun. Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing and Studio 60) does a great job making entertainment from reality.
  2. The plot feels real. I have no first-hand knowledge of Mark or Facebook, but I’ve done angel investing, raised VC money, and was a founding director of a software company that went public. And it feels to me like how these things happen.
  3. The Mark character rings true. He’s brilliant, obsessive, extremely productive, abrasive, selfish, and driven. I’ve known some people like that. They get things done. They bump people around on the way, more from blind obsession with their goals than on purpose. They’re not real good at seeing two sides of any question. They build empires.
  4. Ideas have little or no value. Implementation is what matters. Facebook grew out of some similar ideas that others had first. Mark took them and made them Facebook, and those others didn’t.  When reminded that others had a similar idea first, the Mark character points out that if it had been left to them, it would never have grown into what Facebook became. I agree. The race goes not to the alleged originator of the idea, but to the person who took that idea and built a business out of it.
  5. This movie is not bad for Facebook or for Mark Zuckerberg. We should all be so lucky. What happened with Facebook is a one-of-a-kind business phenomenon and this movie reinforces that. And the Mark character isn’t bad guy or good guy, he’s techie nerd obsessed business founder. It won’t hurt him at all. Mark can cry all the way to the bank. I like Ben Parr’s Mashable post on the real Mark Zuckerberg’s feelings about the movie after it rolled out. And I like this NYTimes.com analysis (you may have to register to see it, but registration’s free) of Facebook’s lack of legal options to do anything but watch.
  6. I don’t feel sorry for the three guys who came up with the original idea. The idea was obvious. They didn’t implement it. Mark stalled them with misinformation, which isn’t nice, but then ideas aren’t owned, so they can’t be stolen; just implemented.  (Corollary to note #4)
  7. The guy who wrote checks has a better argument. There are at least two sides to his story, and I doubt that the movie tells his side very well.   It doesn’t add up right. I do believe that writing checks into a business early on gives you some real ownership.
  8. Always get it in writing. There’s a lesson for entrepreneurs everywhere: sure it’s awkward among friends, but even if it’s not a legal document write it down and sign it. Maybe it’s just a reminder for you and partners later. Maybe you keep it in terms you understand. Ideally, you work with a lawyer to make it legal. It’s very important to do this early, before success or failure, because that keeps motivations cleaner.
  9. You have to protect yourself, not trust in friendship, good will, or ethics. Good intentions and verbal promises get lost in the shuffle. Business is like that. Never trust what somebody tells you a legal document says; read it. When somebody else is working with an attorney, get an attorney.
  10. The real world is full of great stories. It doesn’t take a space fantasy or super hero to make a great movie plot. Real people, the real world, and even real business can be very entertaining. And hey, if we get a few lessons along the way, everybody wins. Right?

For the record, the notes here were mental notes only. I didn’t get my phone out and type into it during the movie. So movie goers, don’t worry. That wasn’t me.

6 thoughts on “An Older Entrepreneur’s 10 Takeaways from the Facebook Movie

  1. Interesting analysis. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not to watch this movie, but I’m still curious.

    With regards to this phrase: “What happened with Facebook is a one-of-a-kind business phenomenon and this movie reinforces that.” It’ll be interesting to see if that holds true. Certainly the exact conditions probably can’t (and won’t) be duplicated, but there must some ingredients that are common to every success story.

  2. Thanks, Tim, another thought-provoking post. I’d like to push you a little bit on this sentence from point #5, however: “And the Mark character isn’t bad guy or good guy, he’s techie nerd obsessed business founder.”

    If he’s truly a morally neutral character, can you say that you’d want your daughter to marry him? Would you want your son to BE him?

    I think the beauty of the movie is that it’s a kind of celluloid Rorschach Test that helps uncover our own values. There’s a lot to admire in the Zuckerberg character, but at the end of the day, I can say that the bad outweighs the good. He’s not the kind of entrepreneur I want to be … and certainly not the kind I want to do business with.

    1. Ha, thanks Robert, and I liked your take on it (the trackback here) too. I don’t want to get all Zen about it, but I do think he’s a morally neutral character, now that you mention it. I mean the character in the movie, not the real person, of course, because I don’t know the real person. But I don’t think the fictionalized Mark is a bad person. I think the fictionalized twins were extremely lucky that he took their obvious idea and made it into something so successful that they were able to get oodles of money that they didn’t earn; his taking their idea was the best financial-business thing that ever happened to them, or ever will happen. I think the fictionalized Eduardo came out okay too, although he does seem to get shafted, certainly more so than the twins.

      Answering your follow-up question, as I did already in twitter, but with more than 140 characters here: The movie version of Mark is to me both inspiration and warning. Inspiration to all entrepreneurs as somebody who made an idea into a fabulously successful reality; and warning to all entrepreneurs as well, about how easily ideas can be taken and run with, and how easily the verbal assumptions we make about who owns how much of what and what we’re doing in the future can be blown apart by a fast-moving reality.

  3. The movie was fantastic. If you’re on the fence, see it. Had me intrigued from the moment it started.

    The point I like the most about your takeaways is the implementation. For every 100 people that have the same idea, only a few people will ever take action. Implementation is everything.

  4. Glad you shared those thoughts – #8 and #9. I’ve got an informal contract to go write.

    I had put off that decision because I didn’t know what kind of business it was going to become. I didn’t know what roles would be most prominent and who you replace at what stage.

    Better to give too much away, hope you picked wisely and do what you can to help them live up to their share I think. And use vesting periods to make sure they can do their part maybe. 😉

    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

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