Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Entrepreneurs: Social Network Movie is Both Entertaining and Thought-Provoking


Dan Danford, MBA, CRSP®
Family Investment Center

The late George Carlin was a favorite entertainer. He was blessed with a unique life perspective, and his genius for wordplay offered an enormous creative platform. Most anyone from the 1970s can recite verbatim bits from his wildly successful comedy albums.

George had some anger, too. He often poked fun at sacred cows – using biting commentary towards religion, politics, and corporate America. He was counter-culture in almost every way, and he made us laugh as he skewered many of the authorities and things that made America great. He’s renowned for, among other things, being the very first host of Saturday Night Live.

This is a classic entrepreneurial parable.

I thought about George while watching The Social Network. Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who created Facebook, shares a few quirks with Carlin. First, his personality is unique to the point of being antisocial. Second, his genius is unquestionable. Third, there’s an anger simmering right below the surface.

This whole Facebook story is pretty entertaining. I love entrepreneurs, and this is a classic entrepreneurial parable. It plots an unlikely hero against a host of challenges, and – against all odds – he meets with remarkable business success. It’s the same inspiring story of Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey or Howard Hughes, from an earlier era.

You watch this movie unfold and wonder if Zuckerberg’s hilarious awkwardness fuels his unique genius. Maybe the miracle of Facebook grew from Zuckerberg’s personal deficits. Perhaps the real purpose of Facebook was to reject authority on every conceivable level. He sure tries.

I genuinely wish I knew this guy. He’s portrayed as an angry geek who torches his only friends. Along the way, he creates a $25 billion dollar company, and changes the Internet landscape forever. Possibly the world’s landscape, too, for that matter. There are now over 500 million Facebook users worldwide; more than the populations of any countries in the world except China and India. The Facebook community is now the world’s third largest nation!

You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

There’s another lesson in this story, as well. It’s a sidebar to every successful entrepreneur’s tale. It chronicles the rocky road from admiration to dismay to outright contempt. We love to publicly celebrate business success in America; it’s a lot less tolerable when it involves our personal friends and acquaintances.

Zuckerberg is plagued by people who want. He is the figurative goose who laid a $25 billion dollar golden egg, and various friends and acquaintances want some. No matter the legal grounds (documented in the movie, and elsewhere), none of them makes a serious claim to his tech skills, thought processes, or vision for Facebook’s incredible success.

It’s not that they didn’t contribute in some ways, just not in similar proportions. To me, that’s the tragedy. In America, guys who don’t deserve it can still collect an awfully big payday. That includes your former friends, if you are Mark Zuckerberg.

The Movie’s Trailer: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/sony_pictures/thesocialnetwork/

It’s important to note that this movie was not authorized by Mark Zuckerberg and did not have his cooperation. He claims that it is inaccurate in a variety of ways. See
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501465_162-20019824-501465.html
for Zuckerberg’s comments.

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