The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

The Social Network: My Learnings from the movie

Yes, this is kind of a movie review, of ‘The Social Network’. And ordinarily, I post my movie reviews on my other blog, but I am writing this one here. This blog here, is more focused to budding and fellow entrepreneurs, and I usually review startups here. So what is a movie review doing here?

Well, the movie ‘The Social Network’ is an entrepreneur’s movie, if anything! And there are many learnings to pick up, for entrepreneurs, and hence, I felt that this was the right place for this movie review.

The story is supposed to be of Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire in the world, and the founder of Facebook. Well, there have been some liberties taken, and hence I state that this is ‘supposed to be’ Mark’s story. Be that as it ma be, even if it is close to being Mark’s story, it is fascinating to learn about the man behind the name. Biographies of successful people are always interesting from that point of view. Usually of course, these are written (or made into movies) when the person concerned, is of advanced age. But in this case, the person has achieved success – stupendous at that – at a very early age, and so you see a movie about him, while he is still very young.

And perhaps there will be room to add a sequel. For there is no mention in this one, about the Microsoft investment. Or for that matter, about the move to take Facebook beyond the schools and colleges, and out into the public. And of course, I am sure bigger things are in store. Be it his battles with Google, or building pieces to take on the likes of Twitter, Foursquare or Paypal, there are interesting new things happening in Mark’s life, and in his business, and a sequel few years down the line, could well be in order!

For now, lets look at this first film on him, The Social Network.

The story is engrossing, for understanding the drive and the passion that it took to make Facebook. Like my daughter remarked after she saw the movie, “he was coding non-stop for 36 hours”. Well, that was just a part of it. But a crucial part, where there was amazing conviction, and which was supported by the commitment to ‘make it happen’.

I was not aware of the Sean Parker connection, so it was good to see that part. About how his biggest contribution was about dropping the ‘the’ from ‘thefacebook.com’ and making it to what it is today, viz. simply facebook.com. Or how he showed Mark, the path to California, and how it was a crucial shift for Mark and for Facebook.

The conviction that he saw, where he realized that reaching 75,000 users, or even a million for that matter, was just about taking smaller steps to the very big goal that he had in his mind. Many, including his co-founder, could have got satisfied, felt that they had already achieved a lot, and tried to monetize early. And which would not only have meant the lack of further growth, but would have stunted what was already there, due to drop-outs on account of the monetization drive!

These, however, are the most crucial three moments that I picked in the movie, and which are my key questions to fellow and budding entrepreneurs. Whether you have got these moments for your business yet, or not?

1. After the short-lived success of Facemesh, when Mark is working towards the new project (what became Facebook), he learns from the Facemesh experience, that people jumped on to Facemesh, not to see hot girls (which can be seen at many other places), but to see girls whom they knew.

It is a very crucial observation, and a very critical one too. Do you pick these nuances, naturally, in your business too??

2. The second Eureka moment is what lead Mark to put the ‘relationship’ field in the Facebook profile. Where he was trying to replicate the physical Harvard experience on a social network, and he could have simply put all the physical activities and efforts into the virtual world, the important thing was about identifying the key driver. Sensing that ‘relationship status’ will be one such factor, was an excellent breakthrough.

Other Social Networks have replicated many of the standard features that work on social networks. Say,Orkut for example, has done that. But they have not picked those crucial driving moments. And due to which they have not struck the serious growth levels that Facebook has managed.

So have you got those defining aspects that can be the game changers, in your business??

3. The third crucial dialog is what Mark has with Eduardo, after he has blocked the account. That money is required, to ensure that business flows without slightest interruption, to ensure the servers keep chugging away. As he says, “Facebook cannot stop. These are friends who know friends and so on. Even a few moving out, can be like a domino effect!”.

Well, against this obsession, we also have Twitter where fail-whale is a regular occurrence. And yet, it has managed to hang in there, as a business. But I would call it the exception!

The obsession of Mark to do all he can, to ensure that users get an uninterrupted, perfect experience, is what all businesses should strive for. It is more crucial perhaps for Facebook, where people are friends, and as Mark says, few guys moving, could cause a domino effect. But in today’s connected world, this is true for ANY business or service. If you do not do everything in your means to keep your existing customers, and few start leaving, you do not know when you could have a domino exodus away from you!

Are you as obsessed as Mark is about keeping each and every customer of yours??

All in all, it is a fascinating story to learn about a successful person. And it is clear that he is brilliant, but also extremely focused on what can work, how he wants to provide clear value, and how he has a bigger picture in mind, to take Facebook to newer and newer highs!

Looking forward to see where the business goes further, and to a possible sequel to this.

And looking forward to entrepreneurs being inspired by the story!

Have you seen ‘The Social Network’? What did you think of it? Do share your thoughts in comments below..

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November 15, 2010 - Posted by | Social Networking, Startup | , , , ,

11 Comments »

  1. I loved the movie. Superb dialogue. Excellent drama and buildup. Only the end was abrupt.

    My take-away:

    1. Get things out there. Facemash led to Vinklevoss brothers coming to Zuckerberg (and germinating the idea of an exclusive student network). Early Facebook led to Sean Parker getting on board.

    2. Seed your network with influencers and mavens. Facebook succeeded at Harvard – and not the Harvard connection – because Zuckerberg reached the Phoenix club – the elite Harvard students – to join in and spread the word.

    3. And finally – the biggest take away:

    Read the offer document carefully before signing.

    Non dilution clauses are standard. Eduardo would have prevented himself from getting screwed only if he had paid attention to what is missing from the documents he signed. Or got a legal professional to go over it. I don’t know how you can’t get your own lawyer if you’re getting $500,000 in funding for a 7% stake.

    Comment by Ankesh Kothari | November 15, 2010 | Reply

    • Great observations, Ankesh.
      Thanks..

      Comment by Sanjay Mehta | November 15, 2010 | Reply

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  3. Excellent. Thank you very much for taking the time to share with those who are starting on the subject. Greetings.

    Comment by linn | November 15, 2010 | Reply

  4. Loved the movie too. As living in Silicon Valley you are seemingly so close to the action but you never really see it in real life. This was bringing all that is happening around you in front of you and see how big companies and ideas are built.

    My biggest takeaway from the movie and something all entrepreneurs should think about:

    Never be in a hurry to monetize your venture if the idea is big enough.

    As Sean Parker tells Mark: This can become a billion dollar business.

    I have seen several companies (some up close) that failed to take on the growth curve because they started charging money for the service (or monetize in other ways) which pushed away users.

    Not to say that Facebook is not monetizing now. Any business has to but the key is to find the right moment in the company’s growth where you have garnered enough usage and users to start charging or bringing in other revenue models (ie advertising)

    Comment by Falguni Bhuta | November 15, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks, Falguni.
      In fact, this exact discussion happened over email, with Abhay (Joshi).

      I see a certain danger in this thought process. Especially as it comes on the back of this movie, or this story!
      Here we have the advantage of hindsight! And hindsight is not what you have, when those tough decisions are taken.

      I mean, what if Eduardo kept putting in money, they worked hard, did everything, and someone else came and created a better / faster / cheaper / sexier product. And ate their lunch, before they could even get going? Money gone, effort gone, no monetization done either..

      I mean, it is clearly a case-to-case issue. If you are convinced that you have a serious winner on hand, something that has the potential to be that billion dollar idea, then sure. Hang in there. And have someone pay your bills meanwhile. But the film should not inspire every entrepreneur, with ordinary ideas, to delay the monetization opportunity!

      🙂

      Comment by Sanjay Mehta | November 16, 2010 | Reply

  5. yeah i liked the movie, didnt like the abrupt end. Yes i did pick up on those points you mentioned and i did find the entreprenurial spirit in him. At the same time I also found that the movie showed him as a person who gets led by big talks very easily. Sean Parker was able to lead him for a brief moment down a road that was not the correct one and he got led quite easily.

    Nice movie though and surely a must watch!

    Comment by aditya | November 15, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks, Aditya.
      About Mark getting impacted by big talk, well, we are wearing the lens of our Bollywood films, where the hero is perfect.
      I think Mark is shown as a regular human being, as he perhaps is. Many of us could get taken in by a Sean Parker story and style.
      That special treatment in the fancy restaurant, the fascinating stories about how he changed the music industry for good, the whole nine yards – would impress most people. And Mark is no different.
      Having said that, it was Sean who got him to the next level.. with CA and all that. If that meeting had not happened, who knows where Mark would have headed? Perhaps Eduardo might have convinced him to monetize quicker? 🙂

      Comment by Sanjay Mehta | November 16, 2010 | Reply

  6. Interesting insights for entrepreneurs. The grey hair shows! 🙂

    One additional aspect is the emphasis on execution. Mark’s observation about the twins “If they could invent facebook they would have already done it” was a tad unfair. It should have been “If they could have executed the idea, they would have already done it” (and got facebook up and running). The idea of a social networking site for friends was nothing new (Myspace and friendster were already there – in fact friendster had already got two rounds of funding by then). It was the exclusivity and the right to decide whom to accept as friends, etc which made it different. The Winklevoss brothers either did not have the conviction or just didnt get down to execution.

    Comment by Naimish Dave | November 16, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks, Naimish.
      Indeed, ideas have so much value, especially in this space. It is the execution and execution alone, that differentiates. It also shows whether you get the fine points right, whether the execution is compelling enough for users, whether it is scalable for growth, and whole host of issues.

      And as Ankesh mentions in his comments earlier, it was important to get something out there. Whether Facemesh earlier, or Facebook later!

      Comment by Sanjay Mehta | November 16, 2010 | Reply

  7. Age no bar – go for your idea if you are convinced, focussed, obsessed and passionate. That’s the inspiring story of Mark.

    Comment by Mithu Basu | November 24, 2010 | Reply


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