Technology is our friend: What I learnt from "The Social Network"
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April 9, 2011

What I learnt from "The Social Network"

On IMDB, "The Social Network" has an 8.1 (from 10) rating and a metascore of 95 (from 100). That is pretty good. And I enjoyed the movie as a piece of entertainment. But just like so many others who in some shape or form work in and around social media and start-ups, I was keen to see what I could maybe learn about business from this movie, watching it on DVD. Here are my top 5 learnings:

1. If people love your product, you will monetize it somehow, somewhen   
One of the big conflicts in the movie is about Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg wanting to build something great as opposed to Eduardo Saverin who wanted to put in ads from the very beginning. No matter if that was the actual truth, it might be one of the big issues many start-ups face from the very beginning. At one point in the movie Zuckerberg and Parker say "We don't even know what it is yet", and still they got an initial 500k investment - because it was obvious that people loved the product. Look at Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and the thousands of others who don't have a very clear idea about how they will actually turn over a huge profit someday - they have the users on their side, so in this way or another, they will eventually figure it out. When you're thinking about a great internet venture, you can rather skip the business plan part when you have proof in your hands that people love what you are offering.

2. Money isn't that important to start something great                 
The amount of money needed to get Facebook up and running - the initial 19k - are a ridiculous amount of money. As Eduardo Saverin points out in his learnings from the movie, the means of creating innovation have been democratized. At least for developers and programmers this is absolutely true.

3. Facebook won over MySpace with a superior strategy                   
Zuckerberg is portrayed as a super-intelligent programmer and hacker in the movie, but you can only read between the lines that he is/was a great strategist, too. Whenever any idea is mentioned in the movie, he thinks of a distinction to MySpace, Friendster and others, what the core of each idea is and how it can develop down the line. Facebook's initial strategy to take the entire social experience of university online was a social networking approach with a clear distinction to MySpace: It was not about connecting people that did not know each other before but about supporting "offline" social connections with the means of the internet (which by the way also distinguished Facemash from Hotornot). Sean Parker explains this (in part) in this great speech here. The key takeaway is: Even if there is a company in a business that depends on a network effect and has a 150 million users head start - the better strategy (not a better design, not one better feature, not better advertising, not a better image, not better PR) can make you more successful.

4. The winner doesn't take it all                   
Most great ideas don't come alone, and if you are successful, everyone wants a piece of that. No matter how accurate the facts are shown in the movie, it is clear that a service called ConnectU (by the Winklevoss Brothers) and another one called i2hub existed. ConnectU sued Facebook, i2hub sued ConnectU for half of the proceedings from the lawsuit, Facebook sued StudiVZ and so on. That is the case in almost any area of digital businesses.

5. Move fast and break things                  
Zuckerberg broke a lot of things to build Facebook and make it what it is today: in some cases state law, university rules, some friendships and a chimney :-)
I attended "Facebook Hack", a developer event in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, and there were posters saying "move fast and break things". Meaning: If you don't break things, you're not moving fast enough. I find myself way too often in the mood of "move things, breakfast" .-)

Or, to say it in different words: "Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people." - B. Shaw