Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Social Network - Movie Review

This was a movie I missed watching on screen and finally caught up with it on television yesterday. The tale of the making of 'Facebook' and all that went into it - the lawsuits, the youthful impetuousness, the way wealth creation has changed in the world and the makings of a new era of billionaires has all been captured so well in this movie. I loved it.

The movie begins with Mark Zuckenberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the founder of 'Facebook', then studying at Harvard University, being dumped by his girlfriend Erica Albright as they disagree over his obsession of getting into the final clubs. Young Mark shows signs of his intelligence, ambition, arrogance and crassness in that discussion. Angry and drunk he returns to his room and writes an angry blog about Erica in less than flattering terms, and simultaneously creates a website called 'Facemash' where he uploads hundreds of profiles of girls from colleges around the area with a facility to match girls and their attractiveness. He takes the help of his friend Eduardo Saverin and a couple of others to build website. In a few hours the site is a rage, with twenty two thousand hits, and brings part of the Harvard network crashing. Mark is suspended for six months for various misdemeanours in that episode.

Impressed by this story, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, identical twins and champion rowers on the Harvard team, and their friend Divya Narendra (born to doctors of Indian origin), offer Mark a job as a programmer with them to build a site called Harvard Connection. They think of the site as an elite site and wish to position it as one. Mark takes up the offer in return for sweat equity.

Back in the room Mark tells Eduardo Saverin that he has an idea to build 'thefacebook' - a social networking site where Harvard students can network. Access would be consensual (unlike his first venture 'facemash'). They build the site and send it to all the members of Eduardo's connection in the prestigious Phoenix Club of which he is a member. When 'thefacebook' is launched and becomes an inevitable hit on campus, the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra, are angry. They feel that Mark has stolen their idea, gave them lame excuses for not meeting them for more than a month after their initial meeting, used that time to steal the idea and get ahead in the business. They want to sue Mark for IP theft. Cameron however says it would go against the code of ethics and would be unbecoming of the gentlemanly conduct of a Harvard student.

Mark gets Eduardo to register the company with himself as 65% holder, Eduardo as 30% holder and the CFO and business end, Chris Hughes as 5% holder. Saverin puts up an initial capital of 1000 USD. 'thefacebook' starts advancing and enjoys immense popularity among students. The Winklevoss twins try to stop Mark getting ahead with their idea - meet with the President of Harvard University who pooh-poohs their story, and later, through a cease and desist letter. Eduardo Saverin is in the dark about Mark's relationship with the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra until he chances to see a cease-and-desist letter from them to Mark.

Through Saverin's girlfriend Christy they meet Sean Parker the founder of Napster who does not impress Eduardo with his long personal stories and his list of indiscretions, but his vision for 'facebook' matches exactly what Mark has. That means not advertising the site (an idea that Eduardo is keen upon), holding their horses, getting funding from the angel investors etc. Sean tells Mark to move to California where the action is. Mark like Sean's vision. When Saverin is interning, Mark moves to California, meets Sean by chance, and starts handing him out powers to make business decisions. Sean sets up meetings with angel investors and gets Mark funding of half a million dollars, office space etc. Eduardo comes to California to find that Sean has got into a place where he was, the business end, was making all the decisions and Mark was actually thinking of ending it with him. Furious, he freezes the bank account and returns home. The friends however reconcile and sign up papers drawn by the investor's lawyers and receive the money.

Meanwhile the Winklevoss twins discover that Facebook is now a rage in Europe as well and decide to sue Mark. Eduardo Saverin is called in to California to sign some papers and he realises that his share has been diluted from 34% to 0.3% using a clause in the agreements he has signed while all others have the same stake and Sean has a stake of 7%. Also Saverin's name has been removed from the masthead of the company as co-founder of facebook. He tells Mark he will sue him for everything and leaves the Facebook offices. As the party to celebrate the millionth user of Facebook begins, Mark gets a call from Sean Parker - he and some underage interns have been caught with cocaine on them. Mark tells him to go home. As the movie cuts from one law suit to another, moves into flashback and present brilliantly, the movie closes with Mark agreeing to pay off the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo Saverin, reinstate Saverin's name on the masthead and get them all to sign off non disclosure agreements.

The facebook story is told wonderfully well. The story itself has much drama with betrayal, wealth and ruthless ambition playing big parts in its success. It is the story of how the new billionaires are made today on the back of a good idea that can catch the imagination of the market. But more importantly Facebook is the story of some brilliant youngsters, high achievers in their areas. The Winklevoss twins are, apart from conceiving the idea for Harvard Connection, Olympic rowers for the USA who rowed in the Beijing Olympics and got sixth place. Eduardo Saverin is known to have made 300,000 USD in one summer, investing in oil shares as an undergraduate. Apart from showing their brilliance these characters also display considerable amount of integrity all through as in the reluctance of Cameron Winklevoss to sue.

But Mark Zuckenberg shows what it takes to make things like facebook happen - a ruthless ambition, a clear head about what he wants and specialised skills that are the best in the business. His cocky and clear analysis, comes through as he answers questions in the lawsuits.

But then the irony of the whole story is too profound to miss. For the movie that advertised itself as 'You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies', Mark Zuckenberg's lonely and friendless life is a paradox. For the man who has 500 million virtual friends, he has not the capability to save even one relationship, losing his only friend Saverin as well in the process. In fact in the end, Mark is seen finding Erica Albright on facebook and sending her a request and waiting to see if she replied. My guess is that she might not have.

But the bigger story is how a man can make his biggest problem into a billion dollar idea. Being friendless was certainly Mark's problem in life. He craves acceptance in the final clubs and does not get in - while Edurdo Saverin gets in with his suave nature. Mark combines his biggest problem in life, something that he is obsessed with surely, with his specialised knowledge, and comes up with a billion dollar idea. That is the part that impresses me the most. It is not always through your big strengths but also through your biggest weaknesses, that you can generate opportunity.

Coming off the back of the many World War II movies and its stories, I cannot but admire how the two twenty something Jew boys created so much wealth. And even more, brought a whole bunch of people together through their social networking site. Ironical isn't it?

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