New Orleans I was totally fried after being on the road for 27 out of 31 days in Vietnam, India, and Canada. I had shin splits and a pulled muscle on my right leg that made soft chairs and plane seats constantly painful. I had nothing that could be called a sleep schedule anymore. If I was a whiner, I would be wailing. Then in a Sunday coup de gras Drew Brees threw 4 interceptions and the Cleveland Browns humiliated the Saints with a 3rd string quarterback who looked like he had just been released from class earlier in the day at some Texas high school. So, it was off to the movies to salvage the day with Social Nework, the well touted film about the founding of Facebook. The usher promised me the movie would be better than the Saints game, so I was down.
He was right. This is an award winner and, what do I know, but a classic about the roles that ego, money, competition, friendship, sex, and a lot of other BIG themes play out in the founding of enterprises. This is not creation myth, but creation reality, warts and all. Oh, and yeah, it’s fiction. Right?
Ostensibly this is the story of Mark Zuckerberg, the brilliant, driven, and ruthless primary creator of Facebook, the hugely popular and successful social networking site. Turns out, according to the movie, he was brilliant, driven, and ruthless. Quelle shock! Even the most casual reader of the papers over recent years knew he had been sued repeatedly for a rip-and-run on some of the ideas behind Facebook and had paid pretty pennies to settle with some Harvard students and an ex-partner. The terms of the student settlement came out at $65 Million in a dispute between the lawyers over fees. Eduardo Saverin, one of the co-founders, who was pushed out also settled for an undisclosed sum. His ownership is now listed at 5% so he either settled in the 9 figures or had stock restored. Zuckerberg owns about a quarter of the company, which would put his stake valuation between 8 and 10 billion. There are 500,000,000 users. He’s 26 years old. In addition to all of his other attributes in the movie he also comes off as calculating, arrogant, and possibly manipulative. Read Machiavelli or looks around, these are not uncommon byproducts of the founding – and governing – process of many large institutions, corporations, and organizations. I know a little bit about this and even cringing when Zuckerberg was called an “asshole” in the movie, I would never say that many of the same epithets might not have been fair when hurled at me over 4 decades at ACORN. The shoes often fit and they are made for walking and not as uncomfortable as you might think. Zuckerberg off loaded $100 Million to the Newark public school system to offset the movie’s common attraction, but suspect he “is what he is” and, as I used to say, “comes with the shop.”
What almost interested me more was the character of Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake. First, Parker whoever he might be, drew a lucky hand here, because I’m sure he’s not at all like Timberlake, who plays him as a smooth as silk operator, schemer, mentor, tech savant, lady killer, party animal, and at the end of the movie, chicken shit. Nonetheless his role seemed pivotal to Zuckerberg and, if this is to be believed, essential to the development of Facebook.
The movie is clear that Parker was one of the co-founders of Napster, the ill fated music sharing site that was decimated by record company lawsuits for copyright infringements, yet probably did destroy the existing business model for music though there is no real replacement yet aside from Apple Itunes and artist touring gigs. It turns out he also is a principal founder of Plaxo, the contact site, which is pretty big though fairly incomprehensible to me, and an investor behind other startups with buzz like chatroulette, which I’ve read about as well (though never tried, because it seems creepy), that at least knocks on the door of what adding video and the internet might mean in a world past Skype. He also is a partner in the Facebook application, Causes, which has a philanthropic twist and some real value, if I could ever figure out how to really use it as well. And, as it turns out he was a key dude in making Facebook happen not at the dorm room at Harvard level, but at the crash pad in Palo Alto level where he was also sleeping on the floor in another of the co-founder’s rooms there, Dustin Moscovitz.
A piece in Vanity Fair on Parker, which actually quotes sources, which is refreshing, places his real role as a mentor and foil for Zuckerberg, as having shared the experience of getting pushed out at Napster and Plaxo, and in raising the first angel investment in Facebook from PayPal’s founder, negotiated for Zuckerberg “entrepreneurial control,” which is completely rare. Since Facebook is still privately held, Zuckerberg gets to appoint a majority of the board seats for the company, effectively controlling the whole shebang with his 24% ownership. I think that was probably worth giving Parker 4% of the company, which will make him a billionaire without any trouble when Facebook finally goes public, which seems to be relatively soon.
The Zuckerbergs of the world are a rare and special breed. There will always be misfits and malcontents with the drive to change the world, and sometimes the stars and moon will align and they will with skill and luck stumble into that sweet spot to their shock and awe. I wonder if the Parker’s of the world are not even rarer. These are the people who recognize the magic and have the moxie to send an email out into the blue offering help and a hand. Some would think of these folks as footnotes, but they are handmaidens to the future.
I left the movie thinking that for those of us who have “been there and done that,” we need to spend more time now figuring out how to be Sean Parker and find the Mark Zuckerbergs. I’m not sure that’s how the director, David Fincher, and writer Alan Sorkin, intended the movie to be seen, but that’s my takeaway, and more than worth my little investment in this great movie.