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“The Social Network”: Facebook’s lessons for innovators

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While you might not want to “friend” Mark Zuckerberg’s character after seeing the “The Social Network,” there is no denying that the film gives you a window into the zeal of the entrepreneur and teaches lessons about business practices and entrepreneurship, particularly “what not to do.”

Much of the film centers on the controversy over the ownership of the idea of “The Facebook,” Zuckerberg’s supposed treatment of friends and colleagues, and his general demeanor on his path to becoming a billionaire. Yet, there is something to be said for the fact that Facebook is a tremendous success story. Facebook’s high valuation is the result of a brilliant idea that was driven to succeed by a hardworking crew of passionate believers willing to invest the time, energy, and money to make a concept a reality.

After seeing a sneak preview of the movie, I came away with these takeaways for entrepreneurs:

  • A brilliant idea is just that … until you put it into action. The movie features an intellectual property lawsuit in which fellow Harvard students claim Zuckerberg stole their idea. Lesson learned? The world waits for no man. If you are smart enough to come up with a winning concept or idea, keep it to yourself or enlist partners you trust with confidentiality agreements in writing — or better yet, get a patent.
  • Go for the 3,000-lb. marlin. Your picture won’t be in the paper if you net 14 trout in one fishing trip — but it will be if you catch a 3,000-lb. marlin. Push your entrepreneurial vision to its limit and go after it. Don’t settle for what is easily accomplished and miss out on realizing the idea of a lifetime.
  • Be forthright with your business partners. A second lawsuit that shaped the movie’s plot featured Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin suing Zuckerberg for essentially pushing him out of the company. Zuckerberg’s character never plainly tells Saverin that his business-development ideas don’t fit with his grand vision for Facebook (fed by Naptster’s Sean Parker), and he then proceeds to dilute Saverin’s shares in the company. The lesson — communicate with your partners, listen to their advice, work to gain their buy-in and know when to cut business ties.
  • Your business is only as good as its latest review. At one point in the film, Zuckerberg’s character goes into meltdown mode when he fears that Facebook’s site may crash. His point? It only takes the site crashing on one person to create frustration and negative word of mouth. Consistency builds customer trust, and once lost, it is difficult to regain.
  • Businesses should be like fashion, ever changing with the times. Zuckerberg’s character makes the key point early in the film that “Facebook” is never “done.” The site is constantly evolving to be a better and more comprehensive product.

While I can’t say that the Zuckerberg character appears to be a fashion icon, spirited socialite or model of leadership after viewing the film, I respect and admire him nonetheless. Fiction or not, we can all learn a lesson or two from the film about the world’s youngest billionaire.


SmartBrief’s Elena Ziebarth contributed to this post.

Image credit: shulz, iStockphoto