I’ll admit it: when The Social Network opened on Friday, I was one of the first in line to catch a showing. And not only because I’m a pop culture junkie who spends a good chunk of my day working on Facebook for my clients, but because I had also done my due diligence and read up on the movie and its real-life characters in Vanity Fair, New York Magazine and on a thousand tech blogs. I was intrigued.
The movie chronicles the birth of theFacebook, the original Facebook site that launched at Harvard back in 2004. While there’s plenty of Hollywood drama in this version of the Facebook founding, one of the exciting themes of the movie lies in the story’s narrative about starting a business: it’s doable, it’s exciting, and a great idea can really make waves. And the movie is packed with lessons for those walking out of the theater ready to start a new business. Here are my top five:
- A good idea isn’t a great idea until you figure out how to promote it.
In a deposition, Mark Zuckerberg states “promotion” as one of the key reasons he felt HarvardConnect, a similar site to Facebook, would fail. He also questioned the site’s similarities to established sites including MySpace and Friendster. Put simply, what makes your business stand out? And how will you get the word out?
- Want to be a start-up CEO? You’ve got to be ready put in the work.
There’s a scene late in the movie set at the swanky Facebook offices funded by an angel investment where Zuckerberg is so focused on programming that he doesn’t even notice what’s going on in the offices. He’s referred to as “wired in,” a phrase describing programmers so zen with their programming that reality barely registers. Yes, the CEO of Facebook wasn’t sitting back and relaxing once Facebook got off the ground. Instead, the movie depicts him “wired in” like any of the other programmers in the office.
- Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth and viral marketing.
In the movie’s first few scenes, Zuckerberg builds and distributes a site called “FaceMash” to his friends. The site goes viral in hours, eventually crashing the Harvard servers. Later, movie-Zuckerberg shows off his viral marketing savvy, specifically sending the first Facebook link out to the listserv of a prestigious Harvard Final Club, rather than to his own friends, recognizing that by targeting this audience, the site would spread faster to a greater network of interested visitors. Not so different from some of the viral marketing and social media projects we work on today!
- “How will my start-up make money?” is still one of the first questions your business needs to ask.
An ongoing conversation throughout the movie is about monetizing Facebook. While the movie’s stars argue the pros and cons of adding advertising to the site, the underlying reminder for every start-up CEO is this: how will I generate revenue? Where does that fit into my business plan?
- Facebook started in a dorm room. With $1000.
The movie depicts Harvard college students as incredibly business savvy and hungry for new start-up ideas. And this isn’t so far from the truth – college and high school students continue to dominate BusinessWeek’s Top Entrepreneurs Under 25 and the Inc. magazine Top 30 Under 30 list. So if a college student can get an idea like Facebook off the ground – your next big idea might not be so out of reach, after all.
So tell me: were you one of the movie goers that helped The Social Network earn $23 million in its opening weekend? Did it inspire you to start your own business? For our entrepreneur readers, how closely does the movie shadow the start-up experience?