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.

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SmartBrief’s Elena Ziebarth contributed to this post.

Image credit: shulz, iStockphoto

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20 responses to “"The Social Network": Facebook's lessons for innovators”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rajesh Sukumaran, mo' stash and SocialMedio, Vinoth Chandar. Vinoth Chandar said: #SocialMedia “The Social Network”: Facebook’s lessons for innovators http://bit.ly/d3tJ3M #Marketing #SM […]

  2. Hi Emily, and thanks for the text!

    While I'm still waiting to see the movie, I thought I'd just comment on two points you made:

    1) "Your business is only as good as its latest review."
    2) "Businesses should be like fashion, ever changing with the times."

    I couldn't agree more, from the social media analysis-side of things at least. It is incredibly important to not only keep up with times, but always try to push even further before everyone else catches on. And to make things interesting, a good idea today might be looking for its place in the museum 6 months from now.

    This leads to regular product updating, which in turn always opens the door to reviews. If it's new yet broken, there won't be too much added value. On the contrary, your brand value could take a huge hit.

    However, the rapid pace and the need to stay ahead and be able to change unbelievably fast are just two of the things that make this industry interesting! : )

  3. I saw the movie earlier today and liked it. I thought some of it was a bit "Hollywood" with all the parties, and Zuckerberg being such a villian, but overall I'd give it an A-.

    I like your 3 "takeaways". They pertain to anyone wanting success in business.

    My recent post Real Estate Professionals Are You Guilty

  4. It’s funny, the life lessons that can be learned through fictional stories… Good article! I wasn’t much a fan of the movie personally, though.

  5. […] By Smartblog After seeing a sneak preview of the movie, I came away with these takeaways for entrepreneurs: […]

  6. David says:

    I disagree with your promotion of secrecy. You state: "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."

    You imply that if you have a grand idea you should: (i) Keep it to yourself or (ii) Gain protection with NDAs and/or patents. I disagree with both.

    (i) If you keep an idea to yourself, you will never gain access to the needed resources to become a force in the market. Furthermore, if it really is a $10B idea, venture capitalists are probably funding people more intelligent and experienced than you are to win in this arena.

    (ii) Facebook won and countless other social networking sites lost. Anytime a business makes billions there will be lawsuits, regardless of whether or not confidentiality agreements were signed or patents awarded. Patents are meaningless unless challenged and defended in court; they are a false sense of security, but investors like them.

    It wasn't the "idea" of Facebook that made it successful, it was the execution – a gated community that starts with those possessing at least an undergraduate degree – and then opens the doors for everyone once norms had been established in the community. Contrast this with myspace, which has become a race to the bottom in terms of classiness. The magic of Facebook was that when every other social networking site was scrambling for users, FB was being selective. Let's not let Hollywood's revisionist history delude and seduce us into thinking that incredible businesses are based solely on great ideas. It is everything that happens when the cameras aren't rolling that really makes businesses successful – but this is neither glamorous nor sexy.

  7. Hi!… Because of character limits I'm breaking this comment up…

    You make some good points although I am not sure if FB is an appropriate primer for entrepreneurs launching a typical start up. I would also take issue with the "3,000 lb. marlin" take away.

    For some entrepreneurs, scaling up and going big is the dream but not for all. More often than not going huge requires a lot of money and huge risk. And the end result is not success but failure and huge debt (for somebody). In most cases there are a lot of false starts before success finally hits. Being a business owner requires some risk, but I think the all or nothing approach is irresponsible.

  8. Further it's a lot easier, cheaper (and necessary) to go huge when you are manuevering in the online world and are coding your future as Zuckerberg and Omidyar did vs. fabricating something physically real and shipping it out in trucks. This is how life is for most of us! In the online world so far we've seen you need to be first in your category otherwise you're last. The comparison doesn't easily translate.

    The community sites definitely serve a purpose but the valuation of these companies in my opinion have been blown way out of proportion. Today's darling is tomorrow's dud and Facebook is still trying to figure out how to execute a successful and sustaining profit model. The only reason FB succeeded is because they had a better product than MySpace. People were fed up with the over commercialization, lack of utility and spammy nature of the latter. So they switched.

  9. My final thought is that we as a society need to stop revering people who achieve their success by behaving unscrupulously. If I "borrow" an idea from someone and take action to execute it, I still owe something to the friend for seeding me the idea. I can still own my project and push my vision, but I do feel a moral obligation to compensate. We've seen this behavior back with the likes of the oil barons (Rockefellers) and it has continued to the present day with the likes of guys like Zuckerberg.

    For what it's worth…

  10. asaadbhamla says:

    I was surprised that I liked this movie so much…and ironically it was BECAUSE of Zuckerberg. I think agree that the 3000 lb Marlin idea is the best takeaway from the movie, and part of that was because Zuckerberg was unrelenting in the pursuit of his vision. This meant cutting business ties that no longer fit – including Eduardo's failure to adapt to the vision of Facebook OR to participate in its growth. The way he executed Eduardo's removal was unsavory – but the principle was sound.

    Like Gordon Gekko, who made a come back in a inferior sequel to Wall Street, I appreciate Zuckerberg's character. I still revere the archetype of person who is consumed by a mission – they are often the ones that champion world changing ideas.
    My recent post Prioritizing you Sources

  11. @skag says:

    this is so freaking funny. I don't know what experience the person who wrote the post has but I am ROFL.

    Keep the idea to yourself – ROFL again IDEAS ARE DIME A DOZEN and that is what happens even in the move the three guys could not implement it, they were sluggish. Zuckerberg was more into implementation than discussion, that is why he is show running all the time and runs to implement the relationship status!

    Go for the 3,000-lb. marlin – ROFL once more. Start small with a vision to solve world hunger that is what the motto should be. Zuckerber did not knew this is what he was aiming for. It was Harvard, then BU, Yale and then Stanford (the advice came from the financer)
    But it should be "local" first. Local always does not mean "local" geographically but basically local segement however you define it.

    I am amazed that this blog is even featured on smart-brief.

  12. Asher Bond says:

    What about idea people who come up with ideas all the time? Open Source?
    My recent post Introducing Scalable Cloud Response Architecture Platform Elasticity Revitalization Services SCRAPERS

  13. Emily- I love how a college kid has provided so much food for thought for the business community though The Social Network film. Basically the NY Times write about it every day! I liked your takeaways so much that I added to each one in my Leader Blog today so thanks! Melissa Lande, Lande Communications.

    My recent post Social Media Film Goes Viral with its Business Lessons