Yesterday, after much delay, I finally watched The Social Network and it was fantastic. The level of focus exuded by Mark and his team demonstrated probably the single most important attribute to a company’s success: focus and drive. Ironically, it’s Facebook and other social media services that is driving the Attention Deficit Economy. Whereas the last decade brought us to an always-connected, always-on lifestyle, I would speculate that the next ten years will be focused on task management and prioritization – and unfortunately it’s a skill that I haven’t even begun to master.
In any case, most intriguing for me with The Social Network was the psychology of team dynamics. As many successful entrepreneurs will echo, starting companies with friends can be difficult. It’s hard to tell your friend that he isn’t performing, let alone negotiate salaries and equity. Although The Social Network is significant fiction, watching Eduarado’s situation unfold is something I’ve experienced personally (but that’s for another story).
I haven’t normally used this blog to tell tales of the past but in undergrad, I and 4 of my friends (roommates and top Computer Science students), skipped our summer internships to work together to build a company. The challenge as college students is that you know how to code but you don’t really know much of anything else. Today, there are enormous resources online that can help you navigate and understand the rest of what is involved in launching a successful startup but as an engineering student in 1999 (with little real work experience), you are totally oblivious. Mark, fortunately had Sean to help him navigate the business landscape, we had some advisors from a local San Luis Obispo incubator but unfortunately only a minimum amount of their attention. We were fortunate to also meet some other business luminaries having won the business plan competition with our idea but now I realize that business plan competitions are more of a game than reality (and just not how things work).
In any case, that summer was a lesson in team dynamics that I will never forget. Working with friends is not easy and coupled with 20 year old egos, everything starts to break-down:
- Why is he working less than me?
- He has a part-time job?
- His coding sucks?
- He’s supposed to do the business stuff but what does he do?
And the list goes on – you quickly realize as you gain more experience that understanding team dynamics is key and not something you can learn from a book, you have to experience it. You also tame that ego which absolutely helps!
Long story short, we had built the industry’s first meta-file-sharing network, called Terazima (searches Napster, Scour, Gnutella) all at the same time but the team in-fighting and our lack of business acumen and resources caused us to fail (and of course the fear of the RIAA) – it is amazing how your confidence to push the legal boundaries grows as you understand how they work; knowing that you might go bankrupt as a student is quite scary…
Eventually, the company’s assets were acquired by a small San Luis Obispo startup called Vidomi but the lessons learned have been invaluable!
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