Speakers Forum hosts Winklevoss twins

THE WINKLEVOSS TWINS, CAMERON AND TYLER, TALK about their experiences with start-up companies and the Facebook lawsuit in DCC 308.

Facebook. Social networking. These are terms that were not so common a decade ago. In today’s world, social networks are everywhere. New ones are popping up every day. But among this digital crowd, Facebook has a peculiar story. For those of you who are not caught up on the history of this iconic social network, here is some background, sparing unnecessary details.

In late 2003, two members of Harvard’s rowing team, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, eyed Mark Zuckerberg to help them build an exclusive social networking website. They had heard what he did earlier that year involving “Facesmash” (where users rated other Harvard students based on hotness) and knew that he had the brains to do it.

In 2004 the two filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg. The twins claimed that Zuckerberg committed fraud by stealing and taking over their idea of an exclusive social network. Zuckerberg was supposed to help them write the code that would run the website. It would only be accessible to those with a Harvard e-mail address, at least initially. But things just did not go their way. Zuckerberg high-tailed it out of the deal and instead of working with them, co-founded Facebook with fellow classmates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, leaving the Winklevoss twins out of limelight.

But the limelight was particularly trained on them last Thursday at the Union Speakers Forum event. I did not think many people would show up. I was wrong. The line to get in, to see the Winklevoss twins speak, stretched out the door without an end to be seen. Excited whispers could be heard all around the auditorium. People browsed Facebook on their phones. Not a single seat in DCC 308 was left empty that night.

As the event began, Facebook was almost like an elephant in the room. I was a tad bit reluctant to open the Facebook app on my phone. It was awkward for some reason to be in the same room as the Winklevoss twins and be using Facebook at the same time. Particularly because the creation of the website had caused them so much apparent grief.

Seeing the Winklevoss twins at the front of the auditorium was surreal in itself. They are celebrities in their own right. Having only seen a portrayal of them in the film The Social Network, I thought I knew what to expect. Still, like many people around me, I was captivated by their tall, muscular figures – their past as Olympic rowers was obvious. You just don’t see many people their size at RPI.

Cameron started off with a small joke and said that RPI is known for two division I sports – the first being hockey; the second being World of Warcraft. He then joked about RPI’s infamous high male-to-female ratio.

Overall, the two brothers might not have been as eloquent as I had imagined them to be based on the movie, but that was barely noticeable as the two opened up about their life stories and answered thought-provoking questions from the members.

After polling the audience to see who was and will be involved with start-ups in the future, Tyler pointed out that while start-up business are so common these days, it was not so back when they attended college.

“Your biggest start-up is your life,” Tyler said. “You invest in different things. You don’t know what you might fail at.” He said failure is good; in growing as a person or business, you will fail a lot. To be a champion is to embrace those losses.

One parallel that dealt with businesses the two made was about climbing a mountain. If you are climbing the mountain with someone else and they ditch you – you can’t just pull out a piece of paper saying, “You agreed to help!” You have to trust the people you work with.

Yet what’s funny is that they did just that years ago when Zuckerberg turned his back on them. When asked about what happened during the ordeal regarding the lawsuit, the two said that it didn’t put their lives on hold. They said the public thought they had disappeared off the face of the Earth. Yet they didn’t. The twins simply kept to a strict rowing practice schedule and kept busy with other things. They kept doing what they were doing despite what was going on.

But how well did the movie portray them? Tyler said that just about everything in the movie was portrayed with a twist and barely compared to the actual reality of their life. There definitely was not such a stark separation of geek and jock as was seen in the movie. Pretty much, their lives were not as cool as they might have been portrayed in the film. Sad. I was hoping it was the other way around.

The twins said that nothing has really changed since the first day of their deal with Zuckerberg. Facebook was and still is a social network, which was really the core of their idea. Ironically, they said they even have Facebook accounts! At one point during the event, Cameron pulled out his iPhone to take a photo of the crowd to post on Instagram. Their easygoing and down-to-earth nature really helped keep the questions from the audience coming.

Going back to what pushed them to keep going as rowers and as students at Harvard, the twins said that their work ethic had come from their parents, who did not push them to do anything – but simply made it easier.

It definitely wasn’t an atmosphere of “You need to be an Olympic rower, or else I don’t want you.”

As the forum ended, the twins outlined what they thought were three important rules to success in the start-up industry: don’t start a restaurant, don’t start a business with a girlfriend or boyfriend, and don’t forget rules 1 and 2.

If you didn’t go to this event you definitely missed out on a good, fun crowd, and seeing some celebrities—which RPI rarely has. It was a nice treat and a break from regular day-to-day life.