Social Network

Lessons from the Failed Facebook Creators

Recently, I was watching the movie “The Social Network” which is based around the creation of Facebook.  The movie (which I love) focuses on Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and his efforts setting up what is now the world’s most prolific social media resource.  By recent counts, Facebook has over a billion users globally.

However, what struck me about the movie was the experience of the Winklevoss twins (played by Armie Hammer) as they try to engage a programmer (Zuckerberg).  The Winklevoss twins and business partner, Divya Narendra (played by Max Minghella), come up with an idea for a business but lack the technical skills required.

They try to engage Zuckerberg to build their social network site, which they later argue led to the creation of Facebook.  Unfortunately, for these young entrepreneurs, their programmer is otherwise engaged and does not deliver the work for them despite numerous promises.

Entrepreneurs and programmers – an unhappy marriage?

Does the scenario in this movie sound familiar?  If you’re not technical, it stands to reason that you’ll need technical help to build your online presence.  So you engage a programmer to help grow your business and off you go.  However, what if you find yourself like the three young entrepreneurs with a whole bunch of empty promises and no delivery?

The potential challenges engaging a programmer, especially for a non-technical entrepreneur, are as follows:

  • Non-delivery of work despite repeated promises
    • This scenario, unfortunately is all too common, particularly if you’re dealing with programmers remotely.  A friend of mine got nothing for a month (despite many promises) only to discover their programmer had spent all their programming time playing Angry Birds!
  • Poor quality work because the programmer doesn’t have the required skills
    • Each job is unique and you may find that the skills your programmer has doesn’t match what you need
  • Having your business idea stolen
    • This is probably the least-likely risk you face.  In the end it actually didn’t turn out all bad for the Vinkelvoss/Narendra partnership, as they successfully sued Zuckerberg for $65 million.  You may not be so lucky.

The programming equivalent of a pre-nup?

There are no guarantees in business  but there are some things you can do to minimise your chances of getting a programming dud:

  • First, decide what it is that you want your programmer to do for you. Ideally, consider what your business will look like in a few months time, a years time and maybe even a few years time.  This should reduce the risk of having to undo/redo any of the programming in the future
  • Second, make sure that your programmer has the skills you need.  If you’re not technical, this needn’t be a show-stopper.  Asking solid IT interview questions, including where you’re engaging someone online (use Skype to conduct your interview), will make a huge difference
  • Finally, if you think you’ve come across an idea potentially the size of Facebook, it may be worth getting the programmer to sign some kind of confidentiality agreement.  In most cases, this won’t be necessary but if you have any doubts, better to be safe than sorry.


Just like the Winklevosses and Narendra, many entrepreneurs (especially non-technical) face challenges getting programming done.  To protect yourself, work out your business plan then engage a programmer.  IT interview questions particular to relevant programmer specialisations provide important piece of mind (along with a confidentiality agreement if need be).  Otherwise the only settlement you’ll get is a note-to-self reminding you to do your homework next time.


Garry Ponus is an author and small business owner with an interest in taking maximum advantage of IT solutions available to business, despite being a non-techie. To this end, he started www.TopITInterviewQuestions.com which offers technical help and a complete ‘Programmer Hiring System’ to assist other business owners in the same boat.


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{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Steve Bonanno August 19, 2014, 11:01 pm

    Thank for article was a pleasure to read. This post have a lot of what I don`t know about Facebook.

  • Shruti September 18, 2013, 6:37 am

    Facebook users tend to scan through their newsfeeds quickly. It takes mere seconds to approve an image by clicking on the “Like” button.

    Reading through a text post, on the other hand, requires more effort and time, which is a precious commodity as people work their way through other updates on their newsfeeds. As a result, text posts tend to generate far fewer Likes as a percentage of views (virality) than image posts do.

    So you have a decision to make. Use image posts, which get shown to far fewer fans, but which easily generate Likes. Or… use a text post, which gets preference in Facebook’s newsfeeds, but which has a much harder time generating engagement.

    Of course, you can also do what Tony did in his post. Write a pure text post that is so compelling that it achieves excellent reach and gets Likes. Let’s take a look at how he achieved that outcome…

    The post starts with a compelling quote and then quickly makes a strong connection. The newsfeed typically shows about 5 or 6 lines of text, so the goal is to hook readers within that limited space and make them click the post to reveal the rest.
    The post moves along with a quick succession of engaging information. It keeps the sentences short and succinct.
    Tony finishes the post with a call to action – like and share. His post encouraged and inspired readers. It also sent the message that readers would be doing their friends a favor by sharing it. Many heeded that advice.
    A truly successful post on every level.

    All the best,
    Shruti recently posted..UP Police Computer Operator Exam Result 2013 – http://www.uppolice.up.nic.inMy Profile

  • Ria Dancel August 6, 2013, 8:40 am

    Thank you for this great post. I agree with what you said that before even starting a project,w e should consider whether the programmer we are hiring possesses the skills that will address our programming needs. i would like to add, though, that we should also consider looking for someone who will share the same visions as we do. in this case, our project with that programmer will not be a one-time big shot thing. Instead it will be a marriage/union that will last for a long time so that in greater growth of the project, both the entrepreneur and the programmer will benefit eventually :)

  • Gautam August 1, 2013, 1:39 pm

    The Movie was very Inspirational and Taught me Many things too and your Line Programming Equivalent to pre nup is just Gr8 😛

  • Hugh Leon August 1, 2013, 6:25 am

    I haven’t stepped into entrepreneur hat yet, but being a programmer myself, i think it would give me fair advantage in working out a plan.

    • Garry Ponus August 4, 2013, 5:37 am

      Hi Hugh
      you being a programmer is a great start and you’re far less likely to have the Winklevoss experience : )
      All you need now is an entrepreneurial idea! It sounds like you’re thinking about it.
      Good luck

  • Suhas July 30, 2013, 6:17 am

    HI Garry,
    Well, I am really very happy that blogging does not require too much of programming skills and even no programming skills in most of the cases.

    • Garry Ponus July 30, 2013, 4:54 pm

      Hi Suhas

      you’re right, generally speaking, blogging won’t require much programming. My one observation is that a simple blog can be the start of a significant online business. The challenge is for bloggers to recognise their limitations and when they need to get help to turn something small into something much bigger. Getting some outside help on programming can be one of the steps required. If we’re not prepared to go down that path, the risk is we get stuck with something that is less than it could be.


      Garry Ponus recently posted..How to run a balanced IT interviewMy Profile

  • Ryan Biddulph July 29, 2013, 10:29 pm

    I adopt the KISS approach. Which means no programmers lol…..because although many of these folks work hard I know more than a few who leave you hanging. On the whole though, they are a hard-working, smart as can be crew…..I just prefer to keep it simple so I can handle all aspects of my site and blogs on my own. Cool read.
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted..3 Tips for Busy Entrepreneurs to Manage TimeMy Profile

  • Jennie July 29, 2013, 4:26 pm

    When I was starting with my site, I had so much trouble finding a programmer. I didn’t know much about programming, so it was very hard to know whom to hire. That is why I found my first programmer through recommendation of my friends who know her personally.

    • Garry Ponus July 30, 2013, 4:50 pm

      Hi Jennie

      I’m glad you were able to find someone via friends. In my world, I regularly come across people who aren’t in that position so you’ve done well.


      Garry Ponus recently posted..How to run a balanced IT interviewMy Profile

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