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.