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February 4, 2013
"Fresh Talk" with the Winklevoss Twins

Fresh Tilled Soil, the UI and app
design company that recently moved to Watertown, has created some programs
geared toward spreading their love of design and making the principles of user interface
more accessible to all. Among the recent initiatives are a variety of courses,
a few open houses, and a series of lectures from tech industry leaders and
innovators. The lecture series, entitled “Fresh Talk,” kicked off last week
with a packed house in a small lecture space at Fresh Tilled Soil’s new
headquarters.

The first guest speakers in the “Fresh Talk” series felt right at home
at the Riverworks complex on the banks of the Charles. Former Harvard crew
standouts and claimants to the title of Facebook “founders”, Cameron and Tyler
Winklevoss, held court for about forty-five minutes on Friday evening at Fresh
Tilled Soil’s new digs.

The Winklevoss twins spoke on a variety of topics during a Q&A that
was moderated by Fresh Tilled Soil’s Dmitry Dragilev. The brothers’ main
objectives seemed to be to clear the air on their long litigious battle with
Facebook and to promote the two companies funded by their new venture
capital/angel fund, Winklevoss Capital. However, once prodded,
Cameron and Tyler were very honest and open about discussing their opinions on
how they have been portrayed in the press and as well as in the film, The Social Network.

The Winklevoss’ began by comparing the innovation scene at Harvard as it
is today to what it was like almost ten years ago when Mark Zuckerberg (and the
twins) created Facebook at the Cambridge college. They were shocked by a recent
Hack Harvard event that had more
than 200 computer science students attend. Back when they were in school, no
one was really looking into the startup space; most of their classmates had set
their sites on roles in finance. Tyler summed up the change by claiming that
“Being a founder today is like being in a rock band about ten years ago.” He
continued, “Kids coming out of high school today are trying to start
companies.” As opposed to their own experience, the brothers believe the most drastic
difference is how much easier it is to find mentors in the tech entrepreneur
space today.

After a lengthy breakdown of the legal rollercoaster involved in the
litigation over their role in the founding of Facebook - Cameron argued that
the whole process has been mishandled by the media because the case is too
intricate to be correctly covered in the short form of blogs, newspapers, et
al.; so I will avoid an attempt to do so here.

The brothers went on to discuss their various
pet projects and their “family office.”

First, Cameron described
the background behind the creation of the NYC socialite blog/event page, Guest of a Guest. Then, the Winklevoss’ were both adamant in
differentiating their venture fund as an angel-investing fund, specifically
what they called a family office, and not a venture capital project. They spent
a few minutes describing their ideas on which companies they would think of getting
behind as well as the two startups in their current portfolio: the investment
community for “buyside” investors, SumZero, and the sale tracking
site, Hukkster.

The opportunity for the
audience to ask a couple of questions allowed me to ask “The Question” that
many in the audience, as well as those in the Twittersphere I had sought advice
from, hoped to hear the twins answer.

Asking them to be candid, I
prodded Cameron and Tyler to explain their feelings on being in that rare
fellowship of humans who have been portrayed in film. I also asked whether they
believed the portrayal to be over the top or parody.

In their answers describing
their feelings on The Social Network, the brothers let down their guard
a bit and seemed more genuine than they had all evening.

Tyler began by stating that
he, “Didn’t think the movie was all that negative. I understand how people
might take the characters as kind of stiff. But they are characters, it’s all
relative.” Moreover, he compared the reality of their experience and the story
disseminated in The Social Network to the Akira Kurosawa classic, Rashomon, an investigation into three different
interpretations of the same series of events, and a great correlative.

Cameron added - a bit
“tongue-in-cheek - that they, “Thought the movie was entertaining; it should
have won best picture.” The brothers actually formed a relationship with the
producers of the film. “They were respectful of the fact that we were young
guys, the movie is out there forever,” Cameron said. “They understood that they
were playing with people’s lives to some point.”

The brothers did worry that
too many people latched onto certain scenes and portrayals that were created to
add drama to the story. “The movie has to make a point,” they said. The
Social Network
does take some liberties to create a sort of “David vs.
Goliath” dichotomy between Zuckerberg and them. In reality, they point out that
all the parties involved were in a position different from most in that they
attended Harvard, as elite of a school as can be found.  They pointed out
that the entire affair is and was “privileged parties fighting privileged
parties.”

In the end, Cameron and
Tyler Winklevoss seem excited to move on to their next set of ventures and have
a pretty entertaining tale to tell. However, they still enjoy the occasions
when someone who watched the fictionalized version of their life or read their
story stops them on the street and says, “I support you.”

Dennis Keohane is a teacher, journalist and contributor to VentureFizz.  You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.