"Fresh Talk" with the Winklevoss Twins

Tuesday Feb 5, 2013 by Dennis Keohane - Contributor, VentureFizz

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.

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