The Winklevosses Vs. Silicon Valley

The Winklevoss twins had their original case against Facebook dismissed yesterday, causing tech media to write another slew of “The Winklevosses’ Case Against Facebook Is Over But Wait Actually It Isn’t” headlines. The seven-year battle is indeed not over, as the Winklevosses intend to file a motion under Rule 60b, which alleges that the Facebook withheld evidence during the first trial and hopes for a resettlement. The value of the Winklevoss Facebook shares is currently around $200 million (which is about $200 million more than I or probably any of you have).

This news comes shortly after former Harvard president Larry Summers called the twins “assholes” at the Fortune Brainstorm tech conference in Aspen, in response to a question about the veracity of a scene in “The Social Network.”

“One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an asshole. This was the latter case,”

The twins responded to Summers’ comments by writing an official-looking letter to the current president of Harvard, condemning Summers’ actions, which only reinforced the “asshole” characterization for many.

Because wading through piles of legalese isn’t something that I (or you) can spend most of my time doing, for better or for worse, I don’t understand the ins and outs of the case. But, thanks to “The Social Network” and the simplification engine that is popular culture, the story of the Winklevoss twins versus Mark Zuckerberg is not about the fight over the minutiae of a breach of contract in most people’s minds; It’s about the battle of two archetypes, and the two parties have come to symbolize the two sides of the “execution” (Zuckerberg) versus “ideas” (the Winklevosses) debate.

Any entrepreneur worth their ramen will tell you that ideas are a dime a dozen; “Startup ideas are not million dollar ideas,” wrote Y Combinator founder Paul Graham “and here’s an experiment you can try to prove it: just try to sell one.”

Larry Summers’ comment about the Winklevosses being assholes because they wore suits to a meeting appeals directly to the Silicon Valley myth of a bunch of dudes wearing hoodies and TEVAs drinking Mountain Dew in a house in Palo Alto while they casually build the next billion dollar company. I’m betting that’s no accident; Summers has slowly made inroads into Silicon Valley, is on the board of Square and is an advisor at Andreessen Horowitz. Moreover Summers actually met Marc Andreessen (who is on the board of Facebook) through his protegé, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Sorkin’s masterful “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook,” line pretty much sums up the collective ethos of an industry that’s seen Friendster replaced by Myspace replaced by Facebook and lived through “RIP Good Times” to only see more good times. Welcome to Northern California, we don’t like old money and we don’t like patent trolls. “Hustle over entitlement” should be our state motto.

Indeed, when I asked why Silicon Valley had such vehement feelings about what the twins symbolize on Twitter and yes Facebook, I was overwhelmed with similar responses, “The valley is filled with people who were misfits in school in a world filled with Winklevosses,” said Redpoint VC Satish Dharmaraj said on Twitter. “The Valley knows that the idea was not ground breaking or new. Execution is everything. + some luck,” he said.

“It really feels like two jock assholes tried to take money from the little nerdy guy,” said valley veteran John Adams, “The right thing for them to do would have been to start-up a competitor to Facebook and not call sour grapes the whole time.”

Menlo Ventures partner Shervin Pishevar gave a longer explanation on Quora,

“If the Winklevii had spent all their time and energy competing with Facebook in the arena of the marketplace rather than in the confines of the courtroom, we here in Silicon Valley would have had more sympathy and respect regardless of whether they had failed or succeeded. If you want our respect, gear up and enter the arena of entrepreneurship and be willing to die and battle for your idea to win the hearts and minds of those in the stands. The users who vote with their time, money and passion count here- nothing else. No court order or settlement can give you the legitimacy and honor that hundreds of millions of users can. Merit matters more. Always.”

Summers’ character in The Social Network also sums it up, “Harvard undergraduates believe that inventing a job is better than finding a job. So I suggest again that the two of you come up with a new project … The two of you being here is wrong! It’s not worthy of Harvard, it’s not what Harvard saw in you. You don’t get special treatment.”

I’m sure hundreds if not thousands of entrepreneurs silently cheered at that part.

Movies are really good at caricatures, but, as the leaked Zuckerberg IMs show, reality has many facets — the Winklevosses are Olympians (which is an accomplishment is it not?) and I’ve met plenty of assholes wearing hoodies. And as we brace ourselves for the second round of Winklevosses’ versus Facebook there’s one thing that’s clear, whatever the fight is about it goes way beyond money, especially for all of us on the sidelines.