Winklevoss syndrome

You may have heard of the Winklevoss Brothers. They’re two of the luckiest people on the planet. They received a reported $65 million in a settlement from Facebook for essentially having an ‘idea stolen’. Latest reports are that they unhappy with the settlement terms because Facebook has recently been valued as high as $50 billion.I’m calling it Winklevoss Syndrome.

Winklevoss Syndrome = the false belief that an idea is ownable and that the real value of a business is strongly linked to the idea. People who suffer from this syndrome believe that they have some kind of ownership rights to something because they thought of it.

Although Mark Zuckerberg may have taken their idea, but he’s the one who built, it, funded it, promoted it, resourced it and expanded it. I’ll go as far as saying that the Winklevoss brothers are delusional if they believe they had anything to do with the success of Facebook. The idea of a social network has nothing to do with the act of building and populating a social network. Ideas in isolation have no value, ideas once executed ‘may’ have value. It’s also worth remembering that every idea that any number of people could or did have, would always be executed very differently. I think the Winklevoss brothers are the luckiest entrepreneurs on the face of the planet. They received a $65 million dollar gift for an idea and some unfinished pieces of code. They got very lucky they ever met Zuckerberg.

Every fresh idea usually has thousands of entrepreneurs around the world toying with it or building it. Simply because they have foundations in common trends, insight and technology evolution. So next time you see your ‘idea’, being brought to life, remind yourself that you didn’t ‘do’ anything about it. And then resist the temptation to suffer from Winklevoss Syndrome. Instead we should go and build something and see how limited the value of the original idea is.


22 Comments Winklevoss syndrome

  1. Jason Berek-Lewis

    In the last year I have become fascinated with the idea of ‘entrepreneurs’ and how to ‘become’ and entrepreneur. When I started exploring this 12 months back, I racked my brain for months thinking “I just need one great idea!!”…

    I’ve since had an idea, which I think is pretty good and I am struggling to execute… Ideas don’t mean anything, it’s pulling them off that does.

  2. Rob

    Hear, hear! Couldn’t have said it better Steve! Good ideas are everywhere but turning a good idea into a successful business requires an entirely different level of commitment, effort and persistence in the face overwhelming odds against you–an arduous journey that only a very few will ever make!

  3. Nick Dalla Riva

    I don’t disagree. Most if not all success come from a discipline to execute. As an ideas man who like to see his ideas come to life, I am sure that you, like me, get people coming to you with half ideas, shaped ideas, silly ideas and great ideas. Very few people come to you with the idea, and ask you if the plan to execute sounds like a good plan.

    Anyway, back to the Winklevoss’sss’s’s”s’ – we must remember that the ‘twins’ actually identified Zuckerberg as a candidate to delivery the service. They approached him, wooed him, and then they hired him to do a job. There mistake (Which as it turned out may not have been such a bad mistake) was poor program management / poor management of delivery. Fortunately there were some base grounds of employment obligations etc..

    They got paid not for the idea, nor for the execution. They go paid, because they hired an employee who stole the intellectual property and used it himself. Maybe the pay off was bigger because Zuckerberg did it, (in fact I am sure the Winklevoss’s’s”s’s’s’ were concerned mostly with further entrenching the ‘privileged set’ at Harvard) but in the end. They had an idea….identified the talent….hired the talent…and then mismanaged deliver….but they got the talent search half right! – Half wrong coz he stole the idea)

    If we applied this to say the MYKI project – the victorian government had an idea, identified the talent, contracted the talent and ….got the talent wrong and mismanaged delivery….)

    So I am not so sure that the Winklevoss’s’s’s got it too wrong, or that they were too lucky. In effect they “invested in” a start up programmer / coder turned entrepreneur called Zuckerberg…well done I say… 🙂

    Having said that, if they are that smart, why not take the money and invest it in another start up or two, or launch another idea…probably coz they know what you are saying is true…they aren’t so good at managing delivery!

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  5. Steve Sammartino

    Actually you’ve added some depth to the discussion here Nick. What you say is true, he did undertake a role as employee and the obligations that go with that… The fact that they are unhappy with the amount they got is the worst side effect of having Winklevoss Syndrome.

    Thanks for the addition and thoughtful comment.
    Kudos – Steve.

  6. J. Matthew Pryor

    I believe the correct plural form is Winkelvi
    Seriously though, ignoring whether Zuckerberg played it fast & loose with the Winkelvi, the point still stands.
    My experience is that a person’s perceived value of their idea is inversely proportional to their experience in turning ideas in to profitable companies.

  7. Steve Sammartino

    Yep – in one of my early businesses I tried to raise Venture Capital on a power point presentation of the idea…. In subsequent efforts I’ve bootstrapped the launches and had VC’s knocking on my door instead.


  8. Foo

    Good god.

    The Winklevosses didn’t sue because their “idea was stolen”. They sued because Zuckerberg breached their contract. It’s straightforward Massachusetts contract law.

    It appears to me that the issue at hand is how much value that contract had. While one cannot know whether ConnectU would have had the same success as Facebook, the problem for Zuckerberg is that Facebook’s success is the only sample point we can use to estimate ConnectU’s success. Thus the value of the contract is most reasonably estimated as proportional to the success of Facebook, and likewise to the damages the Winklevosses deserve to extract from him.

    The Winklevosses keep coming back because Zuckerberg’s minions keep lying to them the value of Facebook, and thus the estimate of the contract damage. At this point, as far as I’m concerned, Zuckerberg has acted in such bad faith that Facebook deserves all the Winklevoss it can possibly get.

  9. Sanity

    You’re a douchebag. They didn’t just have an idea and Zuckerberg had a similar one. They hired him to do the job, he said he would and then used his position to **stall them** so he could get out the door quicker. That’s the worst kind of corporate sabotage.

    But since you only value the winner please let me know the next time you have a great startup idea so I can get a job in some key area and use it to slow your company down as much as possible while I sell your idea to the highest bidder.

  10. Steve Sammartino

    Don’t get me wrong I’m no Facebook or Zuckerberg lover, in fact I share your sentiment. But this is the greatest value stretch on breach of contract in the history of contract law. As far as the value of the contract is concerned, it can only be proportionate to the value of the business at the time – not the eventual value. The eventual value of Facebook has far too many externalities to apportion its value to the ‘potential’ of connectu.


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  12. Magnusdopus

    Winklevoss are lucky that Zuckerberg did what he did. ConnectU at best would be a $100 million company with a small following of college alumns from 2006. It would most certainly not be the largest website in the world. Just look at the name. It doesn’t even sound good. It sounds like those cross college circulars they put in the school newspaper. ConnectU v1 would have been riddled with ads ala Myspace.

  13. Evan

    Its really just an entreprenuer or wantrepreneur syndrome

    So many people over value the idea, and under estimate how much luck and hard work go into executing something

    Just like you said, at any given time dozens of people are working on different variations of the idea, and very few actually succeed

  14. JMiller

    I think the ongoing difficulty that they’re going to have is that the film version of their story (The Social Network) showed exactly *NO* enforceable contractual agreement between them and Zuckerberg. So while they’ve got more money than most people will ever have, popular culture is going to say that they’re silver-spoon whiners who got rolled when they tried to exploit labor that was more skilled than they gave it credit for. Which will result in more posts like this as the popular artifact increasingly looms over the truth (assuming that the truth was a $65M breach of contract).

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  17. Geoff Mason

    Completely agree with the sentiment of this article. Well said.

    However, factually it is incorrect. An idea does have value and can have ownership. The Winkle-less brothers didn’t think to do it. An idea whether its a design, business process, social process or engineered solution can be owned – there called patents, trademarks and designs.

    Ask the man who owns the patent for a flying car in Australia. He owns that idea – and can restrict people monetising it.

    Just my point of view.


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