Rowing, crypto and rock: the crazy story of the inventors of Facebook, the Winklevoss brothers

What’s the connection between Martin Eberhard, the Winklevoss brothers or Lizzy Maggie Philips? At first glance not much. Their only common point: History has little, if not completely, forgotten them. The first is Tesla’s real founder, the second imagined Facebook and the third invented a world-famous game, Monopoly. During the summer, L’Express gives you the opportunity to discover those who revolutionized the economy but who were robbed or deprived of their businesses. See the first section here.

There are midterm crises that have more panache than others. In the series Successionthe wealthy Kendall Roy finally gives up singing the tube Honesty by Billy Joel the day he celebrates his 40th birthday, for fear of ridicule. The Winklevoss brothers, they did not part. In 2022, the twins, famous for accusing Mark Zuckerberg of copying their idea with Facebook, embarked on the most absurd project: starting a rock band. Their performance is clumsy and their repertoire has nothing trendy (Blink-182, Pearl Jam …). However, it is strangely touching to see these “Perfect Gentlemen” embark on such a crazy adventure. The internet has changed, we have gotten older, so has Winklevoss.

When the world discovered them, they were the caricature of well-born people who are promised success. Born in the Hamptons, multimillionaire parents … The brothers play Chopin and wear their pants in elite schools. Annoying to the end, Tyler and Cameron are also rowing champions, walking around campus in their gigantic setting with a Colgate smile. The series’ screenwriters Silicon Valley joke: “Looks like two genetically modified Ken dolls.” So inevitably, when they complain that their classmate, Mark Zuckerberg, stole their concept of social networking, the world is not touched. We understand, however, that the case left them a bitter memory.

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In 2003, the Winklevoss brothers and their friend Divya Narendra asked “Zuck,” an ingenious coder, to help them develop an online social network for Harvard students. At that time, this type of platform did not exist anywhere, and the three friends believed a lot in the potential of the project. But while they think Mark is busy making their ambitions come true, he develops and launches his own social network: TheFacebook.

Sheer plagiarism? The case is complex. “An idea cannot be protected as such, otherwise any opportunity for innovation would be blocked,” says Claire Poirson, associate at Bersay. Dreyfus’ industrial property lawyer, Nathalie Dreyfus, confirms: “What can possibly be protected is the way creators plan to implement to materialize their idea.” However, Tyler, Cameron and Divya did not have their backs until they contacted Zuckerberg. Worse was that they were content to verbally “top” with him. “At the very least, confidentiality agreements should have been signed before the idea was presented,” analyzes Marc Picart, partner at Santarelli Industrial Property Consulting. In defense of the trio, this type of adventure was not commonplace at the time. “In 2000-2004 at Harvard, there were no start-ups or incubators on campus, and venture capitalists did not invest in students. Everyone pursued stable careers in law, medicine or finance,” recalls Divya Narendra, now founder and CEO. of a social network dedicated to investors, SumZero.

Tasty return of karma

In the United States, where justice is very expensive, however, Winklevoss is one of the few lucky ones who can afford experienced lawyers, who in 2008 will obtain a comfortable compensation of $ 65 million. “Such an amount is rarely admitted in this type of dispute,” notes Anthony Bem, a lawyer in business law and litigation on new technologies. However, the twins come out of the adventure with a damaged image. At this point, the “jocks” (athletes) become tacky, the “nerds” cool. In this new tale, “Zuck” has the atmosphere of Robin Hood making fun of the privileged. The sensation of the moment is him. So the companies in the bubbly Silicon Valley do not feel like flirting with their two new sworn enemies.

A bad for a good. While all the “valley” nerds in 2012 are looking to create the next Facebook, they are betting on a much crazier project that they were told about at a party in Ibiza: cryptocurrencies. “Back then, it was very daring, analyzes Hugo Bordet from the Association for the Development of Digital Assets (Adan), almost no one knows what bitcoin is and it is not worth much.” A winning bet. By 2022, the wheels of technology have turned: Zuck no longer has the image of a revolutionary nerd, but of an almighty CEO with little respect for the privacy of Internet users. Its social network is rejected by teenagers, and more generally, it is this whole network of big platforms that is starting to look old-fashioned. The spotlight turned on Web3, this new world powered by blockchain, cryptocurrencies and NFTs (non-fungible token) where Winklevoss served as pioneers. Tasty return of karma.

Thanks to cryptocurrencies, each of the brothers has earned a fortune of $ 3 billion. A modest nest egg compared to Zuckerbergs ($ 58.7 billion), but they track their way. And Gemini, the cryptocurrency exchange they have created, is booming. “It’s a little known to us because it was not launched in Europe, but in the world it is one of the biggest players,” points out Hugo Bordet. The twins have nonetheless suffered a few setbacks recently, including a complaint from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which accuses them of providing misleading information in order to get a bitcoin-related financial instrument approved. “Regulators are tightening the screws in the sector,” notes Frédérick Lacroix, associate at Clifford Chance. The cryptocurrency that began in January is also complicating matters.

Winklevoss has plenty of time to reassure their community by saying on Twitter that this crisis will clean up the sector and that they are all in the same boat. But when Cameron exclaims “WAGMI” (“We must all do it”), we allow ourselves to doubt it: Small owners who do not have their financial well-being and have invested a little too much of their savings in it will have a hard time climbing the slope. If the twins have not gone from all their fashion habits with privileged young people, they are still more complex than they want to show. Their teenage years were marked by the death of their older sister Amanda Winklevoss after an overdose – she had suffered from a severe form of depression two years earlier. “The most brilliant person in the family, however, was her … an athlete at the university, the star of student shows, an ingenious student. She caught all eyes, a real rock star,” Tyler later tells Tyler. in a moving record.

Crazy rock tour

In addition to the enormous pain of loss, the family endures harassment from the tabloid press. “They rang home and knocked on our door … As a 20-year-old, I learned a lesson. From a few pixels, the media can weave a story that completely obscures reality.” Despite this dark period, the twins can lean against each other. “They are inseparable,” says their friend Divya Narendra. These injuries, however, encourage the two brothers to cultivate secrecy and achievement. While their lawyers are battling with the Zuck’s, they are training for the 2008 Olympics, where they will be finalists. After years of discipline, however, the two undisturbed colossi seem to soften and lift the veil. “Going to a therapist has helped me tremendously … We are all brought up to believe that being vulnerable is a weakness, but asking for help is a huge strength,” Tyler wrote on Twitter. Letting go is not easy mentally or physically after many years of training, he says: “I have kept an eye on myself all my life, it is difficult to unlearn that muscle memory.”

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However, it is quite pleasant to see these two marble statues allow themselves to have some fun. Yes, their rock tour is absolutely insane, Tyler sometimes sings completely out of tune and Cameron is no Jimi Hendrix. Internet users also did not hesitate to make fun of it on Twitter. But, Tyler notes, this trip represents “one of the most exciting, scary, vulnerable, rewarding, and fun moments in (his) existence.” “Hateers will hate ” (haters will continue to hate), it says on the Internet. Winklevoss is now used to it. They have thick leather.


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