Beyond Facebook and very much in the network

“The twins who lost out”,the Winklevii,are now financing start-ups,hosting political fundraisers,even poking fun at own image on TV

Written by New York Times | Published:March 31, 2013 2:07 am

As you sit across from Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss,it is easy to lose track of whom exactly you’re talking to. Tall,blue-eyed and each built as broad-shouldered as a fridge,the twins are identical right down to their entrees: a pair of lobster rolls,with potato chips. Each has an espresso; neither eats the biscotti it comes with.

“Our business isn’t to be famous: That’s not what we do,that’s not what we strive for,” said Tyler. “But we’re not shy or have a phobia about it,” adding,“We’ll be friendly if people are friendly back.”

Cameron concurs. “Every time someone has come up to us,they’ve always been incredibly positive and almost overly effusive,” he said. “Everyone else gets so much more emotional about it than we ever have.”

The “it” in question,of course,is the twisty tale of Facebook,a small Harvard-based start-up founded in 2004 that went on to become a multibillion-dollar business in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg. As every viewer of the 2010 hit film The Social Network knows,that business triumph occurred without the Winklevoss twins.

Their characters were indelibly portrayed as dumbfounded children of privilege: Genetically and financially blessed,their final image was one of having narrowly lost not only a big rowing race in Britain but control of the company,leaving them ultimately just a side note in the Facebook story.

For most people,their story ended where that scene ended. In the years that followed,the Winklevii,as they were memorably referred to,went on to compete in the 2008 Olympic Games,coming in sixth at Beijing,and engaged in a protracted legal battle with Zuckerberg and others. After being awarded at least $65 million in 2008,they went back to court to ask for more,but eventually abandoned their attempts.

But if revenge is a dish best served cold,then the Winklevii,now 31,are feasting: financing start-ups,hosting political fundraisers and even poking fun at their own image in a television commercial.

Last year,their company,Winklevoss Capital,began working as what they call “angel accelerators” for the shopping website Hukkster and a financial-data-and-dish company called SumZero. Divya Narendra,the founder of SumZero,was a co-plaintiff against Facebook.

Narendra,who was also depicted in the movie—“by a guy who looked nothing like me”—said the twins had adapted to their celebrity in typically low-key fashion. “I think part of them enjoys the fame,and I’m sure part of them is probably annoyed by it at times,” he said.

Indeed,they’ve recently been sighted clubbing in SoHo,rubbing elbows at Fashion Week and being trailed onto the subway by the British paparazzi. In December,the twins,who live in Los Angeles and New York,hosted a fundraiser at their sleek 8,000-square-foot pad for the Los Angeles Democratic mayoral candidate,Eric Garcetti.

All of which seems to suggest that the twins have come to terms with the fact that while they didn’t ask for notoriety,they are now best known as the guys who lost out on a Sultan of Dubai-style payday. And being known,they say,is not necessarily a bad thing when trying to build start-ups.

The one topic they do seem sensitive about is their upbringing in Greenwich,Connecticut, as the sons of wealthy self-made parents. “Dad was a pure entrepreneur,” Tyler said. “Cameron and I would be reading business magazines and talking about guys like Bill Gates.”

But they are also quick to point out that the Winklevoss family was not always so well off. Their parents didn’t go to Harvard; their grandfathers were a policeman and a garage owner; their great-grandfather was a coal miner. “It’s not like our parents are aristocratic blue bloods,” Cameron said.

In January,the twins opened their own family office,an airy 5,000-square-foot loft,as something of a social experiment,mixing feminine charm (from the Hukkster crew) and man-nerd chic (from the SumZero guys). There is a futuristic hangout space and a small room that might be outfitted with nap bunks for programmers with no time to go home. Up front,a DJ booth is planned.

Despite rejecting some trappings of Silicon Valley—their office has no Ping-Pong table—the Winklevii are not immune to typical dot-com hyperbole. Speaking of SumZero,Tyler said,“It completely obliterates the way things have been done on Wall Street.”

Which could seem a little cocky,of course,unless you believe—as the Winklevii obviously still do—that they were critical in coming up with the idea for Facebook. They don’t offer up many opinions about Zuckerberg,but they do have a few about how their battle has been portrayed.

“It’s always been this David and Goliath,blue-blooded jocks versus this hacker kid,when really it’s a fight or dispute between privileged parties,” Cameron said. “The similarities between us and Zuckerberg are actually greater than the dissimilarities.”

“The irony,” he said,“is so thick.”

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