Social Media and Rowing with the Winklevoss Brothers

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss

"The Social Network captured a part of the emerging underworld of technology that nobody else had before."

- Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss

"You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies." The phrase that describes Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss who had embroiled in one of the biggest legal battles of the Oversharing Generation.

From entrepreneurs to United States Olympic Team, the Winklevoss brothers are the few early pioneers of social media by founding HarvardConnection (later renamed ConnectU).

Early Life

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss are identical twins born on August 21st, 1981 in Southampton, New York, and later raised in Greenwich, Connecticut. At an early age, Tyler (right-handed) and his identical "mirror-image" twin brother Cameron (left-handed) demonstrated a pattern of teamwork, building Lego together and playing musical instruments.

At the age of 13, the twins taught themselves HTML and started a web page company, which developed websites for businesses. The brothers attended Greenwich Country Day School and graduated from the Brunswick School.

In 2009, the twins graduated business study at the Said Business School at the University of Oxford. While at Oxford, they were members of Oxford Blue, Christ Church, and rowed in the Blue Boat in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.

Building ConnectU

The Winklevoss twins with their classmate Divya Narendra, wanted a better way to connect with fellow students at Harvard University and other universities. As a result, in December 2002, the three came up with an idea to create a social network for Harvard students which was first named HarvardConnection.

In January 2003, they seek help from a fellow friend, a Harvard student and programmer, Sanjay Mavinkurve, and later Victor Gao to begin building HarvardConnection, but they left the project in the end of that year. The social network grew popular that it expanded to other schools around the country.

Facebook Lawsuit

In November 2003, before Victor Gao left the team, he suggested that they should approach Mark Zuckerberg about joining the HarvardConnection. In early November, Narendra emailed Zuckerberg and he responded in a few days preparing to take over programming duties from Gao. In November 25, 2003, the Winklevosses and Narendra met Zuckerberg in Harvard's Kirkland House and explained to him the HarvardConnection website, the plan to expand to other schools after launch, the nature of the project and its visions. After the meeting, Zuckerberg became a partner in HarvardConnection and was given the private server location and password for the unfinished HarvardConnection website and code.

In 2004, the team filed a lawsuit against Facebook alleging that creator Mark Zuckerberg had broken the oral contract with them. The suit alleged that Zuckerberg had copied their idea while he was working with the HarvardConnection team, and illegally used source code intended for the website he was hired to create. A settlement agreement for the case was reached in February 2008, valued at $65 million.

In May 2010, ConnectU is accusing Facebook of securities fraud on the value of the stock that was part of the settlement and wants to get the settlement undone. It was considered that the settlement value, at the time, was $31 million, instead of the $65 million. After defeat at the appellate court level, the Winklevoss twins decided to petition the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case, but in June 2011 announced that they had changed their minds.

Other Lawsuits

One of ConnectU's law firms, Quinn Emanuel, inadvertently disclosed the confidential settlement amount in marketing material by printing "WON $65 million settlement against Facebook". Emanuel sought $13 million as its contingency fee in which ConnectU fired him and sued the law firm for malpractice.

On December 21, 2009, i2hub founder and The i2hub Organization launched a lawsuit against ConnectU and its founders, the Winklevosses and Divya Narendra, seeking 50% of the settlement proceeds from the original lawsuit.

On May 2005, the Winklevoss twins were evicted from an apartment in the Regatta Riverview complex in Cambridge for repeated complaints from the neighbours and failure to pay rent. The twins retaliated by registering false domain names such as and, posting defamatory information, and buying ads from Google to direct traffic to these fabricated sites. The Regatta Riverview filed suit in July 2005, and was settled within a couple of days.


From their early age, they already had interest in rowing. They had began rowing at the age of 15, encouraged by family and friends. They began rowing at the Saugatuck Rowing Club on the Saugatuck River in 1997.

The Winkleviss brothers rowed at Harvard University for 4 years before graduating. Their rowing crew was nicknamed the "God Squad" and compete in the Lucerne Rowing World Cup and the Grand Challenge Cup.

In 2007, the Winklevosses was named to the United States Pan American Team and competed at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In 2008, the Winklevosses was named to the United States Olympic Team and competed at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. And in 2009, they won a bronze medal at the Rowing World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The Social Network

A movie based on Zuckerberg and the founding years of Facebook, The Social Network was released on October 1, 2010. The brothers were both played by actor Armie Hammer and Josh Pence.

Although Facebook settled out of court in 2008 from the claim, awarding the brothers in cash and shares, the pair don't feel that justice has been done. They thank the film that now the cinema-going public have heard their side of the story, and are inclined to believe it.

Despite their thoughts about the film, Tyler has said that "we loved the movie. It does a good job of getting the conversation going and most importantly, it was a great piece of entertainment. A lot of people had fun with it."

Other Ventures

The twins that lost the biggest social-network showdown when Mark Zuckerberg walked away with Facebook, are trying again. The brothers formed Winklevoss Capital as a way to invest their personal wealth. Their first investment was SumZero, which brings together investors to share trading ideas and research.

With at least $65 million from the settlement of a legal battle with Zuckerberg and Facebook Inc., the Winklevosses are with their fellow Harvard alumnus Divya Narendra, their ally in the Facebook fight, in the investment website. The Winklevosses have put $1 million into SumZero, which was founded by Narendra and Aalap Mahadevia, in 2008.

On November 13, 2012, The Winklevoss brothers continued to expand their business as one of the investor of Hukkster by closing a $1 million financing round to the online shopping site. Headquartered in New York City, Hukkster, founded in December, 2011 by former fashion merchandisers, Katie Finnegan and Erica Bell, launched in invitation-only private beta in May, 2012 and publicly in September, 2012.

The twins also invested on bitcoins. As of 2013, the brothers claimed they owned nearly 1 percent of all bitcoin existence at the time. When the price of the cryptocurrency reached $10,000, the twins that invested $11 million into the bitcoin when it was around $120 per coin, and haven’t sold a coin since, became billionaires.

Personal Life

In December 2011, the year after the film was released and shortly after the real-life twins took a $65m settlement from Facebook, the Winklevoss twins, who have come to be known as the Winklevii, decided not to try out for the London 2012 Olympic games. And as a result, U.S. rowing lost its celebrity athletes.

The twins are more soft spoken than their counterparts in the film. One brother would often finish the other's thoughts in many daily activities.

Cameron is the publisher of online site Guest of a Guest, a web log that focuses on parties and nightlife in Washington, DC., New York, Los Angeles and The Hamptons.

In 2014, the brothers said that they used bitcoins to buy tickets for a high-altitude voyage on billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic commercial spaceflight venture.