Lifestyle Journal

  • A Chat with Divya Narendra, the Harvard Entrepreneur Behind the Idea for Facebook and Portrayed in "The Social Network"

A Chat with Divya Narendra, the Harvard Entrepreneur Behind the Idea for Facebook and Portrayed in "The Social Network"

Divya Narendra initially rose to fame through his association with Mark Zuckerberg and the Winkelvoss brothers in the very early days of Facebook. He is portrayed as one of the main characters in the movie "The Social Network". Divya is now CEO and co-founder of the successful professional investment hub SumZero.

Read our exclusive interview with this dynamic entrepreneur:

 

Hi Divya, the obvious place to start is with your first entrepreneurial experience. We have seen the Hollywood version of your story in the movie “The Social Network”. What has been the toughest lesson that you have learned in business from those events and later in life? 

The most important lesson I learned from launching my first company was to trust my instincts, especially as they apply to people. Building a team is no easy task, but working with people you get along with well goes a long way when you're trying to build a business.  

Divya with the Winkelvoss brothers in 2005 while working at ConnectU during their Harvard years.

Above is a very old picture of Divya with the Winkelvoss brothers in 2005 while they were working on ConnectU during their Harvard years. 

 

Are you happy about how you were represented in the movie “The Social Network”?

My character onscreen is nothing like me in person. Personality-wise, I'm much more laid back in person. You'll have to ask people who know me in real life to get their assessment, but the differences are fairly obvious. That said, it was certainly an entertaining film. I highly recommend it! 

Private picture of Divya Narendra and Max Minghella who plays Divya in the movie "The Social Network"

Here a private picture of Divya and Max Minghella who plays Divya in the movie "The Social Network". 

 

Divya, your entrepreneurial life ranges from social media to finance. If you were just finishing university now and wanted to start a new venture, what business sector would you go in to?

I think it's helpful to pursue sectors where you have a deep interest and where there is also significant opportunity for innovation. I've always loved cars and so maybe I would've pursued working in the automotive industry. Who knows, maybe I would have been one of Tesla's first employees in a different life, or started my own electric car company. I also think robotics is fascinating. It's both exciting and frightening to see how automation is changing the world we live in. 

 

If you could give three pieces of advice to any young entrepreneur, what would they be?

  • Do as much market research as possible before starting your venture. A lot of entrepreneurs launch companies without fully understanding who their competitors are, and how their product/service is differentiated.

  • Create a founding team with complementary skill sets that don't overlap with your own. 

  • Don't be afraid to bootstrap your business. These days, it seems like many entrepreneurs try and raise VC funding very early on before they've put in sufficient sweat equity into their business.   

 

Tell us about SumZero, what is your mission with the company and what problem are you trying to solve?

Divya Narendra at CNBC

SumZero is the world’s largest community of investment professionals working at hedge funds, mutual funds, and private equity funds. With over 10,000 pre-screened professionals collaborating on a fully-transparent platform, SumZero fosters the sharing of thousands of proprietary investment reports and offers several ancillary free services, including capital introduction services, buy-side career placement services, media placement, and more.  

I came up with the idea while working at a hedge fund in 2007 as a research analyst. At the time, I realized there were two key flaws with Wall Street research. Wall Street analysts were recommending investments without having any personal stake in those recommendations. As such, they had no skin-in-the-game. If they were wrong, they would lose no money. In addition they were recommending companies that were also clients of their respective firms, representing a clear conflict of interest. Naturally, I felt compelled to aggregate research from professional investors working at funds who did have skin-in-the-game, and lacked these conflicts of interest. 

 

Let’s leave business aside now and let’s find out more of your personal side. You are given the chance to have a 15 minute conversation with any person living or dead.  Who would it be and why? Who are the people that you find particularly inspiring?

Very tough question, but here are a few people who come to mind immediately:

  • Leonardo da Vinci - easily one of the greatest thinkers of all time and the archetypal Renaissance man. I can't think of anyone with a more diverse set of talents than him, spanning the arts, mathematics, science and philosophy.

  • Mahatma Gandhi - He is a case study in leadership on a global scale. Few have had such a profound effect on so many people.  

  • Roger Federer - who wouldn't want to talk to the greatest tennis player of all time? I'm biased as I grew up playing tennis and also utilize a one-handed backhand. 

  • Elon Musk - I'm a huge fan of what he's doing to change the way we produce and consume power. He's making the impossible possible.

 

Ok, enough with the intellectual questions. Let’s get the gossip. We have been informed you are one of the most wanted bachelors in New York, is that right? 

Haha, no, and don't tell my girlfriend that!

Divya Narendra at a social event in NYC

 

As a clothing and accessories brand, we are also interested to hear what qualities inspire brand loyalty. Is there a brand which you particularly respect?

Ferrari has to be one of the greatest brands in history. Its products are accessible to so few and yet the Ferrari name is known better than almost any other company I can think of. Ferrari has ingrained itself into the aspirations of so many, to the point where in Italy, the tifosi treat the brand like religion.  

 

What do you love to wear in your casual time?

I'm a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy. My friends sometimes accuse me of wearing the same thing everyday. 

 

You live in possibly the world’s most famous city so what are your favorite places in New York?

I love my own neighborhood, Tribeca. We have a lot of great restaurants here (too many to list). The architecture is very historic, and the area is quite peaceful despite being nestled between SoHo and the Financial District. The proximity to the water and Hudson River Park is amazing too. There has been a lot of work done in reconstructing the World Trade Center, which is definitely worth seeing if you happen to be visiting. 

 

What has been your favorite travel destination so far? And what place haven't you already visited that you would most like to go to?

I don't have a favorite. That said, I've had great fun visiting LA, Rome, Delhi, Mumbai, and London as I have good friends in all these cities, and they all have great night life, museums and restaurants. I keep hearing rave reviews of Berlin and hope to get out there one day. 

 

If you could give three pieces of travel advice, what would they be?

Pack light, fly direct, and pack light.

 

One of our most popular items is our weekend bag. What are your travel essentials that you always pack for any trip? And which of our bags do you prefer?

The Weekender looks classic I must say. Color-wise, I'd go with the Uluru or Rukoki. For long trips, packing a good book is key. As you know, we Americans pay special attention to dental hygiene, so I never forget my floss.

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