Divya Narendra on being a Wildcat, The Social Network and his suit against Facebook

    On the left, the real Divya Narendra. On the right, Max Minghella, the actor who plays him in The Social Network. Photos courtesy of Divya Narendra and Columbia Pictures.

    In The Social Network, Divya Narendra is that other guy — in cahoots with the “Winklevi twins” and Harvard Connection. At Northwestern, though, Narendra is a Kellogg JD-MBA student.

    Seven years ago, Narendra conceived the idea for social network ConnectU with his roommates at Harvard. In 2004, the ConnectU trio — Narendra, Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss — sued Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, claiming he stole their idea and their source code. They settled in 2008 for a reported $65 million. The dispute flared up again in May 2010, as Narendra and the Winklevosses leveled allegations of securities fraud against Facebook. And the feud goes on.

    We reached Narendra by email last week and chatted with him about his portrayal in The Social Network, his time at Northwestern so far and his dreams of becoming a rock star.

    What are your thoughts on The Social Network? How accurately is your character portrayed?

    I thought the film overall was well done and entertaining. Though there is a certain degree of dramatic license taken, the film is based on real events and is more fact than fiction. The actor who plays me (Max Minghella) pushes for filing suit against Facebook in the movie. Though this element is accurate, I think his personality in the movie is more intense than my actual personality is in real life. I’ve always seen myself as being more of a laid-back type.

    Were you happy with the choice of actor?

    I was initially surprised to see myself played by an actor who wasn’t Indian. But in the end, I think Max did a good job of pushing the dialogue forward and creating a sense of urgency in what was a very frustrating period.

    How did what happened with Facebook influence your life path?

    One thing it did was bring me to Northwestern. I would probably not have ended up in law school if it wasn’t for this litigation experience.

    Describe your experience at Northwestern so far — are you satisfied?

    The JD-MBA program at Northwestern has been fantastic. I’ve met many great fellow classmates, learned many valuable lessons in class and met professors who have been willing to help me with my current entrepreneurial venture, SumZero.

    What are your feelings toward Facebook and the popularization of the story in The Social Network?

    I have no bitterness or issues towards Facebook the website. I just hope that when our lawsuit against them ultimately ends, that the twins and I feel fairly compensated for our contributions.

    What were your ambitions when you were growing up? How much have you stayed true to that, or not?

    My parents are doctors and so initially I had aspirations of becoming a heart surgeon, making an impact by saving lives and helping people live longer. When I realized that this career path would take longer than anticipated, like many young boys, I briefly entertained the idea of being a rock star. This was a no-go for many reasons (see VH1 Behind the Music), even putting my questionable guitar chops aside. So when I finally made it to college, I figured I’d pursue something in business. The process of launching ConnectU was my first real experiment with entrepreneurship and though it didn’t work out as planned, it made me want to try the process again. After working for a few years in finance (at Credit Suisse and Sowood Capital), I jumped at the opportunity to launch my second Internet start-up, SumZero. Though not as glamorous as rock stardom (and maybe heart surgery), entrepreneurship has enabled me to use my creative, analytical and people skills to create something novel that has had an impact on a target community.

    Looking back on your life now, what would you say is your biggest regret. Highest point?

    I’m not really the type to live life in regret, but I do wish I had learned how to Web program as a kid. (This would’ve saved me some troubles later in life…) I also don’t have a “highest point” per se, but the first time I plugged in an electric guitar into an amp would be up there. Other high points would be launching SumZero, meeting Bill Ackman (of Pershing Square), raising angel capital for the first time and getting into Harvard College and NU’s JD-MBA program.


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