Between the Lines: Six Degrees of Competition

The author of Fast Company's social network software Web exclusive takes a look at the complicity -- and competition -- among several company founders.

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When I started reporting "A Little Help from Your Friends," I knew that the social networking community was pretty small -- nearly all the companies playing in the space are based in the San Francisco Bay Area and it is, after all, an industry based on the principle that everyone in the world is just a few degrees away from one another. Even so, I never thought that the guys running these companies spawned out of the online dating world had relationships amongst themselves that are as intricately intertwined as anything you might find on "The O.C."

Turns out that LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman is a Stanford alum who, according to fellow Cardinal Tyler Zieman (CEO of Affinity Engines), was an "active user of the Stanford InCircle social network long before he ever started his own company." Hoffman laughs at that, acknowledging trying Affinity's product, but denying it had any influence on the development of LinkedIn. Hoffman was, however, an early investor in the online phenom Friendster, along with Tribe CEO Mark Pincus who started his company after spending some time studying his Friendster investment and deciding that he could do it better.

In November, the two took things one step further, jointly purchasing a patent on a technology that -- if suddenly inaccessible to Friendster -- would supposedly force the site to shut down. A promising way to kill the competition, but an odd way to support their investment.

If I learned anything from this story, it's that we're all connected more closely than we know -- and that you can't trust anyone with your good idea, even if they've got money on it.

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