If you are interested in social media, technology, entrepreneurship, the world around us or just a plain good juicy story, this book is for you. Put it on your wish list or give it to your Uncle Dave or buy it for the office Pollyanna. New York Times columnist NIck Bilton gives a fast-paced and fascinating account of the inception of Twitter when four friends, Noah Glass, Ev Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey fumbled with the idea from their small San Francisco apartments to a company that was recently valued at $17 billion in its IPO. It is a tale full of friendship, betrayal, success and heartbreak.
Although the book is about the four founders of Twitter, it centers around the conflict and power struggles of Jack Dorosey with Ev Williams and their corresponding differences on their vision of what Twitter should be. Dorsey felt strongly that Twitter should be about personal status updates and focused on mobile. Williams saw it as a vehicle to update on what was going on around you and was more focused on the web. Along the way, Twitter became about both.
Ev Williams initially started Blogger.com, a company that today is still a great resource for those interested in starting a blog, and the concept of blog writing would continue to be important to Williams. When he sold Blogger, he founded Odeo and put up the initial $1 million to finance the company that would eventually become Twitter. The story of how the four founders came upon the idea of Twitter is a good one and it is amazing to realize this history happened within the last ten years.
In some ways, you could say that they made the company a success in spite of themselves. Although Glass was a founder and came up with the name “Twitter,” he did not fit into the business world and his erratic behavior eventually led to his dismissal. Dorsey took on the CEO role and Williams was the Chairman, but their relationship became antagonistic. Many within the company were unhappy with Dorsey, and Ev Williams replaced him as CEO, giving Dorsey a power-less position on the board. According to the author, Dorsey was bent on revenge and put himself in front of the media whenever he could as the “founder” of Twitter.
Twitter’s followers continued to grow exponentially and the book is filled with stories of celebrities, such as Ashton Kutcher, who helped spur the movement of Twitter. The fast-paced growth was difficult for Williams, who was known to be slow at making decisions. He was also known to hire his friends because he thought he could trust them, which ended up not always being the case. Dorsey eventually got the backing of some of the investors to have Williams step down as CEO. Dick Costolo replaced him as CEO and Dorsey returned as Chairman.
Williams still ended up with the most ownership in Twitter stock and is today worth over $2 billion. Bilton paints him in a much more favorable light than Dorsey, even mentioning how he and his wife have set up a trust fund for thier sons to give away their money to charity in the future.
Bilton uses the theme of loneliness throughout the book, namely with Glass and then Dorsey, as a motivator in using a device like Twitter to connect to others. It’s an interesting theory, but it is perhaps a stretch. In truth the book has enough real-life drama without having to have the image of the single Jack Dorsey, alone at night, reaching for his phone to connect to others.
Enjoy this book. It’s a good one to read on a cold winter’s night.