Over break, I wanted to read the book Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal by Nick Bilton. This book appealed to me because I knew that Twitter was one of the companies that we would not be visiting as of right now and that Twitter is just an incredibly powerful communication tool in general. I wanted to learn more about the application that documented a series of revolutions in the Middle East and helped a US businessman ascend to the presidency. The most interesting part of the whole book was that Twitter had such a dysfunctional and turbulent emergence, but if it had done it any other way, it may not be the company that it is today.
The book begins with the backgrounds of the most important early co-founders: Evan “Ev” Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey, and Christopher “Biz” Stone. With the exception of Noah, none of these people had the prestigious degrees that were so common and even expected in Silicon Valley. However, their passion for technology was undeniable since everybody except Noah dropped out of college to pursue a career in Silicon Valley and everybody except Biz was a self-taught programmer. More importantly, all of them came to Silicon Valley to seek one thing: friendship. They all had experienced some sort of severe loneliness in their lives and saw Silicon Valley as an opportunity to make new friends with similar interests. Although he did not know it yet, Noah’s feeling of loneliness is what eventually inspired him to birth the idea of Twitter, since Noah saw the tool as a way to stay connected with friends and feel a little less lonely.
In order to understand how Twitter came to fruition, it is essential to learn about Ev’s background. Ev met a girl named Meg Hourihan and they created a company called Pyra Labs that was to create software that would increase workplace productivity. As a side project, Ev and another employee created an internal web diary that employees could use to track their progress. Ev called this project “Blogger” and wanted everyone to be able to have his or her own web log or “blog”.
Eventually, Pyra Labs disbanded, but Ev envisioned blogs to become popular because they could disrupt traditional media by giving anybody a voice in the form of a personal online newspaper, a philosophy known as push-button publishing. Ev had a social gain from the idea as well. The end of Pyra Labs meant that Ev had lost all of his friends, so Ev turned to his followers on his blog for friendship. While Blogger was still in its start-up phase, Ev managed to gain one real friend: Noah. In the end, Ev was right because Google acquired Blogger, making him a millionaire and giving him credibility in Silicon Valley.
Soon after, Ev found that the tech giant was just using his company for more sources of ad revenue, so he quit. At that time, Noah approached Ev with a start-up idea and asked him for some initial funding. Ev was hesitant to go into business with friends, but Noah eventually convinced him to start a podcasting platform known as Odeo. The company required more money, so Ev offered to add in two hundred thousand dollars in exchange for the CEO position from Noah. Noah did not want to give up his position as CEO but thought it was necessary because he believed in Odeo. This swapping of power began the downfall of Ev and Noah’s friendship and Noah’s career at Twitter.
Even though Odeo was able to secure some outside funding, Odeo would eventually fail due to the tension between the head guys and its lack of value for consumers. During Odeo’s early days, Noah and Ev hired a very important person as a lowly programmer: Jack. As Odeo was approaching failure, Jack and Noah spent an evening drinking, trying to think of a way to save the company. Jack suggested an old idea of his where he would separate the personal status updates seen on online chatting applications such as AOL as its own platform. This conversation sparked the birth of Twitter because Noah thought this was an incredible way for people to stay connected and feel a little less lonely. Shortly after, Ev hosted a hack day at the office where the employees could work on side projects that had the goal of saving Odeo. Jack and his team presented their take on Twitter and Ev immediately saw its potential. Jack confided in Ev that he could not work with Noah any longer, so Ev was forced to fire Noah and rebrand the team to Twitter. The man who imagined Twitter and thought of its name never received any money from its IPO. Ev personally invested a couple million dollars into the company so he owned seventy percent of the shares and appointed Jack as the CEO. Read the comments here for a quick laugh.
Twitter started to gain tremendous popularity and was infamous for shutting down all the time, as it could not handle the traffic. However, the fundamental issue was that nobody could describe the function of Twitter, not even Jack and Ev. Jack thought it should be a platform where one can describe what is happening to them, while Ev thought it should be a platform where one can describe what is happening around them. What made Twitter unique was the fact that it could do both. However, this vital disagreement paired with Jack’s inept leadership led to Ev ousting Jack from the company. Jack was appointed as the silent chairman of the board, meaning that he did not have a say as a board member. This decision turned out to be the downfall of Ev and Jack started to formulate his return to Twitter on that day.
All the news outlets still contacted Jack because they did not know he effectively no longer worked for Twitter, so he took every possible opportunity to paint Ev as a villain. Jack would also hold private meetings with board members and employees, telling them how Ev fired him and how Ev was not a great leader. If he had removed Jack from the board, Ev may still be CEO to this day, but that title belongs to Jack Dorsey.
Topic and Recommendation
Overall, this biography showcases the unpredictability of running a start-up, as it is not as glamorous as media or television may make it out to be. There is never a clear path to success. It becomes impossible to work with friends when there is an unequal share of power, as the best business decisions may not always be the best friendship decisions. Although Jack ended up on top, he lost three of his closest friends along the way. At the same time, Twitter would have never existed if all of those conflicts did not happen because Jack thought of the original idea, Noah envisioned it and brought it to life, and Ev provided the initial funding and reputation needed to accelerate its growth.
I would recommend this book more for its entertainment value rather than its educational value. It is a very captivating story that manages to expose the hardships of entrepreneurship, such as the difficulties of establishing a revenue model and mission statement, but the book’s main purpose is to entertain rather than to teach. I am glad that I have more knowledge on such an important company and the mindset that you need to be a successful leader, but I believe the other books on the list have a greater educational value on very relevant topics, such as big data and the mobile economy.