Hatching Twitter is the story of the four co-founders of Twitter: Ev, Noah, Biz and Jack. Instead of focusing on the technical aspect of building and running startups, author Nick Bilton presented us a peek into life in Silicon Valley: ambition and dreams, sweat and pain, friendship and betrayal. He showed us the human side of the co-founders, that they were not super humans with brilliant ideas all the time, that they would also break down emotionally from nervousness and stress. This is the story of how a tiny bird was hatched under a raging storm and flew across the globe with its wings spread, chirping so that everyone can hear its voice. This is the story of Twitter.
# Who are they?
Meet Evan Williams. A college dropout with fierce idealism, Ev found himself entangled in the tech boom jungle. He created Blogger and believed “push-publishing for the people.” Ev earned his gold and his name when he sold Blogger to Google; unsatisfied with the new Blogger, he left Google and used that big sum of money to finance new projects, like Odeo and later Twitter. He was the sole investor in the first stages of Twitter and recruited friends to help build the company. Ev was well respected and had a lot of power in Twitter. However, he found himself sucked into a vicious power battle between Noah and later Jack. He became the second CEO after Jack until the board replaced him for his indecisiveness. After Twitter, Ev worked on his new company Obvious Cooperation.
Meet Noah Glass. After seeing Ev’s photo on a magazine, Noah found himself living next door to the young entrepreneur. The pair soon became friends and started projects together. While Evan was focused on blogging, Noah’s interest lied in podcasting. They started Odeo with other friends and engineers. However, the podcast company didn’t do as well and faced immediate danger when Apple joined the podcasting business. Twitter, as a side project, was created and Noah, passionate about Twitter, became the “spiritual leader” of the team. Noah was caught in the power tornado between between Ev and himself and was let go from the company before Twitter gained fame and fortune. Ev later tweeted “It’s true that @Noah never got enough credit for his early role at Twitter. Also, he came up with the name, which was brilliant.”
Meet Jack Dorsey. Jack was a hipster engineer plus fashion design lover when he first joined the company. Pushing Noah out of the company, Jack became the one in charge of the Twitter project and was appointed the first CEO. However, Jack’s incompetence to run the company and his different belief than Ev soon strained his relationship with Ev and was asked to step down from the CEO role. Externally, he was still the chairman; internally, Jack was dismissed from any decision making and was essentially fired from Twitter. Not satisfied with this outcome, Jack started a media frenzy, claiming himself as the “sole inventor of Twitter”, giving speeches and interviews on behalf of the company. In the meantime, channeling his inner Steve Jobs, Jack transformed himself into the Jack 2.0: listening to the Beatles (Jobs’s favorite band), dressing in fashionable suits, reusing and paraphrasing Jobs’s quotes,etc. Jack met with board members and investors behind closed curtains to plan Ev’s “impeachment”. He returned to Twitter after Dick Costolo replaced Ev and later became the CEO of Twitter until now.
Meet Christopher “Biz” Stone. His rough upbringing made Biz into a goofball, cracking jokes to avoid conflicts. However, this benign act allowed people to take advantage of him in the workplace. Upon joining Google and team Blogger, Biz soon connected with Ev, for they approved each other’s ideals and mentality. After Ev left Google, Biz followed suit and joined Odeo. Biz had always been on Team Ev and played a big role in the development of Twitter, however he had never been the one with power in the blooming company. Biz left Twitter after Jack returned.
# What is Twitter?
The light chirping sound made by certain birds. A similar sound, especially light, tremulous speech or laughter. Agitation or excitement; flutter.Dictionary Definition of “twitter”
When Twitter was first created, Noah envisioned it to be something that would allow him to “find out what my friends were doing at any moment of the day” and make him “feel closer to them and a little less alone.” Just as there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people’s eyes, the co-founders struggled to define the brand new application: “It’s a social network.” “It replaces text messages (Tweets were sent as text messages in its early days).” “It’s the new e-mail.” “It’s microblogging.” “It’s to update your status.” Jack saw Twitter as a place to say “what I’m doing”, as a place for the ego; Ev saw it as platform to share the news, as a place for the others. I really liked Jack’s definition that Twitter is a “utility like electricity”, that people can define and use it however they see fit. With the addition of features such as @, # and URL links, Twitter became the melting pot for “what’s happening”, a tool truly for the people. Social media like Twitter has truly changed the face of media.
I believe that we’re at a place now with social media where one person’s voice can be as powerful as a media network. That is the power of the social Web.Ashton Kutcher on beating CNN to a million followers
# Money, Power, Glory
One of the main focus of the book was the power dynamics between Ev, Noah and Jack. Former friendships were reduced to betrayal, hatred and revenge. In a world of business, Noah found himself a pawn, sacrificed young and early in the power game. Jack was next, but he fought back, in his own unique way. Jack and Ev played a game of tug of war for years, partly because of Ev’s mentality to avoid conflicts and confrontation, partly because the determination of both players. It was at times like this that we see the human side of the cofounders, their vulnerability and inner strengths. Author Nick Bilton hid the well known message behind his elaborate stories that there are no permanent friends in business.
# Personal Review
I like this book for a number of reasons. First of all, it was an easy read. For someone that is not familiar with the tech field and startups, the book provided me an easy-to-follow intro to the field. I learnt the struggle and hardship during the first stages of startups. I learnt about the major turning points in the company history:
I like that the author focused on the humanity of the four co-founders. Different from the passionless biographies full of facts and numbers found in Wikipedia, the book gives us a glimpse of Ev, Noah, Jack and Biz as human beings, not as tech geniuses who miraculously built the Twitter empire. It shows us they are normal people: they work hard, they mess up, they get drunk at parties, they get nervous going on TV, they cry, they laugh, they get angry and frustrated … just like us.
The book was well written in a literature sense, but I agreed with Max Khegay, who wrote a book review on Hatching Twitter last year, that the book has more entertaining value than its educational value. Unlike other books on the list, one doesn’t necessarily learn anything useful academically from reading this book. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the non-technical side of startups and entrepreneurship.