Book Summary || Hatching Twitter

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?

@Ev

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.

@Noah

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.”

@Jack

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.

@Biz

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.

Jack, Biz, Ev and then CEO Dick at NYSE in 2013

# 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:

The first time Twitter became popular among the tech people at South by Southwest. Jack delivered his epic speech: “I would like to thank everyone in 140 characters or less and I just did. Thank you.”
The first time Twitter became popular among the mainstream audience at the Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah almost messed up her first tweet: “HI TWITTERS. THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21ST CENTURY.”
When Ashton Kutcher beat CNN in reaching one million followers on Twitter
The first time when a foreign political leader, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, visited a social media company as its first stop in the US

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.

6 thoughts on “Book Summary || Hatching Twitter

  1. I really like how this book explores not just the “glamor” and “glory” of successful startup companies such as Twitter but gives the reader a glimpse into the betrayal and conflict that happens behind closed doors. I agree with you on how it is very interesting to see the founders beyond what you can simply find online and instead see them as more human and all the emotions that they have during the startup process. Great Review!

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  2. Hi Melanie! I found your review very interesting about how it is a more entertaining rather than technical narrative. I would’ve assumed it looked at the numbers behind twitter’s start, but I think in order for us to learn it’s better to look at the people behind the startup that grew to such popularity. It makes the idea of students like us creating startups in the tech industry so much more palpable!

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  3. Despite being an avid Twitter user, I had never really dug into its creation and the great minds behind this revolutionary platform. Your review was great at showing the different mix of personalities that are the reason for having Twitter today. It was also interesting how you touched on prior ventures like Odeo and how Twitter evolved and pivoted over time.

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  4. Hi Melanie! I found the structure of your review super unique, as it gave quite a few nods to Twitter itself with hashtags and “@”-ing the founders, making it all the more interesting to read! The content too of the book itself was unexpected with such an honest and relatable story that I myself would have never guessed. Like you mentioned, I am also someone who is less familiar with the tech scene. So to think such a powerful platform has experienced such major struggles serves as encouragement and a helpful lesson. No success is ever perfect. Expect challenges to come and then grow from them.
    Thanks for this thoughtful review!

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  5. Hi Melanie! First, I really liked the way you set up your book review!! It was cool how you related it to the topic of the book. One thing you touched on that I found super interesting was how when twitter was just starting out, the founders were having difficulty defining what exactly it was, but they knew what they wanted it to do and why they wanted it to do it. I think this shows that sometimes an idea of a company can just come out of something someone wants without any specific definition and it can turn itself into a business!

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  6. Hi Melanie!

    Great review. As ubiquitous as Twitter has become today, it must have been interesting to read about its origins and founders. Personally, I find it really interesting to think about the affect that Twitter has had on society. It has, along with other social media platforms, revolutionized the way we interact and obtain information. It was interesting to read your summary of the founders of Twitter and track its path as a company from its early beginnings to the massive platform it has become today. Really enjoyed reading your analysis!

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