My Executive

Twitter hatched in twists and treachery

SHREWD: Twitter executive chairman Jack Dorsey exploited public confusion over his role when he was chairman.


    Nov 06, 2013

    Twitter hatched in twists and treachery


    IS THERE some rule that founders of social networks have to behave antisocially?

    The twists, turns and double-crosses in Hatching Twitter, Mr Nick Bilton's absorbing, occasionally appalling account, echo those in the well-known story of Mr Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook's founding.

    Only here, there isn't one guy at the centre. There are four or five, whose constantly shifting allegiances and betrayals make for a saga that's as much Game Of Thrones as The Social Network.

    Twitter's initial public offering this week is certain to make many of the figures in this book more fabulously wealthy than they already are. But this isn't so much a story about money as about power, ego and revenge.

    The microblogging site emerged from a faltering San Francisco start-up called Odeo funded by Mr Evan Williams, the man responsible for both the word "blogger" and the website of the same name that he sold to Google for tens of millions of dollars.

    Fuelled by Red Bull and vodka, a core team of scruffy hackers and misfits coalesced around Mr Williams and the idea of a service allowing users to share information with each other in short bursts.

    Friends all, they included Mr Jack Dorsey, a nose-ring-wearing programmer who had just failed to land a job at a shoe store; Mr Christopher "Biz" Stone, who styled himself as the conscience of the project; and the ebullient, uncontrollable Noah Glass, whose contributions included naming the new service.

    The betrayals started early. Mr Williams, whose money fuelled the project, clashed repeatedly with Mr Glass.

    But it was Mr Dorsey who secretly went to Mr Williams with the him-or-me ultimatum that led to Mr Glass becoming Twitter's co-founder manque.

    Mr Bilton, a New York Times reporter and columnist, has a knack for storytelling that keeps things moving as the bodies pile up.

    The heavy in his tale is Mr Dorsey, Twitter's first chief executive officer, who was beset by crashing servers and mounting expenses. Dumped from the job and replaced by Mr Williams, he was given the empty title of chairman, without even a vote on the board.

    Shrewdly, he exploited public confusion over his role, casting himself in interviews as Twitter's inventor and intimating that he remained a force within a company where he lacked so much as a desk.

    No one really comes off well. Not Mr Williams, who seems an oblivious ditherer. Not even Mr Bill Campbell, the legendary mentor to Mr Steve Jobs, Mr Larry Page and other Silicon Valley luminaries.

    Eventually, Mr Dorsey's carefully crafted fiction became reality as Mr Williams' inability to make decisions, combined with his former friend's relentless campaign to undermine him, shook the board's confidence and led to his own ouster.

    Mr Dorsey returned in triumph as "executive chairman", while the CEO job passed to Mr Dick Costolo, a former comedian who had been brought in by Mr Williams to be his loyal No. 2. As if.

    Mr Costolo remains at Twitter's helm. But if even half of Hatching Twitter is true, he'd better watch his back.