Right in the center of South Park, a large, grassy oval near San Francisco’s financial district, there is a rinky-dink playground with slides, ladders and firefighter poles, all dented and dinged, connected by gritty brown pylons. Yet for many in Silicon Valley, this playground is hallowed ground. It was here, one breezy day in 2006, according to legend, that Jack Dorsey ordered burritos with two co-workers, scaled a slide and, in a black sweater and green beanie, like a geeked-out Moses on Mount Sinai, presented his idea for an Internet service that would allow users to update their current status and share what they were doing. “That playground right up there is where I first brought up the idea,” Dorsey, whose present-day uniform is a white Dior dress shirt and tailored dark blazer, told CNBC earlier this year.
“The idea for Twitter?” the interviewer asked him.
“Yep,” Dorsey replied.
In Silicon Valley, ideas are not in short supply. At every coffee shop, beer garden and technology conference, there are legions of start-up founders, like screenwriters clutching their scripts, desperate to show off an app or site that they believe will be the next big thing. Yet around 75 percent of start-ups fail. Usually it’s not simply because the ideas are bad (although some certainly are), but because of a multitude of other problems. They are either ahead of their time or too late. Some have too much money and collapse under their own weight; others have trouble raising the capital they need to survive. Still others implode because of the poor management and infighting of founders who have no experience actually running companies.
For the ones that make it, success often comes down to a lot of luck. YouTube was one of dozens of video-sharing sites in existence when it was purchased for $1.7 billion by Google. Instagram wasn’t the first app on iTunes to share photos, yet Facebook still paid $1 billion for it. Twitter wasn’t the first place to share a status online; it was certainly the luckiest. Celebrities joined the service, then a queen, presidents, news organizations and, of course, Justin Bieber. Seven years after it was founded, the company with a catchy name had more than 2,000 employees, more than 200 million active users and a market value estimated at $16 billion. When it makes its initial public offering, many of Twitter’s co-founders, employees and investors are going to become very, very rich. Evan Williams, a co-founder who financed the company out of his pocket during its first year, is expected to make more than $1 billion. Dorsey, the company’s executive chairman and putative mastermind, will make hundreds of millions.
But in Silicon Valley, luck can be a euphemism for something more sinister. Twitter wasn’t exactly conceived in a South Park playground, and it certainly wasn’t solely Dorsey’s idea. In fact, Dorsey forced out the man who was arguably Twitter’s most influential co-founder before the site took off, only to be quietly pushed out of the company himself later. (At which point, he secretly considered joining his biggest competitor.) But, as luck would have it, Dorsey was able to weave a story about Twitter that was so convincing that he could put himself back in power just as it was ready to become a mature company. And, perhaps luckiest of all, until now only a handful of people knew what really turned Twitter from a vague idea into a multibillion-dollar business.
Genesis stories tend to take on an outsize significance in Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College, traveled the world, dated Joan Baez and helped create a revolutionary computing company. Mark Zuckerberg wrote the initial code for Facebook while ranking the attractiveness of girls in his Harvard dorm room. In the Valley, these tales are called “the Creation Myth” because, while based on a true story, they exclude all the turmoil and occasional back stabbing that comes with founding a tech company. And while all origin stories contain some exaggerations, Twitter’s is cobbled together from an uncommon number of them.
In 2005, Jack Dorsey was a 29-year-old New York University dropout who sometimes wore a T-shirt with his phone number on the front and a nose ring. After a three-month stint writing code for an Alcatraz boat-tour outfit, he was living in a tiny San Francisco apartment. He had recently been turned down for a job at Camper, the shoe store.
His luck changed one morning as he was sitting at Caffe Centro off South Park. As Dorsey looked up from his laptop, punk rock blaring through his earphones, he noticed a man about his age. Evan Williams, then 33, was a minor celebrity on the San Francisco tech scene. A few years earlier, he sold the Web-diary service he co-founded, Blogger, a word he popularized, to Google for several million dollars. Now Williams was using some of his Blogger money to finance a new company, Odeo, that made podcasts. Odeo was co-founded by his neighbor and friend, Noah Glass. Its dingy loft headquarters happened to be located around the corner, a block from South Park. Williams had stopped in and ordered a coffee.
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Dorsey, who was shy after battling a speech impediment as a child, was reluctant to introduce himself personally. Instead, he opened his résumé on his computer, deleted any signs of his desire to work for Camper shoes, found Williams’s e-mail address online and sent a message to see if Odeo was hiring. Williams, whose investment in Odeo had turned him into the company’s C.E.O., soon called him in for an interview. He and Glass, both college dropouts themselves, preferred rabble-rousers to Stanford grad students and Dorsey, with his nose ring and disheveled hair, seemed like a perfect fit. He was hired immediately as a freelance engineer and blended in seamlessly, often winning the company’s weekly “Getting [expletive] Done” award, and hanging out after work with his new co-workers, particularly Glass. After work, they would go on bike rides around the city or to live music shows and drink late into the night, usually talking about technology. Dorsey and Glass soon became inseparable.
Like many entrepreneurs in the Valley, Glass created no distinct line between his work and personal life. Social gatherings and office meetings were indistinguishable, with wives and husbands who didn’t work in tech forced to listen to banter about MySQL databases. This boundary-free approach worked when Odeo was thriving, but it became trickier after Apple announced it would add podcasts to iTunes, essentially making Odeo redundant in a single afternoon. By the end of 2005, Williams and Glass began to disagree about the future of the company. Williams, who was known to be slow to make decisions, was weighing whether to shut down Odeo. Glass, on the other hand, was relentlessly trying to siphon ideas out of Odeo employees, looking for a way to transition the company into something new. His stress seemed exacerbated by the fact that his marriage was also coming apart.
One night in late February 2006, around 2 a.m., Dorsey sat in Glass’s parked car as rain poured down on the windshield. The two were sobering up after a night of drinking vodka and Red Bull, but the conversation, as usual, was about Odeo. Dorsey blurted out that he was planning his exit strategy. “I’m going to quit tech and become a fashion designer,” Glass recalls him saying. He also wanted to sail around the world. Glass pushed back: He couldn’t really want to leave the business entirely, could he? “Tell me what else you’re interested in,” he said. Dorsey mentioned a Web site that people could use to share their current status — the music they were listening to or where they were. Dorsey envisioned that people would use it to broadcast the simplest details about themselves — like “going to park,” “in bed” and so forth.
Glass had heard Dorsey’s status idea before, and he was unimpressed. It didn’t seem like much of a leap from the “away messages” that people had been posting on AOL Instant Messenger for nearly a decade. Also, Glass thought the idea sounded too similar to other start-ups, including a service called Dodgeball, which let people use their mobile phones to share their current locations with a note attached.
As he listened to Dorsey talk, Glass would later recall, he stared out the window, thinking about his failing marriage and how alone he felt. Then he had an epiphany. This status thing wasn’t just about sharing what kind of music you were listening to or where you were, he thought. It could be a conversation. It wasn’t about reporting; it was about connecting. There could be a real business in that. He would certainly like such a service: his nights alone in his apartment, alone in his office, alone in his car, could feel less alone with a steady stream of conversation percolating online. The two brainstormed for a while longer, and as Dorsey staggered out of the car to go home, Glass said, “Let’s talk to Ev and the others about it tomorrow.”
The next morning, on Feb. 27, 2006, Dorsey and Glass walked into an Odeo conference room to talk about the idea with Williams and Biz Stone, an Odeo colleague and Williams’s friend from his Blogger days. Williams and several other Odeo executives had been working for weeks on a similar idea, which they called “Groups,” where people would converse with their friends, likely through audio clips. But the idea from the night before — a status updater that could be used to connect friends — sounded more promising. Glass soon took charge of the project, writing guidelines and a feature list about how this site would work. He added integral elements, including time stamps, to let people know when an update had been shared. Stone started exploring designs. Dorsey and another programmer, Florian Weber, did the coding. Williams pushed a bloglike template that showed people’s past messages in a stream.
Soon, the question of a name came up. Williams jokingly suggested calling the project “Friendstalker,” which was ruled out as too creepy. Glass became obsessive, flipping through a physical dictionary, almost word by word, looking for the right name. One late afternoon, alone in his apartment, he reached over to his cellphone and turned it to silent, which caused it to vibrate. He quickly considered the name “Vibrate,” which he nixed, but it led him to the word “twitch.” He dismissed that too, but he continued through the “Tw” section of the dictionary: twist, twit, twitch, twitcher, twitchy . . . and then, there it was. He read the definition aloud. “The light chirping sound made by certain birds.” This is it, he thought. “Agitation or excitement; flutter.” Twitter.
A few weeks later, after several other meetings and presentations of spinoff ideas concluded, Williams made a definitive decision to move forward with Glass and Dorsey’s status concept. “In terms of our new projects, I feel most strongly about Twitter,” Williams wrote in an e-mail to Glass and a couple of other Odeo executives. “We could have a lot more discussion, and I may change my mind, but I think I just need to make a call at this point, and my gut is pulling me to Twitter.” Dorsey, still one of the junior employees at Odeo, was not included in the discussions or e-mail, but he soon became an important engineer on the new Twitter team. And in March 2006, Dorsey sent the first tweet, quickly followed by Stone and Glass. (Eventually, Dorsey decided to limit tweets to 160 characters, or the maximum length of a text message on a mobile phone. It would later be lowered to 140 characters.)
As the new service evolved, though, the power struggle between Williams and Glass, which had been simmering at Odeo, moved to Twitter. Glass, protective of his new idea and distracted by his divorce, was growing increasingly edgy and anxious. When a lower-level employee mistakenly let a well-known tech entrepreneur join the service, Glass went into a tirade. “This is our enemy,” he yelled in front of the staff. “We need a war map. They’re going to attack us.” He also pulled Dorsey aside and confessed his fears that Williams wanted him out.
What Glass didn’t know was that Dorsey was the one who wanted him out. Perhaps it was because he sensed vulnerability or perhaps it was because Glass was the only person who could rightly insist that the status updater was not Dorsey’s idea alone. Whatever his reasons, Dorsey had recently met with Williams and threatened to quit if Glass wasn’t let go. And for Williams, the decision was easy. Dorsey had become the lead engineer on Twitter, and Glass’s personal problems were affecting his judgment. (For a while, portions of the company existed entirely on Glass’s I.B.M. laptop.) After conferring with the Odeo board, around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 26, 2006, Williams asked Glass to join him for a walk to South Park. Sitting on a green bench, Williams gave his old friend an ultimatum: six months’ severance and six months’ vesting of his Odeo stock, or he would be publicly fired. Williams said the decision was his alone.
That night, a defeated Glass met with Dorsey at a nearby club, where they drank late into the night. At one point, as they stood at the bar to order another round of drinks, Glass confided his day’s ordeal. Dorsey acted dumbfounded and blamed Williams. As the night came to a close, Glass hugged his friend and walked home. Two weeks later, he was forced out of the two companies he co-founded. Dorsey soon became chief executive of Twitter.
It’s one of Silicon Valley’s great oddities that start-up founders refer to themselves as “entrepreneurs.” More often than not, the people who come up with company ideas have no understanding of how to run a business or turn a profit. Partly as a result, the relationship between the entrepreneurs, who have the ideas, and the venture capitalists, who finance them, can become tense. Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s co-founder, felt slighted when the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, one of its earliest investors, backed a competitor. At Tumblr, the venture capitalists grew so impatient with its founder, David Karp, as he struggled to make the company profitable, they were discussing his removal before the site’s sale to Yahoo. In the end, though, money usually heals all wounds. Silicon Valley has seen some of the greatest wealth creation in all of human history. According to the National Venture Capital Association, start-ups can raise more than $20 billion in venture capital in a single year.
By 2007, the V.C.’s in the Valley were shifting their interest from consumer and enterprise companies to social networks. MySpace (then with a capital S) and Friendster were the chatter of the late-teen world, and a company called Facebook, which had started a few years earlier, was already spreading quickly around college dorm rooms. Flickr, the social photo site, had been purchased by Yahoo for almost $40 million. And while some outsiders scoffed at Twitter’s 140-character microblogging service, Williams, who was up to that point financing the company with his own money, had a track record with Blogger that earned him a solid reputation. A year after Glass was pushed out, Williams brought in $5 million of venture financing from a handful of investors, including Fred Wilson, a powerful partner at Union Square Ventures.
In exchange for their investment, venture capitalists want, if not a profit, then at least the promise of one eventually. And so, Williams quickly needed to turn Dorsey into a better manager. His hacker personality had helped him thrive as an engineer, but it undermined him as he tried to lead programmers who had been his peers at Odeo. Often, Dorsey’s inexperience showed. During a meeting with Bradley Horowitz, an executive at Yahoo, about a possible acquisition of the site, Dorsey sat silently until the end. Then he gave an unimpressive explanation of his vision for Twitter. Yahoo made a lowball offer and said that it was building a better competitor.
When Williams asked Dorsey to send a companywide e-mail setting Twitter’s goals, his first draft began with the subject line “3 things I want for Twitter (Goals),” each goal beginning with an off-putting “I.” Dorsey often tried to act as if he were in control, posturing that his actions were all part of a bigger plan, but employees saw him frequently pacing in frustration around South Park. He also habitually left around 6 p.m. for drawing classes, hot yoga sessions and a course at a local fashion school. (He wanted to learn to make an A-line skirt and, eventually, jeans.) His social life, once virtually nonexistent, was becoming a distraction as venture capitalists wooed him at San Francisco Giants baseball games and parties throughout the city. On Dorsey’s watch, Twitter, which had never been completely upgraded from its prototype, was suffering major infrastructure problems that regularly knocked the site offline for hours at a time.
One summer afternoon, Williams asked Dorsey to meet him in the upper-floor conference room that the Twitter gang referred to as Odeo Heights. They opened the door to the small room, pulled back the chairs across from each other and sat, hands clasped as they had dozens of times before. “You can either be a dressmaker or the C.E.O. of Twitter,” Williams said to Dorsey. “But you can’t be both.”
Dorsey seethed silently as Williams ticked off his grievances. But their dispute over Dorsey’s management illuminated a far deeper disagreement. Dorsey still believed that Twitter was primarily a service through which people could talk about themselves by updating their at-the-moment status. Williams worried that simply appealing to people’s egos would make Twitter too ephemeral. After seeing how users responded to a series of events that year, including an earthquake and a car crash, he was coming to a different conclusion — one that was much more in line with what Glass had thought from the beginning. Twitter was a service for people to talk about what was going on around them, to share news and information. It was when Williams explained this concept — eventually saying Twitter was about “what’s happening” — that many in the industry, including those who once dismissed it, started to understand its potential.
The conversation ended awkwardly, but Twitter was getting so much attention that Dorsey and Williams had no choice but to work, if not together, then at least next to each other. Often they were both acting as chief executive. In June 2008, when it came time to raise a new round of financing, some investors were confused when they received separate phone calls from Williams, the company’s chairman, and Dorsey, its chief executive, sometimes moments apart. Eventually, Williams decided that the main investor would be Spark Capital, which was leading an $18 million investment in the company. Bijan Sabet, a well-respected partner, would soon join the board.
Initially, Sabet and the venture capitalist Fred Wilson, another board member, were concerned by some of Dorsey’s decisions. He pushed people to use Twitter over text message, which produced a monthly bill for the company approaching six figures. Dorsey had also been managing expenses on his laptop and doing the math incorrectly. Beyond that, it became clear that there was no backup of some key components. If the site went down, significant data could be lost. Williams and Dorsey started meeting for weekly dinners to discuss the problems, but one night Dorsey became defensive. “Do you want to be C.E.O.?” he said abruptly. Williams tried to evade the question, but eventually replied: “Yes, I want to be C.E.O. I have experience running a company, and that’s what Twitter needs right now.”
Dorsey raced home to try to figure out a plan for his resignation, but the Twitter board instead offered him a three-month window to fix the site and its issues. Not much changed, however, even as text bills mounted, and the site continued to crash. Before the three months were up, Dorsey recalled, Sabet and Wilson took him to a breakfast at the Clift hotel and told him that they were replacing him as C.E.O. with Williams. Dorsey sat before a bowl of uneaten yogurt and granola as he was offered stock, a $200,000 severance and a face-saving role as the company’s “silent” chairman. No one in the industry had to know that he was fired. (Investors would not want to be seen as pitting one founder against another anyway.) But Dorsey had no voting rights at the company. He was, essentially, out.
The timing of the departure was particularly fraught. For weeks, Facebook had been quietly exploring the possibility of buying the fledgling company, and while Dorsey was intrigued, Williams was not. The day after he was ousted, Dorsey called Zuckerberg to confidentially share the news. To Dorsey’s surprise, Zuckerberg asked if there was a way to prevent the firing, perhaps in order to save the deal. Dorsey assured him that there wasn’t, and Zuckerberg switched his plan from trying to buy Twitter to trying to hire Dorsey. So Dorsey met with Chris Cox, who ran Facebook’s product division, at a Philz Coffee in San Francisco. The discussions soon became more serious. But they didn’t have a specific role in mind. Zuckerberg wanted Dorsey to simply join Facebook in an unspecified capacity, and they would worry about a position later.
As he weighed Zuckerberg’s offer, Dorsey began considering the consequences. A jump to Facebook might indeed stick it to Williams, not to mention cripple outside investors’ confidence in Twitter. But Twitter’s embarrassment might prompt a leak about what had really happened. Of greater concern was the appearance of joining Facebook without a significant job title. Would that look like a step down? “Let’s just keep talking and see if we can find the right position for me,” he told Zuckerberg. “I’ve got to think about this.” He had bigger plans anyway.
In Silicon Valley, there is no currency like access. Access to venture capitalists can provide a way for entrepreneurs, like Zuckerberg, to see a company grow by hundreds of thousands of users a day. Access to the tech blogosphere and press can help percolate a fledgling start-up into a multibillion-dollar business. But this access often relies on having a narrative — being an entrepreneur with just the right creation story. And Dorsey, once a shy kid with a speech impediment from St. Louis, proved remarkably savvy at selling himself.
After he was stripped of his power at Twitter, Dorsey went on a media campaign to promote the idea that he and Williams had switched roles. He also began telling a more elaborate story about the founding of Twitter. In dozens of interviews, Dorsey completely erased Glass from any involvement in the genesis of the company. He changed his biography on Twitter to “inventor”; before long, he started to exclude Williams and Stone too. At an event, Dorsey complained to Barbara Walters that he had founded Twitter, a point she raised the next day on “The View” with Stone and Williams. Dorsey told The Los Angeles Times that “Twitter has been my life’s work in many senses.” He also failed to credit Glass for the company’s unusual name. “We wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket,” he told the paper.
Dorsey’s story evolved over the years. He would tell Vanity Fair that the idea for Twitter went back to 1984, when he was only 8 years old. A “60 Minutes” segment reported that Dorsey founded Twitter because he “was fascinated by trains and maps” and how cities function. Later, he would explain that he first presented the idea, fully realized, on a playground in South Park. All along, Dorsey began casting himself in the image of Steve Jobs, calling himself an “editor,” as Jobs referred to himself, and adopting a singular uniform: a white buttoned-up Dior shirt, bluejeans and a black blazer.
On more than one occasion, Williams considered removing Dorsey — who was by this point working on a mobile-payments company called Square — from his silent board seat. (“Jack’s gone rogue,” is how Biz Stone privately characterized the behavior.) But Williams feared the public-relations backlash as well as what Dorsey might do if he was banished forever — either possibility could damage Twitter’s growth curve. Under Williams, the number of sign-ups, visitors and every other Twitter-related metric continued to double, triple and quadruple. In 2007, people were sending a total of 5,000 tweets a day. Just two years later, it was 35 million tweets. The company’s string of outages eventually slowed. (They had happened at inopportune moments, including when the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, showed up at the offices to publicly send his first tweet.)
While some C- and B-list celebrities joined Twitter during its formative years, it wasn’t until 2009, when Ashton Kutcher joined, that the service took a permanent turn toward Hollywood. Soon came Justin Bieber, Queen Rania of Jordan and, eventually, world leaders as diverse as President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and the Dalai Lama. By that point, Williams was regularly turning down overtures to buy the company. Al Gore pitched Williams and Stone one night over copious amounts of wine and Patron tequila at his St. Regis suite in San Francisco. Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, approached Williams during a private dinner at Bill Gates’s home.
Around this time, Williams also invited to the company’s board the venture capitalist Peter Fenton, who desperately wanted to get in on Twitter. (His $21 million investment valued the company at around $250 million.) Before becoming an investor, Fenton, like virtually everyone in Silicon Valley, believed that Dorsey, who had become the public face of the company, had a day-to-day involvement in its operations. Yet at one of his first board meetings, in early 2009, Fenton sensed tension between Williams and Dorsey. Afterward, Fenton called Dorsey and asked him to meet near his apartment.
At the restaurant, Dorsey told Fenton that Williams had pushed him out over power and control. Then he complained at length about the company’s most recent direction. Williams had wasted no time, Dorsey said, discontinuing many of the text-messaging partnerships that he set up during his tenure as C.E.O. (He didn’t note that many of them had cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.) Fenton believed that Dorsey, now a darling of the tech scene, had been slighted. After Dorsey concluded his side of the events, Fenton pounded the table with his hand. “I will not rest until you’re back in that company,” he said.
It didn’t hurt Dorsey’s case that Fenton was also frustrated with Williams’s inability to manage the company’s rapid growth. Twitter needed to hire a new chief technology officer, a chief operating officer and a chief financial officer, among other high-level jobs, but Williams couldn’t make up his mind. Often, he preferred to pick from a litter of friends, people he trusted who wouldn’t try to undermine him or hurry his slow decision-making. So Fenton pitched the idea of bringing in, as an adviser, Bill Campbell, the famously foulmouthed former C.E.O. of Intuit and head coach of the Columbia University football team, who had mentored Jobs, Google’s Eric Schmidt and many other top executives. During their first meeting, Campbell’s message was exceedingly simple. When Williams asked, “What’s the worst thing I can do as C.E.O. to screw the company up?” Campbell responded, “Hire your friends!” He then went into a 10-minute tirade about how friends and business don’t mix. Williams scribbled in his notepad. They shook hands and agreed to start meeting once a week.
Fenton was encouraged by the first meeting, but Williams ignored the advice. He saw his success as the result of a lot of hard work and also a fair bit of luck, and he wanted to give the people he knew the opportunity to be a part of it. He hired his sister, to stock the kitchens at Twitter; his wife, Sara, was hired to design the new offices; and he employed numerous friends from Google. Among them was Dick Costolo, who had recently sold his start-up for $100 million. After they bumped into each other at a party in 2009, Williams asked him to be Twitter’s chief operating officer. On his first day, Costolo, a former improv comedian, thumbed his first tweet: “First full day as Twitter COO tomorrow,” he wrote. “Task #1: undermine CEO, consolidate power.”
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of design, recalls how Jobs occasionally hit upon his ideas. “He will go through a process of looking at my ideas and say: ‘That’s no good. That’s not very good. I like that one,’ ” Ive told Isaacson. “And later I will be sitting in the audience” — during a product presentation — “and he will be talking about it as if it was his idea.” Jobs certainly created a number of life-altering innovations, but Ive’s point suggests a larger truth about Silicon Valley that Jobs understood well. Ideas rarely, if ever, come from the mind of a single person, but those who go down in lore as visionaries take credit for them as if they do. Dorsey seemed to understand this intrinsically, too.
By 2010 Twitter had grown rapidly, and the attention for its success was being given over to Williams and Stone. At the same time, some Twitter senior executives were becoming frustrated with Williams’s management style. Dorsey began meeting with them at his office at Square, at Blue Bottle Coffee and later at his loft in Mint Plaza, near the Tenderloin, to persuade them to tell the board they weren’t happy. The board and Dorsey soon determined to remove Williams and return Dorsey to Twitter in a day-to-day role. He couldn’t be the C.E.O. of Square and Twitter, but returning with the public recognition of being the company’s founder would be its own reward.
By this point, many Twitter investors believed what Dorsey had been telling the media for the past two years. More important, they knew the public did. He could be an effective public face of Twitter as Costolo managed the operations. The board was grateful for the $25 million that Costolo arranged in deals with Microsoft and Google, and he had a good rapport with Twitter employees. A pact between all of the investors was formed. By late September, Costolo was told that he had been picked to be interim C.E.O. Williams was out. Dorsey was back in.
Not long after that, Williams looked up from the doorway of his Twitter office to see Campbell roaming like a linebacker. “Have a seat,” he said. “This is going to be hard. We’re going to have a hard conversation.” Williams fell onto the couch, not sure what he was about to hear. “The board wants you to step up to the chairman role,” Campbell told him. Williams seemed genuinely confused. “You’re being serious?” he asked. Campbell said he was. The board wanted him to move on, he continued; his indecision was creating an organizational pileup, a potential disaster for a start-up of Twitter’s magnitude. The board wanted to see a return on its investment. Then Campbell, who, according to some at Twitter, had known about the firing for some time, told him he was being replaced by Costolo.
Once Campbell left his office, Williams, stunned, picked up the phone and began dialing. Bijan Sabet was apologetic and insisted that they wanted to keep him on in a product-advisory role. According to several people at the company, Fred Wilson, however, said he thought Williams had always been a terrible C.E.O. “I never considered you a founder,” he said. “Jack founded Twitter.” (Wilson denies this exchange.)
Williams called Costolo, who was driving home from the airport through a heavy downpour. Costolo had asked that the Twitter board handle Williams’s ouster tactfully, so that it didn’t seem as if he was pushing him out. Now he was caught between loyalty and business interests in the ousting of his friend and boss — a position that had become all too familiar at Twitter. As he drove along the wet road, he told Williams that he was going to tell the board that he wouldn’t take the job without Williams’s consent. But it was already too late for that. At the behest of the Twitter board, and with Dorsey’s help, he had already undermined the C.E.O. Two weeks later, on Oct. 4, 2010, Williams walked out of his office and told the Twitter staff that he was stepping down. A few blocks away, Dorsey was pacing in his office at Square, preparing for his return.
After Williams’s departure, Costolo eradicated the code and infrastructure problems that would sometimes knock Twitter offline. He also started relentlessly exploring how to make the company profitable, building an expansive sales team of more than 400 employees who sell a variety of advertisement options on Twitter. In recent years, Twitter has developed a tight relationship with television networks, pushing people on the service to engage with Twitter during live television events and integrating hashtags into TV advertisements. Late last summer, the company quietly began to file papers to go public.
Last month, just days before the I.P.O. news was announced, Noah Glass was walking through the Mission district. Glass, who fell into a depression after his ouster, disappeared from his former friends. Now he lives in an apartment that was built as an earthquake shack that he shares with his girlfriend, his infant daughter and his dog, Ewee. As he was walking toward Dolores Park, with his daughter strapped to his chest and Ewee in tow, he rounded a corner and bumped into his old friend Evan Williams. After a moment of initial shock, the two men, now in their early 40s, chatted amiably, recalling how they had once been next-door neighbors, then extremely close friends, then co-founders, all just a few blocks away. They politely agreed that they should meet up for coffee and went their separate ways.
In Silicon Valley, most companies have their own Twitter story: a co-founder, always a friend, and often the person with the big idea behind the company, who is pushed out by another, hungrier co-founder. Ronald Wayne, was written out of the founding story of Apple, even though he was a third co-founder of the company. For a time, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen were given sole credit for inventing a video-sharing service that later sold to Google for nearly $2 billion; yet a third man, Jawed Karim, also came up with YouTube. Snapchat, the latest tech darling, is currently being sued by Reggie Brown, who was pushed out of the company in its early days. And of course, there is Mark Zuckerberg, whose travails and claim of ownership in Facebook ended in several lawsuits and a feature-length film about his supposed deceptions.
But unlike Facebook, Twitter really was a collaboration; an idea that came out of a failed podcasting company that happened to come about at the right time. While Dorsey had the germ of the idea, without the collaboration of the people who worked at Odeo, that idea would have remained just an idea. Glass’s realization that the initial concept could be adapted to connect people to their friends was significant. And the name he came up with undoubtedly helped, too. Without Williams and Stone influencing its development with the lessons they learned from Blogger, it still would not have taken off. Making it a company required Williams’s money, then Wilson, Sabet and Fenton’s and dozens of other investors, not to mention Costolo, who turned it into viable business, and 2,000 employees who helped shape it into one of the biggest social networks on the planet. Such is the case with every company in Silicon Valley, though you never hear it in their creation myth. Dorsey will make $400 million to $500 million when Twitter goes public. Glass stands to make about as much as Dorsey’s secretary at Square.
One early Twitter employee used to say that the company succeeded in spite of itself, and in some ways, that’s true. While it was clear for years that Twitter was going to be huge, it wasn’t clear until very recently — as many Twitter employees privately confessed to me — that it wasn’t going to be the next Myspace or Friendster: great ideas that became great failures on account of bad management. For many, that only began to change when the company felt like just that, a company. It’s unclear what responsibility Dorsey can take for this. As one former Twitter employee has said, “The greatest product Jack Dorsey ever made was Jack Dorsey.”
This article was originally published on the New York Times website: All is fair in Love and Twitter