Updates to this story
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said today that even if the company was offered $4 billion or $5 billion, it’s still not ready to be sold.
Stone, reacting to a question from TechEye, said that there was still so much the company wanted to do, including proving that it had a viable financial and sales profile.
He said that although it was Twitter’s fiduciary duty to its shareholders to consider bids, it maintained that it was still not ready for such a move.
Stone, talking at a session at the Silicon Valley comes to Oxford event at the Said Business school, told the history of him and Twitter and he’s a guy with quite a sense of humour.
Did you know that if you’re a Twitter aficionado, it’s because you’re flocking like a flocking bird? That realisation, said Stone, made his hair stand on end. [Hair standing on end illustrated, below.]
Ten years ago, he started a company in NYC and the companies of he and the other co-founder of Twitter did similar things. Both companies got to a million users at the same time but had a mutual respect for each other. Evan’s company was bought by Google and he sent him a note and asked him if he wanted to go work for Google too. They both worked on Blogger and Evan decided to leave. Then Stone left too.
Both created Odio for podcasting and that worked for about a year and then both realised they didn’t like podcasting, didn’t listen to them and didn’t want to make them.
He said they looked at their buddies and it gave them an interesting snapshot of what people were up to. He said they’d already looked at SMS and thought they could bring a global system like Twitter onto SMS. They decided to build a status building system and that’s how Twitter was born – it took two weeks to build a prototype. They showed it off to the rest of their colleagues who weren’t very impressed. The world at large thought it was a really stupid idea, he said. “We were ridiculed so much it actually helped us.”
Even in the protoype phase, Twitter was making him giggle and the important thing with Twitter is the emotional involvement. In the first nine months, no one said Twitter was useful, to which its co-founder Evan replied, neither is ice cream. “Does that mean we should ban ice cream?” Twitter was a blast.
In March 2007, South by South West in Austin triggered a great deal of interest in Twitter. About 75,000 people were using Twitter and this became the first time they’d seen it operating “in the wild”. In the middle of a panel a lot of people got up to leave and it turned out people were twittering to each other there was a much more interesting lecture going on in another hall.
When people tweeted that they were all going to another bar in Sixth Street, Austin, he said that the hair stood up on the back of his head, and he compares this to the mechanics of birds flocking.
While it looks complicated when birds do it, it’s rudimentary behaviour that allows people to behave as one organism. They formed Twitter Inc within two days of that realisation.
Twitter started to find its way into every aspect of life including earthquakes, fuel shortages, the Iranian elections and in 2009 there was a student organised revolt in Moldovia which was completely orchestrated on Twitter. He wanted to say, when journalists asked him what role Twitter had in the revolt to say “Well, I wasn’t happy with that regime”. Afterwards, he said, he looked up where Moldovia was on Wikipedia.
He realised, he said, that Twitter wasn’t going to be a triumph of technology but of humanity, because, he claims, people are basically good. The open exchange of information can have a positive social impact and Twitter has lowered that barrier to everybody.
It’s a real time network available to everyone with even the most rudimentary communications devices.
He said when he was a little kid, he was put into a programme called Boy Rangers, modelled after native American Indians and had to endure feats of strength, make their own wampum, and advance from papoose to warrior. The other kids called him Chief Owlbear.
He never learned soccer or played baseball. At high school he wanted to join a team but was intimidated by all the lines on the field. Lacrosse, he said, wasn’t supported by his high school so he assembled a bunch of kids and a coach and then won a lot of games. The lesson that taught him was that opportunities can be manufactured. You can create those circumstances yourself and step into them.
He took a job in the field of graphics design because it teaches you there are so many different creative answers to the one problems. Problems are more like puzzles to be solved creatively, and so work become a fun thing to do every day. Creativity, he said, is a totally renewable resource. After that he started working on the web.
Mistakes, said Stone, are how we learn and that’s universally recognised. Twitter loves it when people tell them they’ve had two failed businesses. Stone likes making mistakes, especially really publicly. Every time Twitter makes a really public mistake it shows the kind of integrity people have.
If you own up and say exactly what went wrong, that builds up goodwill and trust. Even though you’re making mistakes you’re giving them a peep into your soul.
He relishes absolutely screwing up.
“Make mistakes, enjoy them,” said Stone. He reckons to succeed spectacularly you have to be ready to fail spectacularly. If you don’t totally fail, you won’t get to where you want to get to. You can’t do things that safely in the real world.
In the hour he spent with all employees they went through seven assumptions. Assumption 1 is that we can change the world, build a business and have fun. That’s the definition of success for Twitter. Assumption 2 is that we don’t always know what’s going to happen. Assumption 3 is that there’s a creative answer to every problem. And that can be wacky. Assumption 4 is that there are more smart people outside Twitter than inside. A company should look to the outside world and get out there and talk to people. Assumption 5 is that if Twitter does the right thing by its users it will always win. Assumption 6 is that the only deal worth doing is when both parties win. The last assumption is that people you work with are smart and have good intentions. Has Biz ever been to Varanasi? They have 10 qualities there.
It’s easy to get paranoid about Phil over in marketing and it’s not fair. Don’t assume Phil is a smartass first. [Who is Phil? Ed.]