Twitter, with its ubiquitous baby blue color scheme, chipper bird logo, and dreams of changing the world, seems like a friendly, benevolent company. Yet—according to an excerpt of a new book in The New York Times Magazine—its ruthless founder is anything but.
Much like Facebook's origin story, Twitter's is fraught with backstabbing, ego, and cinematic headbutting. The first excerpt from New York Times reporter Nick Bilton's undressing of Twitter is here, and reveals a company that sort of hates itself—and the diabolical vanity of co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Bilton (who I should note is a friend of mine) focuses, naturally, on the infighting as much as the genesis, because we all love blood. Twitter started to bleed egos before it ever bled revenues, starting with the day it hired Jack Dorsey—then a punk-disheveled guy with a nose ring, and not the Dior-donning selfie stud you see up top. He's clearly cast as a villain in this story, which should make an inevitable film version fun to cast, at least—just imagine all the treachery of Zuckerberg, with much better bone structure.
When Odeo, the podcasting startup Dorsey joined in 2005, started to shit the bed, Dorsey had a sliver of an idea for a new project:
Dorsey envisioned that people would use it to broadcast the simplest details about themselves — like “going to park,” “in bed” and so forth.
That sounds like Twitter, but also like plenty of other things that exist. Coworkers, led by a lonely, depressive engineer named Noah Glass who was soon forced out of the enterprise, took the germ and spun it into something substantial:
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.
It was a group effort, without a doubt, but didn't stay that way: Jack Dorsey wanted to consolidate control:
Whatever his reasons, Dorsey had recently met with [Ev] 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.
When a despondent Glass turned to Dorsey, "Dorsey acted dumbfounded and blamed Williams." This isn't even very sophisticated betrayal—just lying. Dorsey was now CEO, but already working harder on his own image than Twitter's essence:
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.)
Emphasis added. He was also just screwing up CEO fundamentals—the company was losing money in stupid ways, a harbinger of its loser status today:
[Dorsey] 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.
Maybe Twitter is still running its books on some dude's laptop? He was quietly ousted for what's basically incompetence, which gave him time to revise Twitter's corporate history and aggrandize his own—what was a group effort turned into a Jack Dorsey Production:
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.
This is a deception Dorsey continues to this very day, and one that'll guarantee influence and interest in whatever he does next. More plotting secured Dorsey's reclamation of power at Twitter, Ev Williams' ouster, and the continued, ultimate humiliation of Noah Glass:
Dorsey will make $400 million to $500 million when Twitter goes public. Glass stands to make about as much as Dorsey’s secretary.
Bilton doesn't get to how a company with so many scheming characters can fail to scheme their way into building a company that actually makes money, which, for a company that's about to go public, is of equal interest as the snake pit personality stories. Or maybe this all explains itself: if you've spent years of your life plotting to either push yourself in or push your friends out, who has any time for trivial things like profits? They'll all be rich from stock sales anyway. Everyone except the ones screwed hardest.