The story of Twitter's founding bears a similar sort of Hollywood appeal as that of Facebook's. Biz Stone, co-founder and the de facto public face of Twitter, is leaving the company after five years to restart Twitter's former parent company, The Obvious Corporation. Along with Evan Williams and early Twitter employee Jason Goldman, Stone is resurrecting Obvious as an incubator for start ups--presumably, to create another success runaway success like Twitter. Now, none of Twitter's three co-founders hold full-time responsibilities at the company.
It's kind of a weird story: Twitter co-founders leave Twitter to restart Twitter founding company. (That sentence is almost a palindrome!) In a matter of speaking, however, Stone's departure was a long time coming. Jack Dorsey, the third official co-founder and the guy who sketched out the original Twitter interface on a legal pad, left in 2008 in the midst of a leadership shake-up and possibly disagreement with co-founder Evan Williams. Dorsey rejoined the company with an amorphous role in March of this year when Evan Williams unceremoniously stepped down as CEO, but he's spending most of his time working on Square, a mobile payments startup he founded. Stone, who you might recognize as that guy who had a conversation with himself in a vodka commercial, is making his departure just a few days after announcing in-stream ads on Twitter, an aggressive move that might actually monetize the service.
"During this time--especially lately, it has come to my attention that the Twitter crew and its leadership team have grown incredibly productive," wrote Stone in announcing his shift to work on Obvious. "I've decided that the most effective use of my time is to get out of the way until I'm called upon to be of some specific use."
So if we were making a Twitter movie, that chain of resignations would be a montage somewhere in the second half of the film. It would be set to "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins and, as a result, bear the bittersweet remorse that strikes after you created something and realize you have to let it go. But there's a darker side to the story as well. An Eduardo Saverin to the Mark Zuckerberg-Sean Parker-Peter Thiel team. This side of the story would bear that gritty gray look David Fincher is so great at creating on film, and suggests that maybe Stone, like Williams, is so willing to leave Twitter because it was never really his to begin with.
In April Noah Glass came out of hiding and quickly earned the title as "Twitter's forgotten founder." In the internet equivalent of a Barbara Walters tell-all interview, Glass told Business Insider how he had been in charge of Twitter first with Jack Dorsey, had brought on Williams and Stone, and had even come up with the name Twitter. In those early days, Twitter was not its own company but rather an experimental project of Evan Williams's fledging startup Odeo. (Long story short, Odeo wanted to create a directory for podcasts and then Apple released iTunes with that feature built in.) Twitter's immediate appeal wasn't apparent to Stone and Williams, so Dorsey and Glass built out the site independently as Twitter Inc. As Odeo spiralled towards irrelevancy, Williams offered to buy back shares of the company owned by Odeo's original investors in the summer of 2006. They had this thing called Twitter that worked, he said to them, and we're creating a new company called Obvious to continue developing it. Williams had never really gotten along with Glass and fired him around this time. Eventually the co-founders offered Glass a small slice of equity, but he's been out of the picture since then.
Glass gives Stone credit for his early involvement in Twitter but only half-heartedly:
Biz was involved more than Ev. Ev wasn't involved at all for the creation and launching of it. He'd come in and we'd talk occasionally. I think during a lot of the time he was working on the idea of buying back Odeo. I was working on Twitter, and very intensely.
Biz got a lot of credit after writing a document describing what we were working on. He was working on a lot of other things too. I asked if he would write it because I needed the documentation for the lawyer. I needed something for the lawyer in order to describe the company I wanted to create around Twitter. He wrote the document for me and got a lot of credit, but I told him to write it and what to write.
This, of course, is coming from the early Twitter employee who, unlike Stone, does not have his own foundation now and does not appear in vodka commercials. Either way, for Stone to return to a role of guiding startups to success at Obvious is a homecoming. In the Hollywood version of all this, there would be a coda to the story that shows Dorsey working on his own startup, Williams and Stone dusting off the boxes of their old project and Glass riding in a bus back to San Francisco. The four would meet up at some bar in the Mission, make amends and sketch out a new project together, as a team. Preferably on the back of a napkin this time.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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