Review: Hatching Twitter

The Book

Book: Hatching Twitter
Author: Nick Bilton
Format: Audible

General Comments

This book is like The Social Network story but for twitter instead of Facebook. It has the similar theme that once something is a hit everyone wants to be a part of it and take credit. The big difference is that there is a lot more public data and unlike Facebook, Twitter's original vision was murky at best.

The book isn't about lessons learned or anything of that nature. It simply seeks to piece together the origin story of twitter's founding. At the end of the day the book is a downer. All of the founders and early contributors seem to have been scared by event.

Why I read this book

The Founder's Dilemmas made a lot references to Ev Williams and Dick Costolo. I wanted some more background about how Ev had been able to start so many businesses that I had come to admire like Blogger and Twitter.

Additionally the founding seemed to be tumultuous and I am always looking for lessons that I can learn from other people's experience.

10 Takeaways

  1. Jack Dorsey comes off looking pretty bad. He is pictured as a glory hog and obsessed about getting back in the club he was kicked out. He seems to be willing to stab people in the back to get what he wants. The book definitely portrays him as the villain. I wonder if the author has a personal beef with Jack. He had numerous references to the fact that Jack had lied or mislead to journalist.
  2. Jack Dorsey's copying of Steve Jobs was pretty shameless. The book describes that Jack has adopted a "uniform" like Steve Jobs, a love for the Beatles, admiration for Gandhi and even co-popped many of Steve's quotes as his own.
  3. Ev Williams is a very smart person. He is skilled at rallying a team to achieve a goal. The book points out his weakness of managing up (the board) and managing side to side (fellow leaders).
  4. Twitter's three CEOs seem to represent the three phases of the company: Jack Dorsey (vision), Ev Williams (product), Dick Castello (operations)
  5. Ev Williams seems to have been undermined by his softness towards Jack by allowing him to have an email account, which allowed Jack to play the still part of twitter game, and by giving him a seat on the board. That seat cost Ev the CEOship.
  6. Lack of hard conversations was a theme of the book. Ev doesn't just end Jack's time a twitter. Bill Campbell doesn't tell Ev that he is not doing well, in fact he lies to jacks face (if the book is to be believed). The board doesn't seem interested in developing the CEO instead they seem to prefer to cut the CEO down and start over.
  7. I am amazed at how unprofessional the board was. Some examples: The erred email to Jack Dorsey about his impending fate. The lack of feedback to Ev. The susceptibility to Jack Dorsey's siren song. The firing of Ev seemed to be done haphazardly with the plan changing numerous times.
  8. Have a script. While hard conversations were not often had, some of those on the board were very effective at delivering the death sentence via scripts.
  9. The contrast between Jack's introspective view of twitter and Ev's extrospective view of twitter is really great. I know that I wasn't interested in twitter when it was seen as a way to share introspective thoughts. I am much more of an extrospective user.
  10. The role of Biz as a conscious is interesting. I wonder how that really jives with the NSA's net.

Conclusion

It was a great read and a great follow up to The Founder's Dilemmas. I hope to avoid the drama in my startups between founders, early employees and board members.