Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal

Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal

by Nick Bilton

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The dramatic, unlikely story behind the founding of Twitter, by New York Times bestselling author and Vanity Fair special correspondent

The San Francisco-based technology company Twitter has become a powerful force in less than ten years. Today it’s everything from a tool for fighting political oppression in the Middle East to a marketing must-have to the world’s living room during live TV events to President Trump’s preferred method of communication. It has hundreds of millions of active users all over the world.
But few people know that it nearly fell to pieces early on.

In this rousing history that reads like a novel, Hatching Twitter takes readers behind the scenes of Twitter’s early exponential growth, following the four hackers—Ev Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass, who created the cultural juggernaut practically by accident.  It’s a drama of betrayed friendships and high-stakes power struggles over money, influence, and control over a company that was growing faster than they could ever imagine.

Drawing on hundreds of sources, documents, and internal e-mails, Bilton offers a rarely-seen glimpse of the inner workings of technology startups, venture capital, and Silicon Valley culture.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Maud Newton

…fast-paced and perceptive…Bilton sketches the founders' backgrounds and personalities in quick, skillful strokes…he contextualizes the founders' disagreements about the fundamental nature of Twitter with a light, easy touch and unpretentious insight.

From the Publisher

Fast-paced and perceptive.”

—The New York Times Book Review


"Exhaustively researched...extensively detailed...unexpectedly addictive."

—The Wall Street Journal


"#Backstabbing, power struggles and profanity laid bare"– "It is breathless storytelling"

—The New York Times


"Deeply reported and deliciously written."

—The Verge


"A compelling read, more like espionage than a corporate history."

—Fortune Magazine


“With a cinematic approach befitting its eclectic cast of characters, the perceptive read…is rife with Byzantine-like intrigue, character clashes and broken dreams.”

—USA Today


“Nick Bilton’s impressively detailed fly-on-the-wall exposé of the micro-blogging site’s birth and evolution evokes all the titillating elements of a soap opera.”

-Success Magazine

Kirkus Reviews

Novelistic rendition of Twitter's contentious origins in the techie subculture of San Francisco. New York Times Bits Blog columnist Bilton (I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted, 2010) reconstructed this history from interviews and the digital trails (i.e., emails and Twitter timelines) of his four principals: blogger, founder and chief investor Evan "Ev" Williams and his friends and employees Noah Glass, Christopher "Biz" Stone and Jack Dorsey. Each contributed an important share in the invention of the platform that, unbeknown to them at the time, would revolutionize the way the world communicates and interrelates. Williams provided the funds and the space for his colleagues to brainstorm startup and application ideas. Dorsey came up with the idea for a simple "status updater." Glass pulled the company name, which suggests the vibrating sound a phone might make when it receives an update, from the dictionary. Stone pushed for the company's light-touch, user-centric ethical and moral dimensions. Almost immediately, Bilton reports, there was tension among the co-founders. Within months, Glass would be pushed out of the circle, denied any glory or much fortune from the company's future success, and Dorsey, the company's tentative and inexperienced first CEO, was ousted in a coup just as Twitter was becoming a phenomenon following successful exposure at the 2007 South by Southwest festival. Neither man took these turns well, but whereas Glass eventually made peace with his fate, according to Bilton, Dorsey plotted revenge. The narrative sometimes gets so inside the heads of its subjects, it can seem to blur the line between reporting and fiction, but Bilton insists every thought in the book is based on interviews and "not assumed." A captivating study of male camaraderie and competition, more like the story of an indie rock band than one of the world's most ubiquitous corporations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101605233
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/05/2013
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 236,865
File size: 5 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

Read an Excerpt



October 4, 2010, 10:43 A.M.
The Twitter Office

Get out,” Evan Williams said to the woman standing in his office doorway. “I’m going to throw up.”

She stepped backward, pulling the door closed, a metal clicking sound reverberating through the room as he grabbed the black wastebasket in the corner of his office, his hands now shaking and clammy.

This was it. His last act as the CEO of Twitter would be throwing up into a garbage can.

He knelt there for a moment, his dark jeans resting on the rough carpeted floor, then leaned back against the wall. Outside, the cold October air rustled the trees that lined Folsom Street below. Violin-like noises of traffic mingled with a muffled din of conversation near his office doorway.

Moments later, someone informed his wife, Sara, who also worked at Twitter, “Something is wrong with Ev.” She rushed up to his corner office, her rich, black, curly hair wobbling slightly as she walked.

Sara checked her watch, realizing that Ev had only forty-five minutes before he would have to address the three hundred Twitter employees and break the news. She opened the door and went inside.

Down the hall, the Twitter public-relations team reviewed the blog post that would go up on the Web site at 11:40 A.M., the moment Ev would finish addressing the company and hand the microphone to the new CEO, passing power in a gesture as simple as handing off the baton in a relay race.

The blog post, which would be picked up by thousands of press outlets and blogs from around the world, gleefully announced that Twitter, the four-year-old social network, now had 165 million registered people on the service who sent an astounding 90 million tweets each day. Five paragraphs down, it noted that Evan Williams, the current CEO, was stepping down of his own volition.

“I have decided to ask our COO, Dick Costolo, to become Twitter’s CEO,” said the post, allegedly written by Ev.

Of course, that wasn’t true.

Ev, seated on the floor of his office with his hands wrapped around a garbage can, had absolutely no desire to say that. A farmer’s son from Nebraska who had arrived in San Francisco a decade earlier with nothing more than a couple of bags of cheap, raggedy, oversized clothes and tens of thousands of dollars in credit-card debt, Ev wanted to remain chief of the company he had cofounded. But that wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t matter that he was now worth more than a billion dollars or that he had poured his life into Twitter. He didn’t have a choice: He had been forced out of the company in a malicious, bloody boardroom coup carried out by the people he had hired, some of whom had once been his closest friends, and by some of the investors who had financed the company.

Ev looked up as he heard Sara come in. He wiped the sleeve of his sweater across the dark stubble on his chin.

“How are you feeling?” Sara asked.

“Fuck,” he said, unsure if it was his nerves or if he was coming down with something. Or both.

Down the hall, through the doors that led to the Twitter office’s main foyer, copies of the New Yorker, the Economist, and the New York Times were fanned out on the white square coffee table in the waiting area. Each publication contained articles about Twitter’s role in the revolutions now taking place in the Middle East—rebellions that, through Twitter and other social networks, would eventually see the fall of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen and spark massive protests in Bahrain, Syria, and Iran.

Around the corner, Biz Stone, another of Twitter’s four cofounders, finalized an e-mail telling the employees that there would be an all-hands meeting in the cafeteria at 11:30 A.M. Attendance was mandatory; no guests were allowed. There would be no hummus, just important news. He hit “send” and stood up from his desk, heading for Ev’s office to try to cheer up his friend and boss of nearly a decade.

Jason Goldman, who oversaw Twitter’s product development and was one of Ev’s few allies on the company’s seven-person board, was already sitting on the couch when Biz arrived and dropped down next to him. Ev was now quietly sipping from a bottle of water, despondently staring off into the distance, the turmoil and madness of the past week playing over in his mind.

“Remember when . . . ,” Goldman and Biz chorused, trying to cheer Ev up with humorous memories of the last several years at Twitter. There were lots of stories to tell. Like the time Ev had nervously been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, fumbling in front of millions of viewers. Or the time the Russian president showed up to the office, with snipers and the Secret Service, to send his first tweet, right at the moment the site stopped working. Or when Biz and Ev went to Al Gore’s apartment at the St. Regis for dinner and got “shit-faced drunk” as the former vice president of the United States tried to convince them to sell him part of Twitter. Or other bizarre acquisition attempts by Ashton Kutcher at his pool in Los Angeles and by Mark Zuckerberg at awkward meetings at his sparsely furnished house. Or when Kanye West, will.i.am, Lady Gaga, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain, and countless other celebrities and politicians had arrived, sometimes unannounced, at the office, rapping, singing, preaching, tweeting (some others were even high or drunk), trying to understand how this bizarre thing that was changing society could be controlled and how they could own a piece of it.

Ev struggled to smile as his friends spoke, trying his best to hide the sadness and defeat on his face.

There was one person who might have been successful at making Ev smile: the man who was now pacing in the office directly next door, his bald head bowed, his phone cupped to his ear. Dick Costolo, once a well-known improv comedian who had graced the stage with Steve Carell and Tina Fey. The same Dick Costolo Ev had “decided to ask” to become Twitter’s new CEO, the third of a company that was only four years old.

Yet Dick wasn’t in a jovial mood either. He was talking to the board members who had been involved in the coup, confirming the wording of the blog post that would soon go out to the media, and also what he would say to the hundreds of Twitter employees when he took the mic from Ev.

He paced as they plotted what would happen next: the return of Jack Dorsey.

Jack had been the first CEO of Twitter and another cofounder. He had been pushed out of the company by Ev in a similar power struggle in 2008. On this particular morning, he’d been expecting to make a triumphant return to the company he had obsessively built before his own ousting.

As Jack had been informed by the board a few hours earlier, though, his return to Twitter would not happen today; it would be delayed again. Jack was only a few blocks away as the scene unfolded that morning, pacing in his office at Square, a mobile payments company he’d recently started.

He had woken up in his wall-to-wall-concrete penthouse apartment in Mint Plaza and dressed for work in his now-signature several-thousand-dollar outfit of fancy Dior shirt, dark suit blazer, and Rolex watch. It was a very different ensemble from the unkempt T-shirt and black beanie hat he had worn two years earlier when he was ousted from Twitter.

But although he wore a different uniform that morning, he was equally disdainful of Ev, his once friend and forever cofounder, who had foiled Jack’s planned return to Twitter. Although Ev had been successfully removed as the CEO, he had not, as was originally supposed to unfold, been publicly fired from the company. At least not yet.

Back in the Twitter office, Ev looked up as the clock approached 11:30 A.M. Time to go.

Ev had no idea that within just a few months he would be completely out of a job at Twitter. Biz and Jason followed Ev out the door and down the halls, as they had for years, clueless that they would also be pushed out of the company in due time.

They walked silently toward the company’s cafeteria, past the colorful walls and white sleigh rocking chairs and the confused employees who were grabbing their seats. None of Twitter’s staff members knew what they were about to hear from their beloved boss, Evan Williams. They had no idea that the company they worked for, a company that had changed the world in countless ways, was itself about to change forever.

Customer Reviews