How do you know when it’s the
right time to start a company or
make a major career move?
I’ve always followed a person and
never followed money or an insti
tution. When I left Google, it was
because Evan Williams left. We did
Odeo, a podcasting startup. Next,
I followed Jack Dorsey, who’s now
Twitter’s CEO. I was always linking
myself to a person smarter than
me. That’s how I got ahead. There
wasn’t a master plan.
Is there a moment when you
can tell your company is going
to be a success?
For Twitter, the tipping point was
in March 2007 at South by South
west. There was an infuential tech
guy who had a bunch of followers
on the prototype of Twitter. He was
at a pub and it had gotten really
loud, so he sent out a tweet that
said, “Hey, anyone who wants to
talk about projects, let’s meet at
this other place where it’s quieter.”
In the eight minutes it took him
to walk to that pub, it had flled to
capacity, with a line out the door.
It blew my mind, because I realized
that we had invented something
new. Two days later, literally, we
formed Twitter Incorporated.
What was your biggest early
challenge at Twitter, and how did
you deal with it?
We made a lot of mistakes in the
early days. We shot ourselves in
every major organ and still man
aged to succeed. For one thing, we
built the entire platform on a cod
ing language that’s not meant to
handle lots of people. The site was
breaking every day. Every time it
went down, I’d explain on our blog
why it happened, how we fxed
it, and that it would never break in
exactly that same way again. It
almost became advertising for us.
There’s value in being vulnerable
and radically transparent.
As an investor, what’s your top
piece of advice for startups?
What I usually advise people is
to build a prototype just to see if
your idea is a thing or not. When
I invested in Slack, it was a video
game company. Then they realized
that all the internal communica
tion tools they had built for their
spreadout company could actually
be the company. You have to
start somewhere and see where
it takes you.
The co-founder of Twitter and
Ask Jelly explains what it takes to
identify—and sustain—a business
that reaches millions of users
As told to ZOË HENRY Photograph by JUSTIN KANEPS
“Everyone else thought
Twitter was stupid,”
Biz Stone says. “Our
brains just didn’t hear
the criticisms, so we
kept working on it.”
THE LAST WORD 100 - INC. - MARCH 2017