As a precursor to Twitter’s IPO and next month’s release of Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, New York Times technology reporter Nick Bilton released an early excerpt of his book in this week’s issue of the Times magazine.
While the passages reveal — as the book’s title implies — extreme instances of backstabbing and betrayal, it also illuminates the funny, sometimes bizarre, history of the startup turned tech giant.
Like the etymology of the company name, which could have been “Twitchy” or even the glorious “Friendstalker” if early brainstorming sessions had gone differently:
Soon, the question of a name came up. [Co-founder Ev] Williams jokingly suggested calling the project “Friendstalker,” which was ruled out as too creepy. [Engineer Noah] Glass became obsessive, flipping through a physical dictionary, almost word by word, looking for the right name. One late afternoon, alone in his apartment, he reached over to his cellphone and turned it to silent, which caused it to vibrate. He quickly considered the name “Vibrate,” which he nixed, but it led him to the word “twitch.” He dismissed that too, but he continued through the “Tw” section of the dictionary: twist, twit, twitch, twitcher, twitchy . . . and then, there it was. He read the definition aloud. “The light chirping sound made by certain birds.” This is it, he thought. “Agitation or excitement; flutter.” Twitter.
One of those names would have gone really well with early sketches of the Twitter logo, which Twitter designers reportedly posted on design sharing site Dribbble.
(That karate-chopping bird looks like a “FriendStalker” to us.)
Of course, that delightful passage aside, a bulk of the piece is a crushing depiction of Jack Dorsey. Apart from his backstabbing nature, what do we learn? Prior to reportedly cutting Williams and “extremely close friend,” coworker, and next door neighbor Noah Glass out of the company:
Jack Dorsey was a 29-year-old New York University dropout who sometimes wore a T-shirt with his phone number on the front and a nose ring.
“I’m going to quit tech and become a fashion designer,” Glass recalls him saying. He also wanted to sail around the world.
Even after Twitter came to fruition, Bilton writes that Dorsey was known for putting his love for clothes over the company:
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.) …
“You can either be a dressmaker or the C.E.O. of Twitter,” Williams said to Dorsey. “But you can’t be both.”
But Dorsey apparently had bigger problems than perfecting inseams. Twitter had significant debt issues early on.
He 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. Beyond that, it became clear that there was no backup of some key components.
Of course, after getting pushed out of the company for what reads like borderline incompetence, Dorsey found his way back in and the rest is, well, history-in-progress.