Book review – Hatching Twitter, Frequently Asked questions

Amazon.com: Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and  Betrayal (9781591847083): Bilton, Nick: Books

Hatching Twitter, 321 pages, published Nov 2013

I just finished reading the book Hatching Twitter. A little late, since the book was published in 2013. In my defense, this book was more “gossip” than “insightful”, so I deferred reading it until I had time.

At the outset, it was a good read. If this were a work of fiction I would believe it. As a narrative, it was a quick, fast paced read. I would recommend reading it, if you want a quick weekend break. 4/5 is my rating. Here are my top questions and answers.

Does the book tell you anything you did not know?

The founding story of Twitter with the 3 founders (Biz, Ev, and Jack) + 1 (Noah) is pretty well known. It was interesting to know that Noah was one of the founders who got sidelined. It is typical of many startups I know of. There are issues among founders that derail the startup as much as customer traction and growth.

Does the story make you feel any different about Venture Capitalists?

The 3 key VCs in the story are Fred Wilson, Bijan Sabet and Pete Fenton (Benchmark). They invested early with Fred in Series A, Bijan in Series B and Peter in Series C. During all these 3 rounds, Twitter had no revenues. They invested nonetheless.

They were ruthless however, in getting removing Jack from the post of CEO first, followed by the removal of Ev from the post of CEO.

One can say they were trying to protect their investment. However, the other part is that most founders should know that the VC is not your friend.

Why did Ev get removed from the post of CEO even though he was the largest individual shareholder?

Even though Ev financed Twitter with his own money (from his sale of Blogger to Google), by the time it was series C, he had only 1 vote on the board. The board comprised of the investors and Jack, who had more votes, even though Ev was the largest individual shareholder.

This is the main reason who companies such as Palantir, Facebook and others have multiple classes of stock with different voting right.

Who is the hero and who is the villain in this story?

Reading this book, it was hard not to feel sorry for Ev and Noah Glass. Even though Ev had many faults (slow in decision making, avoiding conflict at all times), I felt most sorry for his treatment towards the end.

I oscillated between Jack Dorsey, Peter Fenton and Bill Campbell as the key villains, but Jack was clearly the main villain, plotting to bring down his “friend” Ev after he was ousted as CEO himself.

What role did Dick Costello play in the removal of Ev?

Even though his “friend” Ev, brought Dick into Twitter, I get a sense that Dick was more interested in becoming the CEO after he got there. Since he came at the the phase of “growing revenues”, I believe he would have felt best suited for the role, compared to the more cerebral Ev. He certainly colluded with Jack during the period when Ev was oblivious to the decision to remove him from the post of CEO.

Twitter Story - CEO, Founder, History | Famous Companies | Success Story
At the IPO – Jack, Biz, Ev and Dick

What is the one big takeaway from this story?

Pivots work – sometimes.

Twitter started as a podcasting (voice notes) app, then transformed into a “status update) app, then a microblogging platform. While they had a hard time explaining “what” Twitter was, users were adopting it for different use cases. Traction beats all else.