Twitter’s IPO filing, which came out yesterday, contained many new details about the social network — user stats, revenue numbers, major shareholders. But one key part of Twitter’s early days — Biz Stone, one of the company’s three co-founders — was noticeably absent. Not “absent” as in de-emphasized, or buried in a footnote. Absent in the sense that Stone’s name never appeared once, in the entire 117,000-word document.
Stone’s relationship to the company he helped start is a perennial topic of water-cooler conversation for Silicon Valley watchers. He appeared at Twitter’s headquarters yesterday, along with co-founders Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams, so he’s clearly not entirely out of the loop. But in going public, why did the company exclude him from its landmark filing?
Twitter didn’t technically have to include Stone in its S-1 form. He left the company in 2011, isn’t on the board, and according to the New York Times, may not even be a major shareholder — the Times cites two people close to the company in reporting that Stone sold most of his shares, and only owns about a tenth of one percent of the company now. But he was a crucial part of the company’s founding days, when it went from a side project of a floundering start-up called Odeo into a massive social network in its own right.
How crucial, exactly, Stone was to Twitter’s founding remains a mystery. Valleywag called him “tech’s most useless big shot” in 2011, noting that “the details on Stone’s special contribution” to Twitter’s early days are “elusive.” Publicity material for an upcoming book on Twitter by Times columnist Nick Bilton describes Stone as “the joker and diplomat who played nice with everyone” and “the only founder who remained on good terms with his friends and to this day has no enduring resentments.” And while Nicholas Carlson’s 2011 investigation into Twitter’s founding (the most complete corporate history we have, at least until Bilton’s book comes out) credits Williams and Dorsey, along with co-founder Noah Glass (who was fired early in the company’s existence) with most of Twitter’s actual development, Glass said in a concurrent interview that “Biz was involved more than Ev” in getting Twitter off the ground.
Stone — a former book cover designer who faked his way into a job at Google by printing up business cards that said, “Biz Stone, Genius” — was always an oddball at Twitter. He wasn’t the idea guy (that was Dorsey and Glass), and he wasn’t the money guy (that was Williams, who already had a small fortune from his previous start-up, Blogger). But when Twitter took off, Stone became its public face, the co-founder who was tapped to appear on TV shows and in magazines (and, once, in a vodka commercial) to tout the company. His role made sense — he’s perhaps the most sociable of the co-founders, the one who writes a popular blog and is capable of filling his speech with lofty language about Twitter’s world-changing potential. He’s widely credited for instilling Twitter’s moral compass — and seeing how it could potentially be used as a tool for political and social change.
These days, Stone — who declined to comment for this story, citing Twitter’s pre-IPO quiet period — has distanced himself from Twitter. He’s started a new company, Jelly, which has gotten lots of hype, even though nobody outside the company knows what it is yet. (The Verge guesses that it’s a “crowdsourced information platform” similar to Quora.) He’s dabbling in philanthropy and working on a book, Things A Little Bird Told Me, that will focus on his experiences in business.
Stone won’t share in much of Twitter’s IPO bounty, if reports of his stock holdings are correct. But that doesn’t mean he’s been left out of the party. Twitter has been valued in the billions of dollars for years, giving him plenty of time to sell his shares at a lucrative price. And if Jelly’s pre-launch hype (and its big-name backers) is any indication, Twitter’s success will gild his path for the rest of his life.
If Stone was kept out of Twitter’s documents on purpose, it may hint at co-founder drama beneath the surface. But the real story might be much less exciting. Perhaps he just got restless, sold his stock, and moved on to the next thing.