Twitter’s Founder Feuds, Explained

From left: Biz, Jack, Ev, Noah, and Fred Wilson. Photo: Max Morse/WireImage, Bill Pugliano/Getty Images, Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images, sem/flickr, Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In one of the greatest all-time feats of publishing timing, New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton’s book, Hatching Twitter, came out today, in the same week as the company’s momentous IPO. As the reviews say, Bilton’s book is a fast-paced read, chock-full of details about Twitter’s early days and seemingly destined to be an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. And as with The Social Network, much of the drama in Bilton’s book has to do with the juvenile, backstabbing behavior of Twitter’s co-founders: Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey, Ev Williams, and Noah Glass.

At heart, Hatching Twitter (which one friend of mine joked could be subtitled Rich White Guys Fighting) is a chronicle of bromances gone wrong. In fact, with so much of the book’s plot consisting of infighting, coup-plotting, and betrayal by Biz, Jack, Ev, and Noah, it can be a little confusing to keep track of which power-hungry guy is screwing over which other power-hungry guy. So, we’ve made a handy guide.

Jack Dorsey

Hates: At various points, everyone. Jack’s friendship with Noah quickly dissolves in a pool of jealousy and girl chasing. And Biz gets on his nerves. But much of his aggression is directed toward Ev, who gives him an ultimatum at one point: Either quit your extracurricular pursuits, or step down as Twitter’s CEO.

Why the hate? Jack is essentially too big for his bespoke britches; the moment Twitter takes off, he becomes an insufferable diva, wearing Dior, imitating Steve Jobs, and doing flashy interviews in the press while Twitter’s actual infrastructure remains unstable and poorly managed. This inspires animosity among Ev and Biz, who conspire to have Jack fired. (Jack ultimately gets his revenge, but not without a lot of intervening drama.)

Biggest hater moment: Goes to meet with Mark Zuckerberg, after being forced out as Twitter’s CEO, to ask about a job at Facebook — a move that would have been massively demoralizing for a still-growing Twitter.

Ev Williams

Hates: Noah, then Jack.

Why the hate? Ev’s beef with Noah started early, Bilton reports, and results in Ev keeping Noah away from the project that would ultimately become Twitter. He then turns his gaze to Jack, his main rival in the power struggle atop Twitter. After being demoted by Ev, Jack becomes a CEO’s worst nightmare — jetting off to Iraq on the company’s behalf, proclaiming himself the “inventor” of Twitter, and shoehorning himself into glitzy events like the Time 100 Gala. At one point, Ev confronts Jack about his claim that he invented Twitter. “No, you didn’t invent Twitter,” he says. “I didn’t invent Twitter either. Neither did Biz. People don’t invent things on the Internet. They simply expand on an idea that already exists.”

Biggest hater moment: After ousting Jack as CEO, taking the voting rights associated with Jack’s Twitter stock, and refusing to put him on the company’s board as anything more than a silent figurehead, Ev pulls off the ultimate insult: shutting down Jack’s Twitter e-mail account.

Biz Stone

Hates: “Hate” is perhaps too strong a word for the laid-back Stone, who functions as a sort of Switzerland figure in most of the book’s drama. (“Company warfare wasn’t his thing.”) But Bilton writes that, at various points, Biz has been “impatient” and “petulant” with Jack, Dick Costolo, and the company’s board members.

Why the hate? In Bilton’s telling, Biz is the designated Nice Guy at Twitter, the joke-cracking goofball who stays out of the most tense moments. But he does get annoyed when Jack becomes a publicity-grabbing mogul, and when outside agitators try to meddle in the company’s management structure.

Biggest hater moment: Biz’s signature move seems to be the “I’ll quit” ultimatum — he uses it once on the company’s money men when they threaten to fire Jack, and again on Dick when he maneuvers to get Ev out of the company. Basically, Biz just wants everyone to get along. Kumbaya!

Noah Glass

Hates: Ev.

Why the hate? Ev pushes Noah out of both Odeo, the podcasting company he started, and Twitter, which later spins out of Odeo. But Noah’s anger should really be directed at Jack, his onetime best friend, who has secretly schemed with Ev to get Noah out of Twitter.

Biggest hater moment: According to Bilton, Noah barks at Ev, “I should be running this fucking company. I could do a much better job than you! You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.”

Dick Costolo (Twitter’s current CEO)

Hates: Fun. Despite being a stand-up comedian in his previous career, Costolo is the adult brought into Twitter to make it a mature company. This means raining on some parades. When Snoop Dogg stops by Twitter HQ to rap for (and smoke weed with) some Twitter employees in an impromptu visit that becomes a cafeteria party, Costolo goes apoplectic. “It was time for Twitter to grow up,” Bilton writes.

Why the hate? Because Twitter, frankly, needed a grown-up. Though Costolo is only a few years older than Jack, Biz, and Ev, he’s light-years ahead of them when it comes to stability. It was only under Dick that Twitter fixed its reliability issues, got plans for a revenue model, and filed to go public.

Biggest hater moment: After being made Twitter’s CEO through a coordinated coup of Ev Williams, Dick gets a call from Jason Goldman, an early Twitter employee and friend of Ev’s. Goldman asks Dick why he secretly plotted to have Ev removed; Dick feigns innocence, and insists he had nothing to do with the scheme.

The money men (investors and board members Fred Wilson, Bijan Sabet, and Peter Fenton)

Hates: Everyone who isn’t performing up to snuff.

Why the hate? As venture capitalists, these guys are just doing their jobs. They want Twitter to keep growing, attracting celebrity attention, and eventually, making money. But Bilton writes that they are also the hatchet men who conduct these boardroom coups, often changing their minds on a dime about who is the best person to manage the billion-dollar company.

Biggest hater moment: The money men hold secret meetings with Jack, during which they latched onto a plan to oust Ev from the company. Fenton, a partner with Benchmark Capital, has always been in Jack’s corner, at times promising to get him restored to his previous positions of power. But it’s really Wilson, an investor with Union Square Ventures, who delivers the knockout blow to Ev. “I never considered you a founder,” Wilson tells Ev, while notifying him that he is out of a job. “Jack founded Twitter.”

Basically, Bilton’s account of Twitter’s early days is a book-length practicum on Nietzsche’s “will to power,” the ineffable upward force the philosopher believed explained all of human behavior. (Nietzsche: “My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (its will to power) and to thrust back all that resists its extension.“) In fact, it’s amazing the founders of Twitter managed to build a company at all, given the amount of mental energy they were expending on undermining, attacking, and firing each other in an attempt to climb to the top.

As Twitter goes public this week, it will be a victory for its co-founders, several of whom will become extraordinarily wealthy as a result of the stock sale. But, perhaps more amazingly, it will represent the culmination of what appears to have been one of the messier start-up processes in Silicon Valley history. It took seven years, but perhaps Twitter has finally calmed down, grown up, and gotten to work.