Things Biz Stone Told Me

Apr 09, 2014 Anne Baker

Photo Credit: JD Lasica via Flickr

Silicon Valley is full of its fair share of innovation rock stars. Names like “Elon Musk” or “Travis Kalanick” tend to stir up excitement whenever mentioned. But Biz Stone, one of the original founders of Twitter, is in a league of his own. Unlike many (many, many) other startup founders, Stone didn’t become notorious for tantrums or product exactitude. Stone stands apart for his borderline oppressive optimism and general cheerfulness, which is not diminished in the face of CEO turnover, The Colbert Report, or Kara Swisher, who interviewed Stone on Monday night at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

Stone was ostensibly there to discuss his new book, “Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind.” But Swisher, being co-executive editor of Re/Code and all, wanted the dirt, specifically digging into how Stone ended up on the founding team of Twitter and its well-chronicled rocky beginning (described by Swisher as a “hipster Game of Thrones”). Nestled in Stone’s origin story were some great lessons and insights for anyone interested in business or trying to create something new. Here are my three favorites:

Fake it till you make it

This is something our own Beth Monaghan has written about. After his first venture Xanga failed, Stone moved back into his mother’s basement, sans prospects and with a lot of debt. He started a fake company, Genius Labs, and claimed to be doing all kinds of wild things on his blog, Biz Stone, Genius. Stone went so far as to announce the company had been purchased by Google. It hadn’t. But as Stone kept writing about crazy things Genius Labs was doing on his blog, he started to hit on real ideas. Those eventually got the attention of his future Twitter co-founder, Evan Williams, who ultimately got him hired at Google and set him on the path to Twitter.

Get emotionally involved

Williams and Stone left Google together to start Odeo, a podcasting platform. But, as Stone told it, “neither of us podcasted and we didn’t listen to podcasts.” They weren’t emotionally invested in it. He feels confident that the company could have made them the “kings of podcasting,” but eventually they realized that they didn’t want to be the kings of podcasting. For all the drama that came with the leadership changes at Twitter, that’s what happens when you become emotionally invested in your work. Everyone just wanted what was best for the company and they all believed they had the answer. And, as Stone pointed out, Twitter is now extremely valuable and had a successful IPO. The founders’ emotional investment is what made it successful.

Twitter needed Twitter

Though now a venture of “lasting value,” as Stone put it, Twitter had a very slow start. It relied on literal word of mouth to get going, and most people, including its founders, didn’t realize its potential to completely change how news and information is spread. By comparison, Stone’s new app, Jelly, had more users in 24 hours than Twitter had in a year. The difference? Well, Twitter. Twitter has completely changed how people share new apps and things that they’re into, leading to the new phenomenon of the overnight app success (see:  Flappy Bird). Any new creative venture, company or launch absolutely has to have a Twitter strategy to be successful.

For more on Biz Stone’s talk at the Commonwealth Club, including full audio of the talk, visit its website.

Topics: News, Twitter
Anne Baker

For Anne, public relations is all about the storytelling. She considers her clients partners on a shared mission to craft the strongest narratives and get those narratives in front of the right people. Anne was the first InkHouse employee in San Francisco and knows all too well the late nights and scrappiness required to get a start-up off the ground. Anne approaches public relations with a strong bias towards execution, doing whatever it takes to get the job done and provide strategic insight. Her clients include some of the most exciting and innovative companies in the U.S. and is leading the effort to grow the agency’s emerging cannabis practice.

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