The company's co-creator and boss was a higher-education dropout, a dreamer who had a creative side along with technical savvy. He helped create a novel new company, then was forced out of control, only to return to help the company flower. Sound familiar? But this is not Steve Jobs—this is Jack Dorsey, co-creator of Twitter.
The New York Times has an extract of Nick Bilton's book about the inside story of Twitter, and it reveals some fabulously interesting facts. Perhaps the most intriguing of which is the moment Twitter was born. Dorsey was sitting with his friend and employer Noah Glass in a rain-soaked car as they contemplated how to move on from a disaster—their podcasting company Odeo had effectively been rendered irrelevant by a surprise iTunes move. They'd apparently sunk many vodka-Red Bulls the night before, so you can imagine the mood.
Dorsey blurted out that he was planning his exit strategy. "I’m going to quit tech and become a fashion designer," Glass recalls him saying. He also wanted to sail around the world. Glass pushed back: He couldn’t really want to leave the business entirely, could he? "Tell me what else you’re interested in," he said. Dorsey mentioned a Web site that people could use to share their current status — the music they were listening to or where they were.
Dorsey thought it would be used by people to share tiny personal facts like "going to bed." And that was (and still is, sadly) how some people originally saw Twitter. But Glass, in a flash of inspiration and with an urgency to cure his own loneliness, imagined the service "could be a conversation. It wasn’t about reporting; it was about connecting. There could be a real business in that."
But behind the success, there was personal and emotional intrigue. Ev Williams, the other Twitter cofounder, had disagreed with Glass at Odeo. Now Glass's work at Twitter was suffering, so Williams fired him under pressure from Dorsey ... who then quickly became CEO.
Shortly later, as Twitter started to mature but suffered embarrassing technical flaws, Dorsey was himself forced out by Williams and effectively silenced though he did get stock, a $200,000 cash payoff plus a symbolic board seat. Miffed, he was offered a job—any job—at Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg, but didn't take it, and the Facebook/Twitter rivalry has grown ever since.
To get back into the firm, Dorsey went on what can only be described as a huge PR campaign, pulling all the right investor strings, downplaying the role of Glass (who even came up with Twitter's name), and saying Twitter was his "life's work." A reality distortion field? Yup. We've heard that before too.
But get back he did, and the rest is history. Dorsey's company has stood firm in its battle with Facebook, he has personally tweeted with Iran's president, and gone on to shake up the whole payments industry with the innovative Square device. He's quite definitely changed the world, and that's a fact he says is "humbling," in an interview with clothing entrepreneur Diane von Furstenberg. And by his own admission, when asked if he'd be a good employee, he laughed and said "no." In one final comment, that may also remind you of that famous Apple innovator, he also likes the fact his products prompt people to develop their own tech—it's something that "pushes us to think in a different way."
At IPO, Dorsey stands to make up to about half a billion dollars.
Disclosure: The author of this column is also a technology columnist at the New York Times.