Is Noah Glass Twitter’s Long Lost Winklevoss?

Is the founding of Twitter the stuff of “The Social Network 2”?

Twitter founders


You probably know the story by now. Years back, entrepreneurs Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey, and Biz Stone began developing an idea called Twitter, a mobile microblogging platform. Before long, the company grew and grew: spreading democracy in the Middle East, saving lives in Japan, and transforming the way the world communicates. Twitter was soon valued in the millions, and then hundreds of millions, and then billions. It launched two wines, a Pinot and Chardonnay, to the public. Rainbows and chirping birds met the company as they moved into their sunny San Francisco headquarters.

But stories are rarely this squeaky clean and sterilized–especially when billions of dollars are at stake. In yet another sign that Twitter’s truly coming into its own, the company may have found its long-lost Winklevoss. From an impressive (and lengthy) investigative report from Business Insider, Nicholas Carlson presents the “real history of Twitter,” a tale that reads like a pitch for The Social Network 2, complete with employee backstabbing, forgotten cofounders, and misled investors.

Via Business Insider’s report, here are the juiciest pieces:

  • The story begins about six years ago, at a startup called Odeo, a podcasting platform which Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams were working on with an entrepreneur named Noah Glass, who cofounded Odeo with Williams
  • After iTunes launched, the Odeo podcasting platform became almost irrelevant, and Dorsey soon came up with a separate idea that would involve text-messaging and broadcasting one’s “status”
  • Glass gravitated toward Dorsey and his idea, which would become Twitter, and in 2006, the two along with a contract developer named Florian Webber presented the idea to the Odeo team
  • The service would be called “Twttr,” a name that Glass claims to have come up with
  • Evan Williams was initially skeptical about Twttr, but decided to put Glass, not Dorsey, in charge of the team
  • “There were two people who were really excited [about Twitter,]” Odeo investor George Zachary told Business Insider. “Jack and Noah Glass. Noah was fanatically excited about Twitter. Fanatically! Evan and Biz weren’t at that level. Not remotely.”
  • Engineer Blaine Cook said it began to feel like there were two companies: Odeo, and the project that Glass, Dorsey, Florian, and now Biz Stone were developing, Twitter
  • Williams, in a letter to investors, showed skepticism about the project: “It’s much too early to tell what’s there [with Twitter]. Almost two months after launch, Twitter has less than 5,000 registered users. I will continue to invest in Twitter, but it’s hard to say it justifies the venture investment Odeo certainly holds–especially since that investment was for a different market altogether”
  • Williams proposes to buy back investor stock in Odeo–for an estimated $5 million–because he felt bad about the fact that Odeo had hit a dead-end
  • In retrospect, some of these investors, who did take up Williams’ buy-back offer, are skeptical about his intentions. Did Williams truly feel bad about Odeo’s failure? Or did he notice some value in Twitter that would make owning the company himself far more appealing? “Ev decided there was something interesting enough in Twitter that he wanted to buy all the assets and buy everyone out,” said one early Odeo employee
  • Next, to many’s surprise, Williams fired Noah Glass
  • His reasons for doing so vary. Some cite personality clashes; others believe Williams wanted to push Glass out because Glass had high aspirations for the product even before Williams or others believed in it
  • One Odeo engineer describes Dorsey, Glass, and Florian as Twitter’s “actual founders”

Was Noah Glass actually a Twitter cofounder? Did he, Jack Dorsey, and Florian believe in the product and develop it before Williams and Biz Stone were on-board? Did Williams buy back Odeo stock from investors because of Twitter?

Aaron Sorkin, are you listening?

Click here to read the full-story–it’s worth it.


[Image: Flickr user sem]


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.