Battle of the billionaire nerds who built Twitter: Today the empire they created from nothing is floated for £8.6billion. The price? Backstabbing and betrayal

Nov 07, 2013| Courtesy by :

Unashamedly banal, pathetically narcissistic and the favourite tool for vile attacks by anonymous internet bullies. They are all charges that have been levelled at Twitter.

But even its biggest critic will feel a pang of jealousy today when some of its founders become multi-millionaires in the time it takes to tweet one of its 140 character messages.

Shares in the social networking site – which started out as a way of telling friends what you were having for dinner, and is now used to fuel Arab revolutions and the obsession of Justin Bieber fans – will begin trading this morning on the New York stock market with a value of £8.6 billion ($13.9 billion).

Self-styled: Jack Dorsey was one of the founders of Twitter, but has since written everyone else out of the creation storySelf-styled: Jack Dorsey was one of the founders of Twitter, but has since written everyone else out of the creation story


Noah Glass
Evan Williams of Twitter

Overshadowed: Co-founder Noah Glass, left, and web entrepreneur Evan Williams, right, have experience less fame than Dorsey – though Evan is still set to be the biggest financial winner from the sale of the company



Investors won’t need reminding that its big rival, Facebook, disastrously overvalued itself in its own stock market launch last spring, its $100 billion price slashed by almost a half as sceptics wondered how it could possibly be worth so much.

But analysts predict no such fate for the more cautiously-priced Twitter. No matter that the seven-year-old site has yet to make a profit, say advertising men.

Just look at its phenomenal reach, they say, with more than 500 million registered users – from Madonna and Lady Gaga to David Cameron and the Dalai Lama – posting around 400 million tweets every day.


Forget television commercials and billboards: analysts say this could be the new way we are all told which car or washing-up liquid to buy as adverts are cleverly embedded into Twitter’s short bulletins.

For some of the geeks who were in on Twitter at the start – who will each make anything up to £1.2 billion ($2 billion) from their share in the company – it will be smiley emoticons all round.

But as a new book about Twitter’s chaotic origins has revealed, one of its creators – the computer genius who thought of its name – was ruthlessly sidelined, written out of the company’s history and stands to make virtually nothing.

Star-studded life: Dorsey at the 2013 Time 100 Gala in New YorkStar-studded life: Dorsey at the 2013 Time 100 Gala in New York


We all now know not to believe the myth of the harmless computer nerd – Silicon Valley is teeming with sharks who will happily devour each other.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Apple guru Steve Jobs and Facebook king Mark Zuckerberg have all been portrayed as unscrupulous cheats and bullying control freaks, riding on the coat tails of other people’s genius and hogging the credit for team efforts.

And just as the inside story of Facebook – turned into the Oscar-winning film The Social Network – revealed how Zuckerberg outmanoeuvred his co-founders, it emerged this week that behind Twitter, too, is an unedifying tale of ruthless backstabbing, greed and jealousy.

According to Hatching Twitter, a new book by New York Times columnist Nick Bilton, the Twitter story started just like any other rags-to-riches tale from Silicon Valley – not with some blindingly brilliant idea, but by pure and simple good luck.

A bunch of impoverished computer whizzkids – social misfits and anarchists, mainly – got together in San Francisco in 2006 to try to make their fortune in the Gold Rush-style tech boom.

They hadn’t had much luck with their company, Odeo, and were running out of money.

Then a newcomer, a 29-year-old university dropout with spiky hair and a nose-ring called Jack Dorsey, had a thought.

One night – as he and his best friend, Odeo’s co-founder Noah Glass, sat in a car trying to sober up after a night’s hard drinking – he explained: how about a website where people could flash up simple details about what they were doing, such as ‘gone to bed’, ‘out shopping’ or ‘listening to  . . .’?

For Dorsey, who had a speech impediment and had trouble communicating, it was perfect. But it wasn’t exactly earth-shattering.

Then, Glass, a gentle soul raised by hippies, had another idea. He was going through a divorce at the time and admitted he was terribly lonely. What if this new website allowed you to converse with friends, as he so desperately wanted to do? 

The pair got their colleagues interested – including an aspiring internet entrepreneur named Evan Williams, who had previously sold his blogging website Blogger to Google.

Glass, who spent every waking moment on the project, hit on ‘Twitter’ as a name after his mobile phone started vibrating in his pocket one day.

It made him think of the phone twitching which, when he turned to ‘tw’ in the dictionary, led to ‘twitter’.

However, within months, Glass had confided to Dorsey that he feared others were plotting to get rid of him from the company. He was right, but he didn’t know it was Dorsey doing the plotting.

Dorsey – described by colleagues as ‘Machiavellian’ – had secretly threatened to leave the company unless Glass was sacked.

He got his way. Glass, who had been infuriating his colleagues by drunkenly revealing their secret project to potential competitors, was given a small pay-off and a measly number of Twitter shares, which he later sold.

High life: Jack Dorsey on a yacht in the Caribbean with supermodel Lily ColeHigh life: Jack Dorsey on a yacht in the Caribbean with supermodel Lily Cole

Even when the two friends met for a drink the night he was sacked, Dorsey ‘acted dumbfounded’ by the terrible news, says Bilton.

Noah Glass later sank into depression, feeling betrayed by friends who today will become rich beyond their wildest dreams. He is ‘still recovering’, says Bilton, and exploring new online ventures that have yet to amount to anything.

But it wasn’t long before the devious Jack Dorsey – now chief executive – himself became the victim.

As Twitter’s popularity grew through the techie world and beyond, its shambolic creators proved completely unable to run a business.

They much preferred spending their days sending puerile tweets about their lavatory habits, or else enjoying the attentions of Silicon Valley groupies – young women who loved hanging around with internet hotshots, no matter how unattractive they were.

Dorsey got so drunk at Twitter’s grand launch party – a nightclub rave, naturally – that he toppled over and needed stitches to his head.

He barely uttered a word in crucial business meetings, and would continually leave the office early so he could go to yoga or sewing classes.

‘You can either be a dressmaker or CEO of Twitter, but you can’t be both,’ Williams, the firm’s overall boss, is said to have yelled at him.

But Dorsey couldn’t stop Twitter haemorrhaging money and continually crashing on the internet.

In 2008, over a hotel breakfast of granola and yoghurt, he was given a £125,000 pay-off and told he could only stay on as chairman, with no real power over the company.

Power: Dorsey, left, shakes hands with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. Celebrities and politicians alike have taken to his service with enthusiasmPower: Dorsey, left, shakes hands with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. Celebrities and politicians alike have taken to his service with enthusiasm


He had his revenge, however. Not only did he eventually persuade investors to oust Williams from running the company in 2010, but he managed to persuade the world he was Twitter’s sole creator.

Twitter was already popular with celebrities, who quickly realised they could use it to spout any old rubbish without it having to be filtered through the media.

Some liked it so much they even tried to buy the company, including actor Ashton Kutcher (the first person to get a million Twitter followers), rapper Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs and former U.S. vice president Al Gore (who tried to get the firm’s geeks drunk on expensive Patron tequila while he was courting them).

Many stars would suddenly drop in on the Twitter office, including Lady Gaga, Arnold Schwarzenegger, rapper Kanye West and even then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

All the attention went to Dorsey’s head. Crafting his image as a playboy billionaire with the help of a team of presentation coaches and stylists, he started flying on private jets and partying with the stars.

In interview after interview, he wrote everyone else out of the Twitter story, infuriating colleagues. 
Dorsey’s account kept changing – he once told Vanity Fair he first had the idea for Twitter in 1984, which would have been a miracle given he was just eight and the internet didn’t exist.

Hogging the limelight, he hosted a White House political debate live on Twitter when Barack Obama jumped on the bandwagon. 

And to the horror of his colleagues – who attempted to stay out of politics – he agreed to a U.S. government request to postpone a Twitter maintenance shutdown in 2009 so that it could stay online during the Iranian election protests.

Beginnings: Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet, pictured, in 2006Beginnings: Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet, pictured, in 2006


Most bizarrely, Bilton reveals, Dorsey became so desperate to be seen as the ‘next Steve Jobs’ that he mimicked the late Apple co-founder’s habit of always wearing the same style of clothes.

While Jobs always wore black polo neck jumpers, Dorsey – who  once wore T-shirts with his phone number printed on them – was now never seen out of a white buttoned-up Dior shirt, blue jeans and black blazer.

He experimented with Jobs’ round glasses, used his favourite business phrases and even copied Jobs’ music taste: endlessly tweeting about how he adored The Beatles.

Dorsey, who is dating a pretty New York yoga instructor named Kate Greer, will certainly be able to splash out on as many Dior shirts as he wants after today, when Twitter’s stock market flotation makes him at least £310 million ($500 million).

He came to wider public notice in Britain earlier this year when he was pictured romancing the supermodel Lily Cole on his yacht in the Caribbean. It became apparent he had split from Cole when he jetted off to the Far East with Greer in May.

Idol: Dorsey apparently mimicked the style and mannerisms of Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a bid to emulate himIdol: Dorsey apparently mimicked the style and mannerisms of Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a bid to emulate him


As for Williams, a vegetarian who is married with two children and lives in San Francisco, it is thought he stands to make the most from the firm – more than $1 billion – because he holds so many shares.

Dorsey’s old pal Noah Glass, meanwhile – with whom he hasn’t spoken for five years – stands to make virtually nothing, according to Bilton.

But, then, it’s amazing that any of them have made a bean at all.

In a rare moment of wit, Facebook Zuckerberg said it was as if the Twitter bosses ‘drove a clown car into a gold mine and fell in’.

He’s got a point: who would have thought something as simple as a glorified text message system could capture the popular imagination so sweepingly – and lucratively. Try answering that in 140 characters.