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Sun Nov 10, 2013, 10:59 AM

'Hatching Twitter' review: before going public, blood on the boardroom walls

"We need to talk," Biz Stone tells Ev Williams in a memorable scene in Hatching Twitter, Nick Bilton’s new book about the company’s origins. "Jack’s gone rogue." Jack, of course, is Jack Dorsey, who had co-founded the social network and served as its CEO before he was muscled out of the job by Williams and the board in 2008. As a consolation prize, Dorsey has been given a seat on Twitter’s board with no voting power — but in Bilton’s telling, it gave him all the power he needed to undermine Williams and gain his revenge.

It was 2010, and Dorsey was already CEO of Square, the payments company he had founded after being forced out of Twitter. But in interview after interview, in newspapers and on television, in magazines and public speeches, Dorsey was only too happy to talk about the microblogging phenomenon — while neglecting to mention any of his three co-founders. Executives held multiple meetings to discuss how to silence Dorsey, Bilton writes, or eliminate him from the board entirely. But the talks went nowhere. By the end of the year, Dorsey succeeded in pushing Williams out of the CEO job.

Dorsey’s wily quest to return to power lies at the heart of Hatching Twitter, a deeply reported and deliciously written account of a company that improbably went public today. Despite nonstop arguments among its founders, serious questions about its business model, and ongoing confusion over what Twitter even is, the company has thrived. Bilton, a reporter for The New York Times, does an admirable job recreating the boardroom dramas that threatened to destroy it in its infancy. Interviewing all four of the founders as well as other major players in Twitter’s creation, Bilton offers the best look yet at how the famously troubled company survived to go public.

Contrary to the way Dorsey has often portrayed it, the idea was not his alone. One of the most valuable things Hatching Twitter does is to make an honest account of the contributions of all of its founders. Noah Glass, a friend of Williams’ with whom he had founded the podcasting startup Odeo, pushes the team to create a new company after Apple introduced podcasts into iTunes. Later Glass gives Twitter its name, the idea of timestamping each post, and its emphasis on making connections to people around the world.


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