Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 11th 2013 Contents B5
Monday, November 11, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
"The first, second, third compa-
ny I went to work for, somehow I
screwed them all up. Doing start-
ups is all about making mistakes,"
Biz Stone nervously admitted
onstage at the New Context Con-
ference in San Francisco.
He d just confessed that he didn t
prepare anything so will talk about
his biggest screw-ups, including one
that could earn him many millions
of dollars when Twitter IPOs.
"Making mistakes for fun and
profit," the Twitter co-founder
joked. Nowadays he s running a
foundation focused on animal wel-
fare, and a new company called Jelly
that s still in stealth. But it all started
with Xanga, where he made his first
of three big stumbles.
Circa 1999, Stone was working
as a designer. Some of his friends
had graduated from college and
became consultants, which they
promptly figured out they hated.
"Hey, let s start a web company"
one told him, because that was
enough detail in those days. The
company was Xanga, an early blog-
ging platform that became a popular
place for teens to pour their hor-
mone-addled hearts out. Stone said
"I loved coming up with these feed-
back loops, things that made people
feel a certain way."
One was eProps , a feature for
showing appreciation for someone
else s writing. "I liked being able to
express myself by letting other peo-
ple express themselves," Stone
"(Xanga) grew pretty quickly...
but my friends started hiring their
consultant buddies. In my vision
we d start a company right next to
MIT and hire these great smart kids
out of MIT and have this cool cul-
ture of innovation and ideas. But
that was immediately at odds with
my friends friends who said we had
to be in New York," Stone acqui-
He wanted an office near Union
Square and the East Village, close
to cool restaurants. "No, let s get
the cheapest space possible near the
Port Authority in this crappy build-
ing" they demanded.
"The culture of the company
started to dramatically shift away
from innovation and a way of mak-
ing people feel. I really didn t like
working there." He flashed back to
a rough morning in the Big Apple:
"I woke up and said I didn t want
to go to work , complaining to my
"So what I did was I quit, which
was a mistake, because I was too
young and too green. What I should
have done was work really hard to
make a change in the company cul-
ture. The lesson I learned was that
company culture at the beginning
is incredibly important. You have
to tend to it...almost as much as
you tend to your product."
Whether you like it or not, a
"super-organism" will emerge from
your early employees, and that will
be your company culture. "You
might get lucky and it will be awe-
some," but if you don t pay attention
to it, he said it can become caustic.
"My mistake was not paying atten-
tion to company culture. That would
come into play later for me and it
was a good lesson learned."
"I ended up back in my mom s
basement blogging. I really enjoyed
being on the other side, and now
all I have is a blog. I m not building
anything and I felt like it was a big
mistake." The name of his blog may
have saved him, though. It was
called Biz Stone, Genius.
"I pretended like I had all these
genius ideas while I was really in
my mom s basement." He got
noticed, got a book deal, and when
another blogging platform called
Blogger was acquired by Google,
Stone says "[its founder] Ev Williams
reached out to me and invited me
to work at Google."
"Obviously working at Google
wasn t a mistake" he said hinting
at its coming rise to power. "I used
to just walk around. I don t know
if I was supposed to, but I d just
open doors and see what people
One led to a guy surrounded by
DVRs. Stone asked what he was
doing. "I m recording everything
being transmitted on TV all over
the world." Stone backed out saying
"Okay, carry on, carry on." Another
led to "a sea of people operating
illuminated foot-pedal scanning
devices. "We re scanning every book
ever published." "Okay, carry on,
carry on," Stone repeated.
"A feeling I got from working at
Google was that technology could
solve any problem. Yes it s fantastic,
but what I realised later was there s
technology and there s people.
Google had its list ordered: Tech-
nology. People. And I think the right
order is: People. Technology. You
have to think about people first and
technology second. Hopefully tech-
nology gets out of the way."
"The other thing I learned was
their whole aphorism, their internal
words to live by is "Don t Be Evil".
Originally I thought that was great,
but then I realised Don t Be Evil
isn t Be Good . It s measuring every-
thing on a scale of evil." Stone put
on his villain voice, stating "We re
going to assume we ll always be
inclined to evil. Well let s try to
remind ourselves not to be evil."
"That s when I realised aphorisms
framed in the negative don t work.
A better aphorism might be Be
Good . Don t have an aphorism that
don t be something ."
• Continues on Page B6
How Biz Stone's biggest mistake spawned Twitter
From left to right, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder Biz
Stone and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams pose after Twitter's IPO on
the floor of the New York Stock Exchange last Thursday. AP PHOTO
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