Mike Isaac

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Bilton Twitter Book — Co-Founder Jack Dorsey Almost Went to Facebook (And More!)

What do you do after getting pushed out of the CEO seat of the Internet company you co-founded?

Maybe you take a trip to the beach and leave the worries of Silicon Valley behind for a time.

Or, if you’re Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, perhaps you consider taking a job at your company’s biggest rival: Facebook.

That’s according to “Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal” — the upcoming book by New York Times reporter and columnist Nick Bilton, which recounts the early, turbulent days of the San Francisco microblogging service. Bilton’s account of the company’s short history, which will be published next month, is excerpted in the Times Magazine this week.

As Bilton describes the situation, in 2008, two years after Twitter was first created, Dorsey was still leading the company. But Twitter’s board was unsatisfied with Dorsey’s performance as a CEO up to that point, as Bilton reports, because his time was divided between running the company and chasing his other pursuits, including yoga, fitness and even fashion design. At one point, Williams sat Dorsey down and gave him a harsh ultimatum: “You can either be a dressmaker or the CEO of Twitter,” Williams said to Dorsey. “But you can’t be both.”

Meanwhile, the fast-growing Twitter faced site-wide periods of downtime and serious infrastructure issues, quickly becoming notorious for its “fail whales.”

Finally, the board had had enough of Twitter under Dorsey and, over breakfast at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco, board members Bijan Sabet and Fred Wilson asked him to step down from his role as CEO. They said he would move instead into the role of Twitter board chairman — essentially a position in name only, a vanity title that afforded Dorsey no voting power. While co-founder Evan Williams would assume the CEO position, Dorsey became a “silent board member.”

After his ouster, Dorsey made a phone call to Mark Zuckerberg, who wanted to find a place for him at Facebook. There were a series of meetings over the following weeks, with Dorsey at one point sitting down with Facebook VP Chris Cox to discuss some sort of product-focused role for him at the social giant.

But, despite the obvious drama, the talks never materialized into an actual position, and Dorsey eventually moved on to other projects (including the eventual birth of online payments company Square.)

The dramatic tale is just one of many contentious scenes in Bilton’s book about Twitter’s early days, which are largely characterized by betrayal, infighting and power coups among co-founders and friends. From the excerpt, it seems that the book aims to realign public perceptions of the company’s creators — some of whom are well known, while others have been virtually written out of Twitter’s history.

It is also a founding tale that Twitter will no doubt want to distance itself from, especially as the company steadily moves toward its initial public offering. Twitter publicly disclosed its S-1 registration form, filed confidentially in July, with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week.

Among the other bombshells in the book (and there promise to be many), the Times Magazine excerpt describes a few in great detail, including:

  • The expulsion of one of Twitter’s early co-founders, Noah Glass. According to Bilton’s book, it was Dorsey who wanted Glass out, although Williams delivered the news. While the company’s IPO will turn some founders’ equity into tens of millions of dollars, Glass sold most of his shares early on, and will be left with little in the way of a windfall.
  • Evan Williams’ resignation from his CEO position in 2011 was forced, pushed out by the board (to current CEO Dick Costolo’s benefit) after a behind-the-scenes campaign from Dorsey, who lobbied to have Williams removed.

The book covers Dorsey’s complicated tenure at the company. And, though few of Bilton’s cast of characters escape unscathed, it appears to be a largely unflattering portrait of Dorsey.

Not coincidentally, “Hatching Twitter” lands on shelves on Nov. 5 — just in time for the company’s public market debut.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work