I have finished reading the Twitter founding story. I remember when I signed up for Twitter in April 2007 and instantly fell in love. I loved the concept of ‘blogging via SMS’ and did it using my Palm Treo at the time.
- Twitter was born because Odeo — a podcasting company — has failed and needed a new product. One reason why Odeo failed was because none of the founders and employees really used it. They weren’t really passionate about podcasting. Once they started with Twitter, everybody in the team immediately became a power user. This is an important principle: Build something for yourself. Eat your own dogfood. Watch out for the warning sign: If not even you are using your own product, this is not good.
- The first version of Twitter was built in two weeks.
- Odeo and Twitter were a pretty large mess internally. Lots of anarchy, no structure, weak leadership, lots of conflict, LOTS of outages (remember the Fail Whale?). I am a believer that companies die because of internal problems, not because of competition or external things. So I’m glad that Twitter managed to survive somehow, as it’s a very important service.
- Some stories — especially descriptions of the behaviour of some involved people — were pretty irritating and scary. The author claims to have done a thorough research. As I don’t know the people personally and haven’t been there myself, I will not comment on those stories. The bottom line is: we are all human beings, and we all have our flaws. Startups are no different. You find ugly stuff there, as everywhere else. Be prepared for conflict, fights, broken friendships, struggle for power, and other ugly stuff.
- For me the key success factor of Twitter was simplicity, usability, convenience and access. From the beginning I have used it as a microblog, and very soon it was my favourite way of blogging. The SMS part was key in the beginning. It was realtime, mobile communication in the pre-smartphone era. One time I tweeted that I was on my way to Munich, and suddenly a friend who lived near Berlin contacted me that he was in Munich as well. So we are able to meet up. Such experiences showed me the power and value of Twitter.
- Twitter had no business model for the first 3 years. Zero revenues. At the same time they had to pay tens and later hundreds of thousands of dollars per month for SMSes alone. Not very cool. I wonder whether it is possible to build a service like Twitter or Facebook and from the beginning be cashflow positive with a sustainable business model. I believe that some sort of Freemium or Subscription business model should be possible. When WordPress.com started, people were selling subdomain names (e.g. cars.wordpress.com) on eBay for $100. WordPress.com could have sold those premium names. The same with Twitter. They could have sold 1/2/3/4/5-character user names. Or offer 10/20/30 SMS’s for free per month and if you wanted more you would have to pay. I easily would have paid $5 or $10 per month like I do for other services. I wonder whether this is possible. (My gut feelings say: Hell yes!!!). This lack of revenue generated huge pressure later on, which probably could have been avoided.
- The goal of the current management team is to make Twitter a $100b company. Currently Twitter has a market cap of $31b.
- The turning point for Twitter was the SXSW conference in 2007. They decided to take advantage of the conference by installing plasma screens with Twitter feeds and instructions of how to sign up. With that the critical mass was reached, press started to get obsessed by this new phenomenon and Twitter started to grow like crazy. In the first 6 months or so they only attracted a couple thousand users. So it didn’t take off immediately. However, the founders and team were already addicted and were using the service daily. This probably kept them going through the relative slow start. Again, it comes down to: Build something users want. Build something for yourself.
- Unfortunately the book focused very strongly on the fights and personal conflicts. I would have wished to learn more about the product and the company itself, what the milestones were etc. Nevertheless a very interesting book about a product that I use and love.
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