October 12, 2010
Last night Twitter co-founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone sat down for a “burning” fireside chat with BusinessWeek senior reporter Brad Stone in the gorgeous Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, CA – just a hop & a skip away from Twitter HQ. The focus of the event, organized by The Commonwealth Club’s Inforum SF division, was to “go beyond 140 characters with the Twitter founders,” and delve into Twitter’s true tail from its founding to what’s coming next. While no big Twitter secrets were revealed, attendees did hear quite an exciting and insightful conversation that touched upon the issues behind creating a global information hub and world-wide phenomenon. For all of our readers at TECH cocktail, we decided to pull out the top entrepreneurial tips from the evening.
1. Creating an essential and adoptable product:
When determining what product you are going to build, Ev notes that the key is to create “something for everyone.” Like Twitter, your product needs to be easy to use and share. Biz added that your product must have a native system that is relevant to your users, and one that is “not annoying and non-traditional.” Plus, both noted that going mobile is a must a these days!
2. How constraints can help:
There are a good number of discussions about why Twitter limits users to 140 characters. Twitter was created to make a mobile-friendly messaging system. Thus, as a result of the 160 character text limit imposed by SMS, Twitter determined that limiting their posts to 140 characters would be a good way to ensure that the post’s author could have up to 20 characters left for their name.
What this character limit ended up doing was ensuring that those who published kept their messages short and concise. In doing so, Twitter unleashed panic among those who had big messages to share, and thereby encouraged a level of higher thinking that resulted in succinct posts. Biz cited two great examples to illustrate his point of how:
“constraint can inspire creativity:”
- When Steve Spielberg originally thought about the movie JAWS he wanted the audience to see inside the live shark’s mouth. However because of the danger level, Spielberg was forced to rethink his approach and then created the famed shark attack from the perspective of the shark.
- Conan O’Brien’s Twitter team recently said that because of the text limit, they find that their jokes end up being more to the point and thereby funnier and appreciated more by the public.
3. The importance of team mechanics:
Recently, Ev stepped down as the CEO of Twitter and passed the title on to former COO Dick Costolo. When asked about this change, Ev noted that what’s important is focusing on your strengths and passion when determining where you fit in the organization. When Twitter began, Ev was the co-founder and a board member. Over time he recognized that he wanted a larger role in the organization and became CEO. As the company grew, Ev’s product and strategy strengths weren’t being utilized as much as they could be because he had to focus more on the demands of the CEO role. Thus, over time, Ev recognized that it would be better for him and the company if he stepped down as CEO and focused more on the product. As is the case with Biz, who began as the creative director (creating the infamous Fail Whale and some kitty pages), and then brought in another colleague to help manage the growing company’s creative staff so that he could focus on helping build the brand’s culture and corporate social innovation division. The key point is to recognize that as your organization grows and its needs change, you must stay aware of the team’s various skill sets and how they can best help the company at each stage of the game.
4. Considerations for monetization:
Ev and Biz did not focus on monetization when creating Twitter, instead they focused on creating a useful product. Twitter wasn’t unsure about how to make money, they just wanted to create the best product they could and then see what happened. As Ev notes, when it comes to monetization, “there are lots of models and it takes experimentation and interaction to see what works.”
“If you build something that people value, something that is unique, and ahead of the others, then you will make money.” – Ev
5. On changing the world, one entrepreneur at a time:
With Twitter’s Corporate Social Innovation department, Ev and Biz ensure that they are making a substantial global impact through their partnership with Room to Read (as Biz likes to say, “if you can’t read, you can’t tweet.”). Ev suggests that all entrepreneurs should “start with yourself, then think big.” Biz wants all to:
“work to connect more people. Walk in their shoes and empathize, [and remember that] we’re all in this together.”
Throughout their conversation, what clearly came through was their belief that today’s businesses should focus on making a difference in the world. As Biz says, “Humanity is the agent of change, and we’re here to foster it.” Go out and create a product that will contribute to the community – an aspirational sentiment that may resonate with many entrepreneurs.
One final quote from the event that cannot go unhighlighted, was by Ev stating that like Facebook’s announcement, Twitter “will get to 1 billion members, just not the same members as Facebook.”
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