Ashton Kutcher wanted to buy Twitter. So did Microsoft head Steve Ballmer. Even P. Diddy made a play for the social network—but he just wanted a small stake.
New York Times writer Nick Bilton’s new book, Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, tells the story of how a status-updating service that began as a podcasting startup’s side project became a mainstream media company that’s on the verge of being traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Like any good origin story, Twitter’s rise from nothing to one of the world’s preeminent social networks—an online space where news breaks, revolutions unfold, and people document their private woes and food intake—includes backstabbing friends, financial intrigue, and a healthy dose of booze.
We got our hands on the book, which goes on sale Tuesday, and picked ten of the juiciest tidbits Bilton uncovered:
No more drama
Twitter cofounders Ev Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass should’ve put some Mary J. Blige on blast as they built the site—her infinite wisdom might have prevented the constant fighting that almost tore Twitter apart.
The short version of the sordid story: Jack got Noah fired, Ev got Jack fired, Jack came back with a vengeance and got Ev fired, and Biz was so tired of all the BS that he quit. This drama was fueled by the venture capitalists who invested in Twitter and had nothing to lose by pitting the founders against each other.
Twitter's would-be buyers
Before anyone knew what Twitter would become, the company fended off several lowballed acquisition offers. Facebook famously wanted to buy out its competitor, Al Gore made a drunken bid for the network, and it turns out that Yahoo’s startup hunt predated Marissa Mayer’s tenure. The company in June 2007 offered $12 million for Twitter—and told the founders that if they didn’t sell, Yahoo would quickly launch a competing service.
The botched launch
In the summer of 2006, Jack and a few of Twitter’s early employees decided to officially launch the site at a Bay Area rave called the Love Parade. What could go wrong? Everything. The obliterated ravers had no interest in tweeting, alcohol was spilled on electronics, and Jack managed to drunkenly fall to the ground and crack his head open. The launch was a complete failure.
The first celebrity
It’s hard to imagine a time in American history when Kanye West didn’t have a Twitter account, but before Yeezus discovered the power of 140 characters, actress Janina Gavankar was on it. Gavankar was on Showtime’s The L Word when she became the first celebrity to start tweeting in November 2006. Stars eventually flocked to Twitter like narcissistic moths to a flame made of diamonds, but Gavankar can always claim that she was there first.
i'm here with you duh— Janina Gavankar (@Janina) November 18, 2006
The Radiohead Room
In July 2008, flush with VC cash, Twitter moved into larger offices. Dorsey had a brilliant idea: Make one of the offices a Radiohead-themed room that played nothing but Radiohead 24 hours a day. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
A world with Facetweets
Facebook really wanted to buy Twitter—really, really badly. Mark Zuckerberg nearly had his competition in the palm of his hand in 2008 when Twitter’s then-CEO Jack Dorsey was forced to step down, killing the deal. Zuck tried to intervene to keep Dorsey at the helm of Twitter so he could finish the transaction, but there was nothing to be done. Dorsey was out. The dream of Facetweeting was dead.
When Oprah Winfrey tweeted for the first time in 2009, it was kind of a big deal. Hatching Twitter reveals that Oprah’s first tweet was really sent by Twitter’s then-CEO, Ev Williams. Oprah is apparently a complete Luddite when it comes to technology, which leads to Hatching Twitter’s most hilarious moment: when Ev appeared on Oprah’s show to help her send her first tweet, her laptop was specifically marked with color-coded directions, and she still managed to hit delete instead of send. Ev scrambled frantically to fix the situation, as other celebrities were on standby to welcome Oprah to the Twittersphere.
HI TWITTERS . THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY .— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) April 17, 2009
What happened with TweetDeck
Ev wasn’t able to enjoy Twitter’s success in the wake of Oprah’s first tweet for very long. In 2010, a third-party Twitter client called TweetDeck was about to be acquired by UberMedia, which at the time had developed or purchased several Twitter clients (Echofon, Twitroyd) in the hopes of cloning the social network.
Twitter’s board wanted Ev to make a move and buy TweetDeck, but Ev couldn’t decide what to do. That slow decision-making fueled a coup led by Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter. (And Twitter eventually bought TweetDeck.)
Jack is back
Dorsey was forced out of Twitter in 2008, but in a decidedly Shakespearean turn of events, he avenged his betrayal and staged a comeback in 2010. A former punk with blue hair and a nose ring, Dorsey began to think of himself as the second coming of Steve Jobs, taking on his characteristics, donning a uniform not unlike Jobs’s standard of jeans and a black turtleneck, and using the Apple CEO’s quotes as his own. He referred to himself as the “inventor” of Twitter, a descriptor he used in his Twitter bio for years (his bio has since been changed).
Snoop causes chaos
As Twitter began to grow up, shedding its cofounders and their drama and naming an experienced CEO in Dick Costolo, the hijinks of the early days—rave after-parties, fights over girls, late-night drinking—gave way to board meetings and money-making. Then Snoop Dogg arrived one day in 2011 while the suits were away and turned Twitter headquarters into a makeshift concert venue—complete with turntable and weed.
Many, many tweets were sent, videos recorded, and joints smoked by Snoop’s entourage and Twitter employees before a lawyer arrived to break up the party. Costolo was furious. That’s not the kind of company Twitter is anymore. Twitter is serious business, and Hatching Twitter shows just how far the social network has come.
This story, "The 10 most salacious tidbits spilled in 'Hatching Twitter'" was originally published by TechHive.