An Interview With Twitter's Forgotten Founder,
Apr. 13, 2011 http://www.businessinsider.com/twitter-cofounder-noah-glass-2011-4#ixzz1JXqovW4h
Noah Glass is the Twitter cofounder you've never heard of.
He was pushed out of the company way back
Before that he was the cofounder of a
startup called Odeo. He had an investor who
would become cofounder and CEO, Ev Williams.
Odeo was supposed to be a podcasting
platform. But then Apple launched iTunes and everyone
at Odeo panicked.
Williams told everyone: come up with
something for us to do next!
Along with Jack Dorsey and a
developer named Florian Webber, Glass pitched
something called Twitter. Glass came
up with the name. Williams liked it enough to
put Glass in charge. The product became Glass's
obsession. He told Williams he wanted to spin
it out of Odeo as its own company.
But by the summer of 2006, Williams was
tired of Odeo. He bought it and its
assets, including Twitter back from
Odeo investors. He renamed the company Obvious. Then he
fired Noah Glass.
tell this untold version of Twitter's history
in greater detail in a story you can read by
Writing that story, we managed to finally
get a hold of Glass, who had not updated his
Twitter, YouTube, or blog
accounts in almost two years. Friends thought
he had moved to Alaska and dropped out of
The conversation we had with Glass touched
on what it feels like to be left out of
history, how hard it is to be "betrayed"
by your friends, and whether Ev Williams lied
to Odeo investors about Twitter's numbers. It
went like this
BUSINESS INSIDER: Tell me
if I'm wrong. It seems like you are the
Twitter cofounder that no one talks about. Is
NOAH GLASS: Well, yeah.
I was not in the story, which in some ways
was difficult to deal with in the beginning,
since it was a massive labor of love and a
massive labor to get it created. To create
the thing, to bring it into the world. It was
a ton of effort and a ton of energy.
To not be included in the story was hard
to swallow at first, but when I realized what
was happening to the product, this thing I
helped create, the thing's not about me. The
thing's about itself. Twitter is a phenomenon
and a massively beneficial tool and it's
incredibly useful and it helps a lot of
people. I realized the story's not about me.
BI: Tell me a little bit
about the beginning of 2006 and how this
thing got going.
NG: [Odeo] was in turmoil,
honestly. Investors were not really happy
with what was going on. Ev, who was CEO, was
not really happy with the company with growth
and the direction it was going. We were sort
of looking for something else. We were
looking for a backup plan. We had a certain
amount of money and we had a team in place.
We just started experimenting with stuff.
I was looking at stuff like how people
were communicating on MySpace and other
social networking things and seeing how
people were trying to communicate and seeing
how systems weren't really designed to do
what people were doing with them. But people
were trying to communicate in a certain kind
of way. Non-synchronous. Non-realtime
communication. Almost like building on the
Jack [Dorsey] was someone who was one of
the stars of the company and I got the
impression he was unhappy with what he was
working on. He was doing a lot of cleanup
work on Odeo. He and I had become pretty
close friends and were spending time together.
He started talking to me about this idea
of status and how he was really interested in
status. He developed this bicycle messenger
status system in the past. I was trying to
figure out what it was he found compelling
about it. At the same time, we were looking
at 'groups' models and how groups were formed
and put a couple things together to look at
this idea of status and to look at this idea
of grouping and it sort of hit me - the idea
for this product. This thing that would be
called Twitter, what it would look like. This
ad hoc grouping mechanism with non-realtime
status updates all based on mobile phones.
There was a moment when I was sitting with
Jack and I said, "Oh, I do see how this
could really come together to make something
really compelling." We were sitting on
Mission St. in the car in the rain. We were
going out and I was dropping him off and
having this conversation. There was a moment
where it all fit together for me.
We went back to Odeo and put together a
team. A very separate working team, mostly it
was myself, Jack, and Florian [Webber], a
contractor. [Florian] was working from
Germany at the time. Have you talked to
Florian at all?
BI: I've tried to reach him
but he's difficult to reach.
NG: I haven't spoken with
him in 5 years. He has his own ideas about
how life works. He's an amazing guy and a
major part of it also.
That's a thing I want to reiterate - you're
trying to look for the full story. Some
people have gotten credit, some people haven't.
The reality is it was a group effort. There
were lots of people putting ideas into and it
couldn't have been done without this group of
people. Whether or not there's individuals
who get credit or don't get credit, that may
be totally irrelevant. It was a collaboration.
And it was almost a collaboration that came
out of necessity.
In a lot of ways, we needed something. We
felt a definite pressure. I felt like in two
months I'd have nothing to take on. I had no
idea what I was going to be doing. I was
looking for something else and I wanted to
keep the team together.
I put together a barebones team and kept
it really separate and I ran it by Ev and the
investors. I did all I could to keep it
separate because there was lots of stuff
going on with Odeo. Trying to make it better,
trying to sell it. And lots of distractions.
It was really difficult. Here I was inside of
a sinking ship trying to launch a rocketship
out of it. It was a very tumultuous, scary,
and nervous time.
BI: I heard from one of Odeo's
investors that you approached people at one
point to say, "Hey, let me spin this
thing off and start a company called Twitter."
Is that true?
NG: Yeah. That's totally
true. And that's probably part of the reason
why I'm no longer involved with it. I felt
like Odeo was crashing around me and I didn't
want Twitter to be.
We had done a soft launch of it. I kept it
really secret. I didn't want anyone to know
what we were working on as we were setting up
all the technical aspects of it.
Orginally, it was all running on my laptop
on my desk. An IBM Thinkpad. Using a
Verizon wireless card.
It was right there on my desk. I could just
pick it up and take it anywhere in the world.
That was a really fun time.
BI: That's when you
wanted to spin Twitter off from Odeo?
NG: That was the plan -
take this thing and spin it off. At that time,
even in the very early stages, I had this
strange feeling that I had never had before -
that this was something big. I felt it from
the onset. People must have thought I was a
crazy person because of the way I treated it.
That may have been detrimental. I really felt
strongly, more strongly than I felt about
anything in the past and since then
that this is something massive sitting right
here in front of us. All it needs is time to
I actually had done all the paperwork and
was ready to roll. It was ready to go. That's
not the way it worked out.
BI: I asked an investor
"why did Evan end up running the company
and not you?" The person basically said
Ev had the money.
NG: Yeah, he had the power.
Looking back, it seems to be the right thing
now. It worked out, right? At the time, it
didn't feel like it.
Maybe I would have
done things slightly differently and that was
one of the things Ev and I had a disagreement
on early on, and I told him I would do things
This may be cliched to say, but when you
speak truth to power, the ramifications can
go a lot of different ways. Evan Williams is a
powerhouse. Did you talk to him at all?
BI: I've tried to. He doesn't
really want to talk.
NG:: He can talk to who he
wants to now. He's the creator of Blogger, he's a
massively influential person behind the
blogging thing. He definitely has some
amazing skills. What he did with Twitter
definitely resulted in growth that was
I spent a lot of time early on building a
mechanism that would facilitate growth that
we saw and facilitate sharing like what we
see happening now. Initially, the product was
growing because of the social aspect between
people. The idea that police departments or
fire departments are using it to give updates
on the city, that was something we built into
it in the very beginning as a concept. A lot
of that stuff was hashed out early on.
BI: You said you felt almost
immediately that Twitter could go somewhere
and be powerful. When do you think Evan sort
of saw that?
NG: I don't know if he sees
it now, honestly. He's no longer the CEO.
That's probably indicative. I think the way
he works, and the way everyone works, is to
validate it within your community. He saw his
friends grabbing on to it early on and
thought, "Oh, this is something."
Whether he thought it was something big, I
never really got that indication.
BI: Do you think he saw
something valuable in Twitter before he
bought it back from investors?
NG: Yes. Of course he did.
Ev is very shrewd. He's a very shrewd
businessman, and he's had a lot of practice.
He's had lots of failures in the past. He's
had some big failures in the past. That's his
business - to isolate and spot value where it
There's a difference between between
fanatical - and I hate to say that I was
fanatical - but to be extremely passionate
like I am or being very super rational and
calculated like he is. Evan and I are two
different polar opposites. I am very
passionate about certain things and I will
get passionate about certain things I believe
in. I'll speak passionately and I'll wave my
arms and I'll jump up and down and I'll use
energy to prove my point or create momentum
around an idea. Whereas he'll sit down, think
about it, write it down, walk away. He'll
write a paper on it, come back and say,
"This is my opinion." He's very
BI: Do you feel like he
slow-played Odeo's investors in any way? Let
me read you something he sent to the
investors. This is September 2006.
way, Twitter, which you may have read about,
is one of the pieces of value that I see in
Odeo, but it's much too early to tell what's
there. Almost two months after launch,
Twitter has less than 5,000 registered users.
I will continue to invest in Twitter, but it's
hard to say it justifies the investment
venture Odeo certainly holds, especially
since we're in a different market altogether."
He's downplaying Twitter in that letter.
Do you think he was really that pessimistic
about its chances?
NG: I don't think I want to
comment on that. You understand why? You
understand the potential implication of what
BI: I do.
NG: Of course you do. I don't
BI: I think it's important
to explore that issue.
NG: You can. Go ahead. I don't
know what that would mean for me. Can I ask
NG: You feel as though - you've
spoken to investors who have some sort of
unease about this thing?
BI: Here's what I've
encountered amongst Odeo investors.
There's angel investors who were just sort
of friends of Ev's and maybe Ariel Poler and
friends of George Zachary who just put money
in, and they all feel sort of dumb. They all
feel like, "Oh, my bad. I didn't press
hard enough to find out what the Twitter
Other ones feel philosophical about it and
wish Ev had been a little more forthcoming.
And then one or two will ask a question:
"Did Evan see numbers that showed people
were very engaged with this product in a way
that he hid and did he recap the company in
order to seize a product he saw would be
valuable? Did he? I don't know."
That's what they'll say.
NG: In some ways I
definitely feel that there is something to
your story. To that angle of the story.
[But] I have to tell you that Ev wasn't
happy for a long time. He wasn't happy with
the structure before Twitter even happened.
He was unhappy with the structure of Odeo. He
was unhappy with the relationships with
Think about it - he had the money. He had
the power. They didn't really do anything. In
the board meeting we would basically tell
them what was happening. They'd say yes, no,
offer whatever tidbits of advice. He didn't
feel as though he needed that structure
anymore. He didn't want it. He was trying to
find ways to get out of it for a while. For a
few months, six months before.
Quite honestly, he didn't want to be CEO
of Twitter. I wanted to be CEO of Twitter.
In a lot of ways, he never wanted to be there.
The whole time.
In that letter he sent to the investors,
he's not lying. He didn't lie about anything.
He said, "This is what I'm doing. I'm
going to invest in it." Which is a
pretty big statement. Whether or not he felt
it was going to be a massive thing, he felt
it was going to be something.
I think he wanted to set up an incubator
company at the time. Obvious was supposed
to be something different than what it is
today. Obvious was supposed to be this
umbrella company where they had multiple
projects. Like an incubator. And he stopped
until Twitter became one of those things.
It wasn't something where he saw it was
going to be massive and needed to devalue
BI: So Ev didn't
intentionally downplay Odeo's assets when he
bought the company back from his investors?
NG: Without getting
inside of his head, you'll never know. There's
a lot of different ways of looking at it too.
He was a nice guy. Was he doing anyone a
favor? Was he really doing favors? Hard to
say. Was it a calculated move? Definitely.
Was there lots of thought put into it?
Definitely. He definitely made a lot of money.
That was a phenomenal investment. He got a
BI: When Ev stepped down
from the CEO position last Fall, the New York Times
did a big story on him. They had this one
quote in the story, not a quote of his, but
one of those weird things when they say
someone says something. They say, "Mr.
Williams says that all successful
businesspeople make enemies along the way."
NG: That's true. Ev had lots
of enemies at Blogger before we
even started Odeo. A lot of them come from
necessity. They come from ego too, of course.
He had to shut down the company. At Blogger
he had to let everybody go. Then they got
bought by Google, and that
doesn't make anyone happy. The people he had
to let go right before this massive thing
BI: Were there signs in the
summer of 2006 that Twitter, even if it was
small, that engagement was strong?
NG: It was highly, highly
compelling. Highly engaging. I'd been testing,
doing the shortcode, writing up the
description of what it was. It had to be
approved by our gateway provider for our
shortcode. I don't know how many users we had
at the time, but it was relatively small. The
people who run the SMS gateway were like,
"This thing is the best thing I've seen.
The best thing I've seen using SMS in this
way." They were doing thousands of
different SMS applications at the time.
There were definitely indicators. It was
super compelling, super engaging. Anyone who
was using it at the time realized it was
something different, something special.
I pitched it at a board meeting. One of
the very last board meetings, I think. I don't
know if the other guys got it. They kind of
got it. But I don't know if they fully got it.
They saw it as a distraction.
Unless you sort of beat them over the head
with it, they were never going to see the
value in it. They saw it as a distraction
from what they had invested in. They had
invested in Odeo, and here I was telling them
this thing is great, this is where we should
be going. They'd say, "What about Odeo?"
BI: The other day I
listened to Biz give an interview on Howard
Stern, and Howard Stern asked how Twitter was
founded. The answer he gave made me say,
"That's not reality at all." Unless
13 or whatever people I've talked to...What
do you think when you hear that stuff? How do
you deal with it?
NG: I try not to listen.
Honestly. For the past few years. I try not
to listen. I moved to Los Angeles two years
ago just to get away from it, to get away
from the noise. Because I couldn't move on.
There was a time I approached them. I
approached Jack and Ev and said, "I want
to be included in the story. I want some
credit." I looked at emails and some
documentation and said, "These things
should be acknowledged. I should be
acknowledged as a co-creator."
I have mixed emotions, of course.
In one way, the story is not told. I think
even Oprah asked [Biz] where the name came
from, and I came up with the name. I spent a
bunch of time thinking about it, what name
worked, and that became the name.
There's a creation myth that everyone
tells. Everyone is the hero of their own
creation myth because they were there. They
were in the limelight. They got to tell the
There's truth in their story, of course.
There's some truth in every story.
I didn't create Twitter on my own. It came
out of conversations. I do know that without
me, Twitter wouldn't exist. In a huge way.
But the same is true without Jack. And to
some degree it's true without Ev. Ev was
BI: What about Biz?
NG: Biz was involved more
than Ev. Ev wasn't involved at all for the
creation and launching of it. He'd come in
and we'd talk occasionally. I think during a
lot of the time he was working on the idea of
buying back Odeo. I was working on Twitter,
and very intensely.
Biz got a lot of credit after writing a
document describing what we were working on.
He was working on a lot of other things too.
I asked if he would write it because I needed
the documentation for the lawyer. I needed
something for the lawyer in order to describe
the company I wanted to create around Twitter.
He wrote the document for me and got a lot of
credit, but I told him to write it and what
to write. Have you met Biz? Have you talked
Biz is a good guy.
Biz is energetic and
enthusiastic about stuff. That's why he's in
all the media. That's why he does what he
does. He's a personality.
BI: Did you walk away with
equity in Obvious? How did that work out?
NG: I didn't walk away with
anything initially. At a later time I
received a certain amount of equity in
Twitter. Am I okay? I don't really want to
comment on whether I'm okay or how well I did.
I came away with something. If I stayed, if
it would have gone the other way, I would
have come away with a lot lot more. I didn't
come away with zero. I received a small
amount of cash during the buyback. A very
small amount for my involvement and
shareholdings in Odeo. Everyone else got
BI: What happened after you
left Odeo? How did you feel?
NG: I'm sure you get this
impression from the story and I've never
really said this before - I did feel betrayed.
I felt betrayed by my friends, by my company,
by these people around me I trusted and that
I had worked hard to create something with.
Afterwards, I was a little shellshocked. I
was like, "Wait...what's the value in
building these relationships if this is the
So I spent a lot of time by myself. And
working on things alone.
I worked on a game for a while. It didn't
really come out the way I wanted it to.
I moved to Los Angeles to work on
something totally different. It was an
alternative energy system that I had in mind.
I built a prototype for that. It just didn't
function the way I thought it was going to
I've been working on projects that could
be something big if they get fleshed out.
Moving back to San Francisco is sort of a
step in being involved in collaboration again.
It's something I didn't necessarily want to
do because of what had transpired. Because of
the story you're writing. Collaboration on
something where everyone else gets all the
credit and all the glory and fame is
frustrating. It can be a frustrating
BI: That's an understatement.
NG: To say the very least
about that, right?
It kind of turned me off from
collaboration for a while which is something
I really enjoyed. Being back in San Francisco,
it's a very collaborative city. I walk my dog
to the park now and I'm talking about some
cool application with some random person. It
has a cool energy to it that I haven't felt
in a while.
It feels good. I'm back here. Right now I'm
looking around, sort of looking outside of
myself now. Looking at other ideas, other
things. Seeing if I can help other people
work on things. Seeing what the post-Twitter
environment looks like now.
BI: What do you think of
Twitter right now?
NG: I feel like Twitter has
something at its core that's valuable. It's
relatively obvious to those who use it, those
who experience it.
It needs to grow. It's needed to grow a
lot. I think they tried a lot of things in
the past few years that weren't necessarily
the right things. I think its real potential
still hasn't been revealed yet.
It needs someone who's not just mesmerized
by its sparkliness, but can see it as a
product. Who can look at how people are
actually using it and how people want to use
Whoever's there now needs to reinvestigate
the product: how it's being used, and what it's
core functionality is. Because there are
still people out there who don't get it. How
can something be so popular and widely
discussed and visible, and yet people aren't
understanding it? It's not overly complicated.
It's not. It's super-simple. That's the thing
that someone needs to address. Those core
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/twitter-cofounder-noah-glass-2011-4?page=3#ixzz1JXq3uPbS