Biz Stone: From His Mom's Basement To Cofounding Twitter

Apr 1 2014, 4:33pm CDT | by

Biz Stone: From His Mom's Basement To Cofounding Twitter
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

I recently caught up with Biz Stone, who released his first book today called Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind. It’s part memoir and part entrepreneurship advice book. Stone has been there and done that and spills out his big mistakes, success milestones and advice to upcoming entrepreneurs. For the past decade, Stone has been developing large scale projects that facilitate the open exchange of information. He is the cofounder of Twitter, Inc and advisor to several technology startups. Recruited by Google in the early 2000′s, Stone met and collaborated with Evan Williams–the pair would later exit the search company to work on their own startup. Twitter was founded in 2007. Stone has been recognized by Time Magazine as one of the most influential persons in the world. His latest venture, Jelly. which has created a new way to search with photos, maps, friends, and more through a mobile application. You can follow Stone on Twitter @biz.

In the following interview, he talks about his early struggles, how he learned to manufacture his own opportunities, his relationship with the other Twitter co-founders, the importance of constraint when it comes to creativity, and why you should be authentic on Twitter.

Dan Schawbel: You talk about your struggle with money and living with your parents early on in your career. Do you think this helped fuel your entrepreneurial spirit?

Biz Stone: Having to live in your Mom’s basement in your 20′s is definitely a strong motivator to get something else going on in your life but I think it’s different from the entrepreneurial spirit. The urge to make something new, to build a team around it, momentum around it—that comes from a different place. My spirit is provoked by a urge to create and collaborate.

Schawbel: One of the main points you make throughout the book is that you can actually manufacture your own opportunities. Can you explain that?

Stone: People often refer to the dictionary definition of opportunity, “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.” What I’m suggesting througout the book with real world examples is that we don’t have to wait around for opportunity. When the circumstances themselves are created by you, then you are in a unique position to take advantage. That’s what I mean by opportunity can be manufactured.

Schawbel: You have a very strong relationship with your Twitter co-founders. Can you describe their strengths, how your strengths mesh with theirs and some of the obstacles you faced while working together?

Stone: I tend to stay closely connected with people who constantly inspire me, teach me things, and help me grow. Both Jack and Ev continue to help me grow into a better person in various ways. Jack is extremely supportive of my current startup, Jelly. An area where I have traditionally been both weak and strong is leadership. I have a theory that humor is one of the best delivery mechanisms of truth but very often I lean on humor too much.

My frequent talks with Jack almost amount to executive coaching as well as just catching up and having fun. Ev has always been supportive of my “head in the clouds” approach to coming up with new ideas—I’d say he gives me more patience than I deserve. Ev serves as a grounding influence for me. We don’t just meet personally to catch up, we get our wives and children together. These days Ev’s grounding influence doesn’t just help me in my business life, but in fatherhood as well.

Schawbel: In chapter four you say that “constraint inspires creativity.” What gave you that idea and do you think limiting messages to 140 characters was the core reason why Twitter took off?

Stone: The power of constraint and it’s ability to inspire creativity occurred to me when I was very young. I found myself struggling to come up with something to draw when presented with a full box of crayons and a blank sheet of paper. I would ask someone to tell me what to draw and use only one color and every time, that did the trick—even if I ended up drawing something other than what they had suggested, it got me going.

The limit of 140 characters had a big impact on helping Twitter succeed because it meant that tweets could be universally consumed and composed on any computer, any smartphone, and any low-end feature phone. The limit is also less intimidating—the barrier to entry is lower.

Schawbel: One of the big challenges for Twitter users today (versus when it started) is standing out in an endless pool of tweets. What are your recommendations for people on how to stand out on Twitter?

Stone: Contrary to popular belief, I’m not an expert on how best to stand out on any social media platform. All the advice I can give is to say that when you use these services with authenticity, meaning, and have a little fun, you’re doing it right. Whether or not you stand out has more to do with your own personality than any secret recipe or technique.

Dan Schawbel is a speaker and best-selling author. Subscribe to his newsletter. 

Source: Forbes Business


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