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Biz Stone shares his Marketing Strategies. With nearly two million followers on Twitter, Biz Stone is one of the most influential voices on the internet. Not only that – he created the micro-blogging medium. As a co-founder of Twitter, Stone has taken the business world by storm over the past few years, helping to create a medium that welcomed user number 500 million into its fold in late February. Half a billion users, all sending out their thoughts, feelings, wants, impressions and views 140 characters at a time. “We founded Twitter on the belief that the open exchange of information will have a positive impact on the world,” said Stone, whose given first name is Christopher (“When I was a little kid, I said ‘Bizerber’ instead of Christopher, and my parents thought that was funny, so they called me Biz”), in an interview with Counselor.

“We wanted to create a medium where people could easily share information with a lot of other people.” Mission accomplished. As a serial internet entrepreneur, Stone has helped to start multiple companies and even recently left Twitter to head
up a new venture called The Obvious – Stone’s greatest hit is now one of the most recognised brands in the world. It took Coca-Cola dozens of years to become a top-of-mind brand. It took Twitter less than five years. In an exclusive interview, Stone shared his beliefs about the future of internet communications and offered insights into his successful leadership and business strategies.

What was your inspiration
behind Twitter?
There were three founders (Stone, plus Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey), so our visions may be a little bit different. For me, I’d been working already for many years on just the idea that the open exchange of information will have a positive impact on the world. We were working on a project called ‘Blogger’ that was one of the first blogging tools, and when SMS came out, I guess SMS was really the inspiration for me because it started to get popular in the United States.

How did that expand into the unique 140-character concept?
I saw this rudimentary tool and I thought, “Could I build something on this system that’s sort of in the line of my work – instead of one to one, it’s one to many?” And that was the beginning. And then Jack said that he’d always been interested in the way cities work. The idea that there’s a lot of people roaming around the city and you’d be able to sort of see what everyone was saying. That began the genesis of it all.

You’ve said you didn’t think you were going to be successful with Twitter. What was the first indication that you were wrong about that?
Well, at first we were just having fun with it and we loved it. Everyone was telling us it was just a total waste of time and it was not useful. That didn’t matter to us. We didn’t even really notice it because we were having so much fun with it.

How did you overcome the naysayers?
The first indication that we were onto something came at the South by Southwest conference in 2006. It happens every year in Austin; it’s a music and film festival, but just before that, a bunch of dorks go there and talk about interactive media and the internet. There were enough people on our system by that point, and we were able to sort of see it in action during the conferences. The one thing that basically happened was, there was a guy at the bar and he said, “This bar’s too crowded and loud, and I want to be able to network with others, so let’s head over to this other bar,” and he sent out a tweet. In the eight minutes it took him to walk to that bar, it had filled to capacity with a line out the door. So his plan totally backfired, but it made me realise that he had done something that I think had never been done: he organised a group of people on the fly to move together as one to a specific location, almost as if we suddenly had the flocking ability of birds moving around an object in flight. I couldn’t think of any kind of technology that humans had access to that allowed them to do that so simply.

The “aha” moment?
Definitely. That was a real trigger, and we realised that we had stumbled into a new form of communication that could be very important. That was a party, but what if it had been a disaster or something serious?


Mistakes tend to be pretty routine for entrepreneurs. What are some mistakes you’ve made in business that you learned from?
There were mistakes before, big mistakes before Twitter, for sure. I started a company in 1999, and my biggest mistake there was when the culture that we created originally started to go awry, I quit. What I should have done was worked harder to change that culture into the one I wanted to see us evolve. So that was a mistake.

How about with Twitter?
Two mistakes. The first was that we didn’t assume we would be successful, so when we were, we weren’t ready for it. The second mistake is that we just didn’t communicate enough. We thought we did, but the trick is you need to just over communicate to the point of absurdity if you really want to know what’s going on with each other and have a connection to the outside world, customers, investors etc. You really just have to go crazy doing it.

You had said that at one of the first businesses you worked for, you didn’t like the culture. What type of culture do you like to promote in your workplaces?
I like it to be fun, and I like it to be very team-oriented. I like people to have autonomy. I like it to be really creative, and I like people to be very open to new ideas.

I don’t like people to say “no” right away to anything. I want them to assume that their co-workers are all smart and that they all have good intentions, and just because you don’t know someone very well doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. It’s human nature to have a kind of anxiety toward people you don’t know well. But I think we need to force ourselves to assume that everyone we work with went through the same rigorous hiring schedule and agenda that you did, and you have to assume everyone’s smart and has good intentions.

How do you make sure you break down those barriers?
Getting back to that first company, I just wanted to create a very creative engineering culture, and what happened was that it started turning into a very typical kind of sales-y, consultancy culture. I knew that had to come at some point, but not at the expense of the culture that we had created for the first
year. And I corrected that at Twitter. At Twitter, we have very fast-growing sales culture, but employees are also open to new crazy ideas and a lot of fun. So it can be done. You have to pay attention to it or not, so it can happen and it can turn into something bad, or you can take a hand in it early and guide it towards something wonderful.

What’s one of the most fun things you’ve done in the office?
We have a lot of fun in the office, but we’ve never been the typical “let’s play football” type of office. We got a few big arcade games and a bunch of Xbox type things, and they just sat there and collected dust. It turns out people really have the most fun when they are super-happily engaged in their ideas. We’ve taken the whole Is there a mission that you try to run your business with? There are a lot of them, but I think the chief one for me is that humour really is a powerful mechanism for delivering truth. It’s a great leadership tool. It’s a great way to break the ice. It’s a great way to get people to tell you what they’re really thinking without it feeling very formal and scary. And so I encourage people to have fun and to joke around. Even if you’re having an idea session, I encourage people to say something that just makes absolutely no sense.

You’ve obviously helped to shape what the internet looks like today, so what do you envision the blogosphere looking like in two years? I think the blogosphere is changing fundamentally. The idea of a blog now – I think you can expand that definition. I think you could say social network pages – really, any kind of page created on the internet from a text message or a tweet or an Instagram, or really anything – suddenly becomes part of the blogosphere. So, I guess the answer to that question is I not only see the blogosphere expanding at a rapid rate, but becoming much more varied. It’ll be bigger and more interesting, and we’ll be able to get a lot more out of it because of that

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