October 14, 2012
Biz Stone started his General Session talk today by saying that he wanted “to tell a bunch of stories.” And for the next 30 minutes, Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, shared anecdotes from his life and key takeaways with attendees of the PRSA 2012 International Conference in San Francisco.
Casually dressed in a black sweater, jeans and sneakers, Stone discussed attending high school in his native Wellesley, Mass., where he wanted to play sports. However, Stone didn’t care for any of the sports that the school offered. After doing some research, he asked the school’s administration if he could start a lacrosse team. Despite the faculty’s incredulous response, Stone made it happen, and he eventually excelled in the sport.
“I got exactly what I wanted, which was to get on a sports team,” he said. “The big takeaway for me: Opportunity can be manufactured. This was a key lesson learned for me.”
Stone later dropped out of college at the University of Massachusetts to design book covers at Little, Brown publishing in Boston. There, he learned another important lesson: Creativity is a renewable resource.
“No matter what, there is always another jacket design I can try if sales and editorial didn’t like this one,” he said. “For me, the goal was create an award-winning design for designers that also solves what the sales and editorial team wanted.”
When the company relocated to New York, Stone decided to go West, where, in 1999, he became of creative director of blogging startup Xanga, a role that eventually led him to Google, where he teamed with Evan Williams — one of the other founders of Twitter along with Jack Dorsey.
After Williams left Google, Stone joined him at Odeo, a podcasting company. Eventually, the passion for podcasting waned, and Williams and Stone struggled with how to recreate the business. This dilemma led to another lesson from Stone: “You really have to be emotionally invested in your company in order for it to succeed.”
While a core team kept Odeo operational, employees teamed up to brainstorm other possible business ventures. Stone paired with Dorsey, an engineer, and together, they built a prototype of Twitter in two weeks.
“We showed it to our colleagues and they were underwhelmed,” Stone recalled to some laughter from the audience. “They thought it was lame. That didn’t stop us. We were excited about our potential.”
In 2009, Time magazine named Stone one of the “Most Influential People in the World” for Twitter’s role in bringing vital, real-time information to millions of people worldwide and helping raise awareness of social issues and natural disasters.
“If we were to be a triumph, then we were not just to be a triumph of technology, Twitter was going to be a triumphant of humanity,” Stone said. “It didn’t matter how many servers [we had] … it only mattered that people were basically good … if you give them the right tools, they’ll prove it to you every day. That’s what got us up every morning to work on Twitter — that it wasn’t about us, it was about people doing amazing things around the world.”
Last year, Stone co-founded The Obvious Corporation, which focuses on building systems that help people work together to improve the world.
“Having access to unlimited information is not necessarily going to make us smarter or allow us to do anything more important,” he said. “What we have to do is understand that information. Time on the Web needs to be spent looking at relevant information that can help us make better choices and do more important things.”
With Obvious, he wants to help redefine the success metrics of capitalism to include the following three elements:
“The new definition of success will be these three things. Or at least we should aspire to these things,” Stone said. “If we do that, we’re not just going to have a better world to live in, but we’re all going to have more fun. And work isn’t going to be work — it’s going to be fun.” — John Elsasser
Biz Stone’s life lessons