Twitter co-founder Biz Stone uses Google as a template

Co-founder of the micro-blogging service Biz Stone tells Media Week why he wants to build value before concentrating on generating profit

Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter
Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter

Twitter co-founder and entrepreneur Biz Stone certainly knows a good idea when he sees one. At the age of 35, the ex-Google employee has launched two successful businesses and the self-made millionaire could be lining his pockets with a share of a further $700m, if rumours of Twitter being sold to Apple are to be believed.

While the industry might be poised for a Twitter takeover by either Google, Apple, Facebook or Microsoft, Stone says he and co-founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey have no immediate plans to sell. He does, however, confess they have a responsibility to investors and board members to talk to interested parties.

He says: "We're really optimistic about becoming a successful profitable independent company and that's something we really want to see through. We have a responsibility to our investors to talk to people when necessary, but our investors feel the same way we do. There are no immediate plans to sell."

Love it, hate it or not really understand it, what's clear is that the microblogging messaging site has taken the world by storm, with an estimated 14 million unique users every month, according to web analytics firm Compete.com.

However, the Twitter fairytale could be coming to a crashing end, according to research by Nielsen Online, which suggests more than 60% of Twitter users stop using the social networking site one month after signing up for the service.

Stone is looking into the statistics, but is unperturbed by the research, which does not take into account the service's iPhone application or the TweetDeck desktop feed tool, which gets "twice the amount of traffic" than the core web site. However, Stone says his team has noticed "there's a gap in time between when users first sign up and when they become more engaged".

Although Twitter began in 2006, Stone appears to have found global stardom overnight, with US president Barack Obama and film and TV stars Ashton Kutcher and Oprah Winfrey among his followers on the site.

Even after being named one of the top 100 most influential people in Time magazine last month, alongside his co-founders, Stone seems unfazed and relaxed about his high-profile status. He is more concerned with using his prolific profile to build Twitter into an ethical company.

Ethical values
He says: "We're a small company, but everyone is watching us, so we're trying to have a role in global issues. While we're not going to solve all the issues, a company today should be thinking of energy consumption and building ethical values."

While raising the profile of global issues is admirable, it doesn't exactly line the company's pockets and generating revenue for Twitter is something many critics have accused the business of lacking.

While it is true the site does not make any significant money yet, Stone is quick to point out that Google didn't make money in its first two years either and says he wants Twitter's revenue model to replicate Google's relevancy.

As a former senior executive at Google, Stone is no stranger to the online giant and still draws on his experience at the company, which he left after two years in 2005 to help shape online audio podcasting service Odeo before starting Twitter.

He says: "We look at Google as a role model. The team worked on making sure Google was the world's best search engine and then they introduced a revenue model, which sold ads that were relevant. We want to build a revenue model for Twitter that is as relevant as it can be, both for the companies using Twitter and regular users."

So when will the company start to make money? Stone says if the company is to make any significant money, it will have to build value around the product first.

He says: "Our commercial strategy may seem odd to a lot of companies, but not to us. Our plan is to build value before we can make a profit.

"To make Twitter valuable, we want to increase its size and make it more robust and accessible around the world so people start to use it and rely on it every day."

However, Stone is experimenting with following patterns already established by businesses to see how Twitter can add value for a fee. For example, one such area is search.

Revenue potential
He says: "We have a hunch there's an opportunity in search, as Google has proved," which is why Twitter recently rolled out a real-time search function on users' homepages. Stone concedes the search function doesn't need to be a huge commercial driver initially, but "it needs to show revenue potential".

His task at Google was to build a site the company had acquired called Blogger.com, but Stone admits he wasn't as interested in the company as he should have been and so looked at exploring other ideas combining mobile SMS with online, which is when the idea of Twitter took shape.

After building a prototype of Twitter for friends, he says he knew having a messaging board was a good idea when it made him laugh.

He says: "I was tearing up some carpeting, when on my phone I had a message from Evan [Williams] describing how he was enjoying a glass of Pinot Noir after just having a massage, and it made me laugh.

"The idea that I knew what he was doing, just when I was having such a bad time, made me giggle. I thought anything that makes me laugh is a good thing."

CV
2006 Co-founder, Twitter
2005 Director of community, Odeo
2003 Senior specialist, Google
1999 Creative director, Xanga
1994 Designer, Little, Brown

Interests Writing non-fiction books, drawing, painting, running, films and TV
Childhood friend
Emmy TV director Greg Yaitanes
Friends
describe him as Funny, a character
Lives In
San Francisco with his wife Livia

Stone on...
Running his own business
It feels like a great opportunity to accept the responsibility of running a company in this day and age. There's a big spotlight on us and a good opportunity to display good character and leadership. We're inspired by the new President to show us what leadership and diplomacy is all about.

Twitter I see us as a messaging service with a search function. I wouldn't put us in the social networking category. We have a long way to go before growing, but we have begun experimenting.

Twitter partners There are so many people building on top of our application programming interface and we're not working directly with them. They are more of a consultancy. All this makes Twitter a richer experience and more relevant for more people.

Microsoft's proposed micro-blogging site Vine My only concern with Vine is that it's built specifically for emergencies. In order for it to work in emergencies, users also have to access it on a regular basis, then the contacts are there when there is an emergency.

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