Jack Dempsey: 29 and Unemployed…. Then He Built #Twitter


Jack Dorsey: Turned down for a job at a shoe store shortly before Twitter. Photo: Flickr/Jack Dorsey

The New York Times has published an excerpt from tech reporter Nick Bilton’s forthcomingbook about the early days of Twitter. Those in search of juicy anecdotes and a Zuckerbergian anti-hero figure in the Twitter origin myth will not be disappointed. I won’t keep you in suspense: it’s Jack Dorsey.

In the course of Bilton’s excerpt, Dorsey goes from a shiftless New York University drop-out with a nose ring to a backstabbing climber to a disastrous manager to being forced out of Twitter and considering a job at rival Facebook to … well, just read the thing.

But what stuck out to me about Dorsey, amid the parallels to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, was that his is a more quintessential Silicon Valley rags-to-riches story than either of theirs. And it’s a quintessentially millennial story at that. Jobs was out of Reed College just a couple of years before founding Apple at age 21. Zuckerberg founded Facebook from a Harvard dorm room at age 19.

Dorsey, on the other hand “was a 29-year-old New York University drop-out who sometimes wore a T-shirt with his phone number on the front and a nose ring”, writes Bilton. “After a three-month stint writing code for an Alcatraz boat-tour outfit, he was living in a tiny San Francisco apartment. He had recently been turned down for a job at Camper, the shoe store.”


Then Evan Williams, the Blogger co-founder and then chief executive of Odeo, the start-up that would become Twitter, walked into the coffee shop where Dorsey was blaring punk rock on his laptop headphones.

“Dorsey, who was shy after battling a speech impediment as a child, was reluctant to introduce himself personally. Instead, he opened his resume on his computer, deleted any signs of his desire to work for Camper shoes, found Williams’ email address online and sent a message to see if Odeo was hiring. Williams, whose investment in Odeo had turned him into the company’s CEO, soon called him in for an interview. He and [co-founder Noah] Glass, both college drop-outs themselves, preferred rabble-rousers to Stanford grad students and Dorsey, with his nose ring and dishevelled hair, seemed like a perfect fit.”

Dorsey was hired, worked with Glass to develop Twitter, brutally betrayed Glass, and eventually remade himself as the dashing public face of the hottest social-media start-up since Facebook. He’s now Twitter’s chairman and the CEO of Square, the mobile-payments company. When he tweets that he’s in New York, Michael Bloomberg tweets “Welcome back!”

Good thing he didn’t get that gig at Camper shoes.

Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal is out on November 5.




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