Services & Software

Twitter ex Jack Dorsey, Facebook hire? It nearly happened

In an excerpt of "Hatching Twitter," Nick Bilton reveals that Facebook tried to poach Dorsey, but the Twitter co-founder worried such a move would result in embarrassing leaks about his firing.

Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2012.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

It has long been part of Twitter's lore that Jack Dorsey was forced out as CEO of the fledgling social network in 2008 due to his perceived shortcomings as a manager. But until now, his near hiring by Facebook was a secret.

In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, "Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal," Nick Bilton tells the story of just how close Mark Zuckerberg came to bringing Dorsey aboard just as the Twitter co-founder was being fired.

As Bilton, a reporter for The New York Times, relates in the excerpt, published today in The New York Times Magazine, Dorsey and Evan Williams, another of the company's co-founders, were butting heads, especially over Dorsey's management style, his growing distractions as he became a darling of venture capitalists, and how Dorsey seemed torn between his managerial responsibilities and his desire to be a fashion designer.

More problematic, it seemed, was that Dorsey was allegedly being irresponsible with key Twitter data and miscalculating company expenses. Though the board initially offered Dorsey three months to turn things around, it soon decided to replace him as chief executive with Williams.

Even as that was happening, Facebook had been secretly mulling over trying to buy Twitter, Bilton reported. Dorsey was interested in the potential acquisition, but Williams wasn't. "The day after he was ousted," Bilton wrote, "Dorsey called Zuckerberg to confidentially share the news. To Dorsey's surprise, Zuckerberg asked if there was a way to prevent the firing, perhaps in order to save the deal. Dorsey assured him that there wasn't, and Zuckerberg switched his plan from trying to buy Twitter to trying to hire Dorsey."

The problem, Bilton explained, is that Dorsey worried that if he joined Facebook, word would get out about his firing from Twitter. His deal there had provided him with a way to save face -- some stock, $200,000 in severance, and the role of chairman. There would be no announcement that he'd been ousted. Now, worried that he'd be embarrassed if word got out that he'd left Twitter for Facebook, plus the fact that Facebook didn't have a specific job title in mind for him, he demurred. "'I've got to think about this,'" Bilton wrote. "He had bigger plans anyway."

Those plans, it seemed, including trying to take sole credit for having invented Twitter. In fact, while Dorsey had come up with the idea for a text message-based service for sharing status updates, he had imagined it as mainly a way to broadcast personal information. But Noah Glass, another Twitter co-founder, had come up with the name for Twitter, as well as the idea that the service could best be used to facilitate conversations between people.

Dorsey, however, seemed threatened by Glass' role in the company and eventually engineered his firing, according to Bilton. These days, when people refer to the founders of Twitter, the names mentioned are Dorsey, Williams, and Odeo co-founder Biz Stone. Glass' name is usually left out of the discussion. In fact, last week, on the day Twitter formally filed to go public, Dorsey, Williams, and Stone appeared together to talk to an all-hands meeting at Twitter headquarters. Glass was nowhere to be seen.

After Dorsey himself was removed from the top slot at Twitter, he first "went on a media campaign to promote the idea that he and Williams had switched roles," Bilton wrote. "He also began telling a more elaborate story about the founding of Twitter. In dozens of interviews, Dorsey completely erased Glass from any involvement in the genesis of the company. He changed his biography on Twitter to 'inventor;' before long, he started to exclude Williams and Stone too."

But even as time went by and Williams, as CEO, grew Twitter and stabilized its often shaky infrastructure, Dorsey, the chairman, was cementing himself as the face of the company. That was a problem, Bilton wrote. Investors believed Dorsey was still involved day to day, and Dorsey seemed to be working actively to build support for his position in the company, even as he was also getting a new startup, the mobile payments company, Square, off the ground.

Still, Williams was in control. He began to hire friends from Google, which had bought Blogger, Williams' first big success. Among them was Dick Costolo, who joined Twitter after selling his own company to Google for $100 million.

Costolo, though a former stand-up comedian, had real management chops. And as Twitter continued to grow, Williams' shortcomings as a chief executive were becoming more apparent to the company's board. Costolo successfully arranged deals with Microsoft and Google worth $25 million, Bilton wrote, and was well liked by Twitter's employees. "A pact between all of the investors was formed," Bilton related. "By late September, Costolo was told that he had been picked to be interim CEO. Williams was out."

And, still the face of Twitter, Dorsey, who had been meeting with Twitter's investors and some of its senior executives, was back in.