Evan Williams | evhead: An Obvious Next Step

March 29, 2011

An Obvious Next Step


  • Posted at 4:29 PM

I’m a very lucky guy. Over the past twelve years, I’ve had the good fortune to work on two huge projects that happened to be the right idea at the right time. These ideas attracted brilliant, idealistic people to do the incredibly hard work of making them work for millions of other people across the globe. And through each, I learned a tremendous amount about business, products, and people.

I spent about five and a half years of my professional life on Blogger. Though not a headline-grabber these days, it has continued to evolve and grow to be one of the top 10 web services on the planet. It’s the place where tens of millions of people turn to freely share their thoughts with the world—and where hundreds millions more go to read those thoughts. It was a tiny fraction of that size when I left over six years ago, so I really must thank the awesome team of Googlers who have been shepherding it since. I’m also extremely grateful to the leaders of Google for giving Blogger the room to thrive. I’m still proud to have been among them for a short time.

I’ve now spent about five years on Twitter, as well—in a variety of different capacities. Twitter has a funny history. It spent its first six months as a side project of Odeo, a company I was running that didn’t have a lot of traction. Twitter didn’t have much traction either, so we shed Odeo, Inc. and pulled them both into Obvious Corp. When Twitter started to really take off, a year after it started, we spun it into its own corporation and made Jack the CEO. In theory, Obvious could then pursue new projects, but I spent more of my time as active Twitter chairman, which included everything from helping raise funds to coding. In spring of 2008, I was fully sucked in by the Twitter tornado, serving full-time as chief product officer at first and then CEO, which I did for two years.

After stepping down from CEO six months ago, my mind started to wander. The reason I left Blogger/Google when I did is that I felt it had reached a place where it was on solid ground and in capable hands (at the time, Jason Goldman’s as product manager). Though still an independent company, I realized Twitter may be at a similar point today. So, as was reported in various places yesterday, I’ve decided to scale back my role at the company. (I’m still involved, but it’s no longer my full-time job.)

I’m not ready to talk about what I have planned next, but I will venture a prediction about what’s next for Twitter: It will be bigger and better.

When I took the CEO job, there were many who didn’t think Twitter would last this long. Today, even the naysayers have begrudgingly accepted it’s not disappearing anytime soon. I have the utmost confidence that, like Blogger, Twitter will grow an order of magnitude more (even though that’s a much taller order, given its size already). The momentum is just incredibly strong, critical mass has been reached, and the dark days of imminent technical meltdown are over.

It’s not that momentum and critical mass haven’t been lost before in this industry. And there is still a massive amount of work to do—to build a business, but also to simply complete the vision we’ve had for the product for a long time.

There are many people in the company who share that vision, and I have the utmost confidence in them. Founders, in general, get an out-sized share of the credit for any successful company. There are hundreds of people at Twitter now, some of whom have been there for years and played critical roles. There are those whom you know by name and others you may never have heard of individually, but they have all contributed to the company’s success. I’d venture to say it’s one of the finest teams ever assembled in the Internet industry, and it’s the accomplishment of which I’m most proud. Not just because they are people who are good at their jobs, but because they’re good people.

When I was running the company, I felt very privileged that this amazing group had granted me leadership. (It practically brought me to tears on multiple occasions, during our all-hand’s meetings, when someone demonstrated their unique and heartfelt awesomeness.) It was they who collectively helped Twitter mature from a quirky, wobbly toddler of a service with great potential but way too much attention for it’s own good to an operation that is becoming—if not already has become in some areas—world class. And it is they who will take it to the next level, which will surprise us all.

So, really, what’s next?
First of all, I’m not disappearing from Twitter. I remain on the board of directors and will frequently meet with many folks there to help in any way I can.

However, now that Twitter is in capable hands that aren’t mine, it’s time to pick up a whiteboard marker and think fresh. There are other problems/opportunities in the world that need attention, and there are other individuals I’d love to get the opportunity to work with and learn from. (Details to come.)

While I doubt I’ll get so lucky a third time, as my good friend Biz Stone likes to say, “Creativity is a renewable resource.” Let’s see what happens.