Twitter sale makes ‘dropout’ a tech millionaire

The scruffy millionaire: Jack Dorsey will earn a fortune from the sale of Twitter © Getty Images

Shares in the microblogging service Twitter will go on sale to the public next month, earning a fortune for founder Jack Dorsey. How did a scruffy college dropout become a tech millionaire?

Back in 2005, Jack Dorsey was a scruffy, underemployed college dropout with a nose ring, a cramped San Francisco apartment and an uncertain future. One day, he bumped into the owner of a small technology company in a café and emailed him a CV. Yes, came the reply, there was an opening for a junior programmer. The job was his.

Eight years later, Dorsey is one of the most famous men in Silicon Valley. Twitter, the social network and microblogging service he helped set up, is about to start selling shares on the New York Stock Exchange. Dorsey and other company founders will be able to sell their existing shares in the company for hundreds of millions of dollars. The former no-hoper is about to become a technology millionaire.

Getting to this point has not been easy. In 2006, the company where Dorsey was working nearly went bankrupt. Their business, making podcasts, had just been made obsolete by Apple’s iTunes software. They needed another idea, and needed it fast.

That was Dorsey’s moment. What if there was a service, he wondered, that used short text updates to tell you what everyone was doing, all the time? It was the seed of an idea, and the seed grew. At last, with a lot of help from his colleagues, and the financial backing of the company, Twitter was born.

The service quickly became an outstanding success. Today it has 232 million active users, from Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga to Barack Obama and Pope Francis I.

But it has had plenty of problems too, including repeated technical glitches and site shutdowns. In the early days of Twitter, the company’s familiar bird icon was often replaced with the notorious ‘fail whale’, which appeared whenever Twitter’s servers were overloaded.

In 2008, frustrations with Jack Dorsey’s management style reached the point when he was forced to resign as CEO of Twitter. He only fought his way back into the company in 2011.

Dorsey managed to cling onto his position – and will now claim a hundred million dollar prize for his efforts – but not everyone was so successful. Noah Glass, who helped Dorsey develop the Twitter idea and even came up with the name for the service, was forced out shortly after the business got under way. When Twitter goes on sale next month, Glass, unlike Dorsey, will make nothing.

Tweet success

What separates the losers from the millionaires? Successful entrepreneurs and inventors are often credited with extraordinary vision, determination or intelligence – some special quality that helped them rise above the common herd.

But there is another view. Perhaps what really makes people like Dorsey into millionaires is nothing more than being in the right place at the right time.

You Decide

  1. Does Jack Dorsey deserve his hundred million dollars?
  2. What qualities does it take to become a millionaire?

Activities

  1. In groups, brainstorm some ideas for a new technology company that you think might make your fortunes. How would it work? And how would it turn a profit?
  2. Twitter messages are famously restricted to just 140 characters, but they are increasingly being seen as their own special literary form. Try creating a poem or story that has real meaning but is less than 140 characters long. For inspiration, why not take a look at The Day’s very own Short Epics, published daily.

Some People Say...

“Millionaires are better than normal people.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How do I get to be a technology millionaire then?
You certainly wouldn’t be the only person trying. That said, it is possible, with the right idea and enough determination, to make a huge fortune out of very little. The first thing to do is learn how to write computer code.
Okay, what then?
Start thinking of ideas. What do people need? What problems in life do you think the right program might be able to solve? Are there any annoyances or innefficiencies out there that you think you might profitably fix? Above all, what are you passionate about? The answer to this sort of question can be the beginning of a new business.
Anything else?
Be prepared to fail! Very few businesses get off the ground. What successful entrepreneurs do is keep on trying.

Word Watch

Underemployed
Underemployment is a less familiar problem than unemployment, but it is a real problem nonetheless. Around one British worker in ten is affected. Underemployed people have some work, but not enough for financial security or to support a family.
Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley is an informal name for an area near San Francisco Bay where the headquarters of hundreds of America’s technology companies can be found. It is now used as shorthand for the entire US technology industry. Silicon Valley is the single biggest wealth creator in the US economy – a level of success that has not so far been matched by international competitors like London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’.
Technology millionaire
The most famous technology millionaires are the founders of Apple and Microsoft: Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen and Bill Gates. Writer Malcolm Gladwell noted, in his book Outliers, that all four men were born between 1953 and 1955. That meant they were all well placed to take advantage of huge advances in computing made in the 1970s. They were in the right place at the right time.
Noah Glass
The role of Noah Glass in setting up Twitter is controversial. Journalist Nick Bilton, in his book Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, claims that Glass was a key developer of the idea and was unfairly forced out of the company by Jack Dorsey.

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