The Twitter cofounder’s in-person thoughts on tweeting, meeting and life in Marin
Biz Stone in the empty living room of his new Corte Madera home.
Photo by Tim Porter
Trying to track down Biz Stone for an interview is like grabbing fog—it’s everywhere, but impossible to hold on to. The 35-year-old cofounder of Twitter (among other techy products) and book author (Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content and Who Let the Blogs Out? A Hyperconnected Peek at the World of Weblogs) is more than busy. Back in 2009 he was one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People as well as GQ’s Nerd of the Year and Inc.’s Entrepreneur of the Decade. Twitter, that notorious social networking forum for sending brief messages (tweets) of 140 character or less, is now a phenom.
Thought it was a passing fad? Think again. People are tweeting around the globe. During the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Twitterers on the ground helped compile a list of vital emergency information and report on the list of injured and dead. In 2009, astronaut Mike Massimino used Twitter to send updates during the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, and ferry rider Janis Krums tweeted the first photo of US Airways flight 1549 floating precariously in the Hudson. Then there are the sports fans. During the World Cup last June, Twitter decided to track the most tweeted-about goals—to wit: Japan scores against Cameroon on June 14 in a 1-0 victory (2,940 tweets per second), Brazil scores its first goal against North Korea in a 2-1 June 14 victory (2,928 tweets per second), Mexico ties South Africa in a June 11 game (2,704 tweets per second). And in the NBA Championship between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, the Lakers’ victory generated a record 3,085 TPS as the game ended. Twitter, it seems, just might be here to stay.
How many people in Marin are on Twitter? I have no idea … but I suspect lots of folks in Marin will be using Twitter to get real-time information about the people, places and events they care about in the months and years ahead. People don’t need to tweet in order to get value out of all the information that courses through the network.
Are there any tweetups (for two or more Twitterers who want to meet in person) in Marin? Yes, there are. I’ve heard about tweetups at Vin Antico in San Rafael, Pacific Catch at the Corte Madera Town Center, Toast in Novato and lots of others. There are probably a bunch I haven’t heard of as well. I really like the way tweetups motivate a bunch of people to show up and patronize a local establishment. It’s good for everyone involved.
Is your real name Biz? The name on my passport is Christopher Isaac Stone. When I was (little and) learning to talk, I tried to phonetically emulate the name my father, an auto mechanic with a Boston accent, called me. To my not-quite-yet-formed ear technology, it sounded very much like “Biz-ah-bah,” which was shortened to Biz. I think it was third grade when the information went public. I had a birthday party and my mom said something like, “Okay Biz, time to open presents.” When my parents got divorced, I officially dropped the name Christopher. I ask employers to make checks payable to Isaac Stone, and I use that name for most of my official paperwork like phone bills and secret government missions. Sometimes I tell people my name is Isaac when I just don’t feel like explaining why my name is Biz. My mother tells people that it’s short for Elizabeth.
Why Marin? When we first moved out here in the early 2000s, we found a place in (S.F.’s) Potrero Hill. We tried living in Palo Alto for a while when I worked for Google but after I left, it didn’t make a ton of sense for us. Next we tried living in Berkeley, which we liked, but my wife Livia works in Marin, with WildCare. Finally, we tried living in Marin, loved it, and just bought a house in Corte Madera.
How did she get involved with WildCare? Before we moved to California, my wife was an artist and author. You can find many of her books by searching for her maiden name, Livia McRee, on Amazon. As wonderful as her work was, she wasn’t finding satisfaction, so she began volunteering at different environmental and animal welfare organizations in the Bay Area. When she finally found WildCare it was a good match. Livia is compassionate and also very smart, so she quickly took classes and got up to speed on the science of rehabilitating wildlife. Before long Livia was asked to become the manager of animal care. And I was asked to be an honorary member of WildCare’s board of directors, so it’s something we’re both committed to.
How did you meet? I was designing book covers at Little, Brown publishing on Beacon Hill in Boston. She was working downstairs in production and helping with the children’s department. When she walked into the art department to drop something off, I took note. She was wearing what looked like an army jacket and seemed very moody. As soon as she left, I looked over at my friend and said, “Uh-oh. I think I’m in trouble.”
When you and your board passed up the $500 million offer by Facebook to purchase Twitter, did your wife agree with this decision? Yes, very much so. Livia has always backed up decisions that seem outrageous on their surface. She has a very good way of getting right to the core of what is most important. When I decided to leave Google in favor of jumping back into the risky world of start-ups, she supported that decision too—even though it made no financial sense whatsoever.
Why did you choose the neighborhood you live in now? We just bought a house that is only a 10-minute walk from the Tavern at Lark Creek. Larkspur has a quiet, low-key feel that works well in contrast to my hectic days in the city. We like the Tavern because it has an old East Coast feel and they have some great vegan options for my wife and myself to choose from.
Do you have a social media community here in Marin? I’m an adviser to the Start Project, which is based in Mill Valley. The Start Project is a collaborative effort to bring great ideas to market. The founders and advisers are focused on the initial stages of business creation, including idea generation, software development, product vision, team building and investment.
Do you have any favorite Marin hikes? I’m a huge fan of the former railroad grade that now forms part of the San Francisco Bay Trail and I love running by Blackie’s Pasture in Tiburon along Richardson Bay. I’m looking forward to running the Dipsea trail as well. Haven’t done that yet. I’ve also become a runner since moving here, which turns out to have been a great choice. There are so many beautiful places to run in Marin.
Do you have an all-time favorite tweet? A good catfight between reality TV stars, perhaps? Actually, my all-time favorite tweet is by my friend Philip Kaplan. You’ve gotta understand that Philip is a tall, geeky guy with a goofy laugh. He once tweeted, “Taking a bath. Come over if you want to learn about water displacement.” It makes me laugh because if someone were to show up, he’d happily discuss fluid mechanics. http://twitter.com/pud/status/1264983643
Can you give an example (or two) of Twitter helping a social cause? We have a bunch of examples at a special website we created called Hope140.org. We’ve run a few campaigns on Twitter—turning tweets red for World AIDS Day, helping fight malaria by raising awareness about bed nets, and more. People have self-organized on Twitter for many charities. Twestival is a yearly event organized over Twitter that raises money for a different charity every year.
Twitter has an official partnership with Room to Read that is pretty interesting. We’re crafting a wine label we call Fledgling. Proceeds from the sale of these wines will go toward helping to fight illiteracy. You can learn more about that project at fledglingwine.com.
If you were to redesign the Twitter interface, would you change anything? There are many things we’d like to change and add to Twitter. For many years we only had the time and resources to deal with massive growth. Now we have ramped up the team and we’re able to get to new and exciting features.
In a perfect scenario, where is Twitter in 10 years? And where are you? In a perfect case scenario, Twitter in 10 years has become an antidote to information overload, but also helped connect all of us to the information that makes our lives better. Not just those of us who have fancy computers with an Internet connection, but everyone who has even the most rudimentary mobile phone.
Businesses 10 years from now will realize that there is a compound interest in helping others. Twitter’s monetization platform will take this into consideration at the outset. In 10 years, I hope to have contributed to a new template for doing business that considers selflessness a priority and recognizes real value before profit.
Any more books in your future? My idea for a third book is based on trends I’ve been watching for a while. I consider myself an artist first and a technologist and entrepreneur second. There seems to be a new way to approach business that I’m suited for, while in generations past I’d probably have made a horrible businessperson.