Twitter: All Great Companies Begin as the Underdog



Most good origin stories begin with an underdog. The tech world especially is a place where a lone mad genius or few clever inventors can stumble from obscurity into the spotlight with a good idea in one hand and the other held out open, simply waiting for investors to put money into it.

In the past, these were people like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who scrapped together Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) in 1976 with little more than talent and ambition. In 1984, Michael Dell created what would become Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) in his dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin while an undergrad. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) in 2004 and pretty much coined the social-media underdog narrative that Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) is now participating in.

Comparing Twitter and Facebook is ultimately an exercise in placing an apple next to an orange — both are fruit and make good juice, but they are ultimately different companies that just share some similar properties. Also, while Facebook did a lot of the “heavy lifting” required to pave the way for Twitter’s warm (overly enthusiastic, perhaps) reception by Wall Street, the hard-fought success of Facebook to date foreshadows the success of Twitter. In fact, Zuckerberg has made some wry comments regarding Twitter, and is on the record as doubting the company’s success early on.

“[Twitter is] such as mess — it’s as if they drove a clown car into a gold mine and fell in,” writes Nick Bilton in “Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal,” a book that seems destined to become the official account of Twitter’s origin story. Published just a few days before the company’s initial public offering, the book paints a picture of a start up that faced disintegration dozens of times during its formation, and seemed to stumble into its success.

In broad strokes, this is the story of most, if not all, start ups, but it is a story that seems to be creeping more and more into the spotlight. All great companies have a good origin story, but its only recently that those stories are taking on a life of their own and entering the public realm. The stories of Facebook and Apple have found their way to the big screen and from there to a public audience that may not have otherwise ever been exposed to them. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a quasi-fictional Evan Williams or Jack Dorsey in a feature film in the coming years.

The importance of a corporate narrative that is accessible to the public is up for grabs. Nine times out of ten it is an informed investor — ostensibly driven more by data than by story — who is handling the stock, and in that way financial markets are apathetic. What investors are concerned with, though, is user engagement with the product of the businesses they are invested in. This — as difficult to measure as it is — is one way in which an origin story can help.

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