Ev’s assholishness is greatly exaggerated

Team Pyra

There's been a bunch of stories lately about Ev Williams, co-founder of Blogger and Twitter upon the occasion of him leaving Twitter to do his own thing. Some are outright calling him an asshole. This Business Insider story of Noah Glass and Twitter's early days has a whole speculative piece on how Ev might be a calculating evil genius, cut from the same cloth as Monty Burns in the Simpsons, that cut investors out of the Twitter pie as soon as he could apparently by deceiving them about Twitter's potential (and mentions that an investor or two is thinking of legal action against him). That piece references the old NYT piece about Ev being "pushed" out of Twitter and recounts the whole Pyra/Blogger implosion at the start of 2001, which I was a player in.

I read all this stuff, and I have to call bullshit on quite a bit of it.

First off, I worked with Ev for almost a year and I saw him as a really amazing idea man and has the drive you want in an entrepreneur. His dream setup he talked of early on was building Pyra "Labs" where every awesome idea he came up with could be prototyped by a small team and spun off into products by other people or sold to other companies that are more into the execution side of things (Blogger was a spin-off from Pyra, the project management app). If you look at the past ten years, Ev's time after Google is much like that. Odeo was a good idea (I never got the appeal of phone-to-blog-post Audioblogger, Noah Glass' predecessor app) because podcasting was just taking off and I was most interested in the piece that let you record and mix audio using a browser instead of expensive audio software. Odeo went the way of the Dodo because iTunes simply added Podcasting natively and crushed it overnight. Ev went on to form Obvious, which seemed like another take on the Pyra Labs model, and Twitter was a product spun out from there.

Again, Ev is great at ideas, making prototypes and letting ideas blossom into things over time. He doesn't seem like a CEO type to me, and that's not a dig on him — I'm a CEO myself, even though I'm not a CEO type of guy either. Running a day-to-day corporation with tons of employees is a lot different than being an ideas guy, and it requires different skills.

So Ev leaving Twitter to try something new didn't come off as unexpected when I heard the news from the man himself.

This is my own speculation, but I think the core issue on the Odeo/Twitter thing between Noah and Ev was that their personalities clashed. I remember meeting Noah and him being a pretty intense guy and Ev was a quieter, mellower dude. I remember being surprised when I heard they were rolling Audioblogger into something new together but then I remember they used to be next-door neighbors and I thought maybe I was too quick to judge Noah from seeing him at a couple parties.

One key point that deflates pretty much the whole Business Insider piece on Twitter and Ev buying out his Odeo investors is this: I've spoken with a number of Odeo investors and one mentioned to me that when they were offered the buy back plan, there was an offer to roll your shares into Twitter, though Twitter was so new, no one really knew the potential (seriously, twitter wasn't a killer app at first. I hated it. Merlin hated it.). Ev didn't "slow play" his hand and dupe investors so he could own more of Twitter later on, Ev gave them a pretty amazing offer of continuing their investment and if I remember correctly I heard that everyone but one or two investors took the cash offer out of Odeo and turned down the Twitter shares.

That's an important distinction because it means the investors in the story aren't pissed that they were hoodwinked by Ev, it's because the investors passed on Twitter and combined with today's 20/20 hindsight, it looks like a bad move by almost every investor to take their short term cash back.

Going back to the NYT piece from last Fall, I was a little bit bitter for the immediate few months after i was laid off from Blogger in 2001 because I knew Blogger was a much bigger idea that had so much world-changing potential I didn't want to see die on the vine. By 2002 I buried the hatchet with Ev and admired his drive and hard work at keeping it alive by himself, and eventually growing it into something Google snapped up and improved upon (The NYT story says that unnamed former employees got nothing out of the Google deal. I'm one of the folks they were talking about, and still, there's sincerely no hard feelings).

I look forward to whatever Ev does next because he has tons of great ideas and can build a prototype faster than you think, but one thing he isn't is a calculating evil genius asshole hellbent on screwing over investors.

That's just melodramatic bullshit.

20 Comments

  • I remain #1 Pyra fanboy for life! I am writing this using Enterprise Blogger.

  • I drafted this post in Newsblogger.

  • I hope this post gets enough attention to dilute the Business Insider drama. I’ve only met Ev once, but just can’t imagine the recent “evil master plan” hype is fair.

  • Matt,
    Glad that you wrote this. People like you and Ev helped make the web great. Some media want a big conflict story because it’s a narrative they like.
    h

  • I read this post wearing my Newsblogger T-shirt.

  • Nice post. Reminds me of a recent post on why inventors need entrepreneurs. Thanks for Metafilter.

  • Though your commenting system is not powered by Blogvoices, I have decided to participate in this witty thread.

  • I completely forgot that you were one of the original Blogger crew.
    Man, the years roll by.

  • It’s scary how people these days are so demotivated by other people’s success, almost demoralized by the fact that they just can’t hustle hard enough, that their ideas are never good enough, that no matter what they do they can’t seem to make it big and it’s all enough to make them resort to trying, and I stress on the word ‘trying’, to deflate others around them. It’s human instinct to lash out at what doesn’t make you happy and while a lot of it is due to the bitterness, you have to realize that it’s all just news. News, they want to sell their sites, their articles, get people reading, if there’s no conspiracy to write about then they’ll fabricate one out of nothing more than the idea that a creative guy such as Ev with nothing but passion and drive could really be an evil genius asshole.
    I’ve never worked with Ev but have used products spewed out from the pit of his creative mind itself and in turn have made enough from them to realize I can only be grateful that creative individuals like Evan still maintain a passion for what they do, and keep producing awesome products.
    To the lungfish of damnation writing BS about others that are constantly shaping our web and the way we interact, screw you.

  • Matt, Thanks for posting this. Couple of points. For one, some of the Odeo investors were, at a later point, offered the chance to invest in Twitter. Not all of them were. A couple of them chose not to invest in Twitter. That deflates any argument more than anything else, probably.
    (I wouldn’t say my story “argues” anything – we just relay questions others are asking.)
    Second: I think you’re probably right about the personality clash between Ev and Noah – and I say as much in the story.

  • Love the phrase ‘lungfish of damnation’ Moni…

  • Thanks for commenting Nicholas. I liked your interview with Noah, I think it is important to remind everyone of his role. Not everyone remembers Audioblogger or early Odeo days and that was an untold story.
    My main problem is the side piece on Ev and all the insinuations about his motivations that I don’t think were really there. I’ve been talking to a bunch of investors about my own angel investing, so I heard the story of Twitter shares a couple months ago, and when I read that article I was shaking my head wondering why that one fact wasn’t included. I didn’t know it wasn’t offered to everyone, or that it was at a later date, but the fact that the offer was there for any of the investors changes that story for me, and removes the whole “Ev was being an evil genius CEO” aspect.
    I understand adding it could have undermined the rest of the storyline in that piece, but I’m kind of disappointed it wasn’t mentioned, and that’s the main reason I made this post last night.

  • Matt–
    Perhaps I could have made it clearer that a couple of of Ev’s friends were offered a chance back in.
    To rectify this, I just added a sentence: “It’s worth noting that months after buying Odeo back from its investors, Evan Williams offered a select few of them a chance to buy into Twitter at a a $25 million valuation.”
    Keep in mind that $25mm is a much higher valuation than the $5mm valuation Evan bought them out at.
    Anyway, I am not trying to make an accusation or anything close to it.
    As a I make clear in the story, some of Odeo’s investors have questions about Ev’s intentions, and I thought it was worth passing them on.

  • Matt, Just setting aside the offer to buy off the investor, why was Noah pushed out from Twittr and why is he never mentioned as one of its key creators? You think Ev had nothing to do with it?

  • I don’t think there’s anything more sinister to pushing Noah out other than a personality clash. As for a mention of the founding, I learned a lot time ago the actual coders present at the birth of an app are often very different than the “co-founders” that appear on the company website. There were at least 2 or 3 other people working on early versions of Twitter, but if you’ve got 60 seconds with Katie Couric on a morning news show, it’s a lot easier to just say you were a company co-founder than to go into detail about the exact programmers that helped write it.

  • Well done… for taking time to put this down for the record. And I’m still patiently waiting for my beta copy of Pyra, I’ve got project to run!

  • Back in the day, when some of you fancy-schmancy tech people still talked with me, I persuaded some goons not to beat the shit out of an inebriated Ev Williams. (I doubt he’ll remember. I checked up on him the next day. He didn’t seem to remember then. The incident certainly wasn’t his fault. Those guys were assholes.) Now a man who accidentally gets into fistfights is certainly not a calculating evil genius asshole. And I say this as someone who once wrote a scathing blog post comparing Ev to Ferdinand Lesseps for gutting Pyra. (How o.g. is that?) Like most people who pursue ideas with an implacable drive, he’s going to get into unanticipated skirmishes. But Ev’s okay in my book, and has been for a good long while. Even though I doubt he remembers me.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with this post, but I don’t remember there being an opportunity to roll shares into Twitter when the Odeo buyback was offered. I think if there had been, I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have taken it. But maybe my memory is faulty – I was pretty busy at the time, and not paying as much attention as I (in retrospect) should have been.

  • A couple people have corrected the rumors I heard. Apparently some (not all) of the investors were given Twitter offers of stock (at a higher evaluation) a short time after the Odeo buyout (not at the exact same time, as I heard).

  • Here here, Matt. Ev is perhaps the least Machiavellian person I’ve ever met.

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