Posted: 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013
By Steve Coll
Does Twitter's IPO have anything to do with Dorsey's self-styled creation myth? CEOs like to regale others with stories of their humble beginnings.
With the recent announcement that Twitter would be issuing an initial public offering, more than one journalist has drawn a direct comparison between Twitter founder and Chairman Jack Dorsey and such technology sector legends as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates.
As was the case when the Big Three took their organizations public, Dorsey, it was said, would make a gazillion dollars as a result of his founding the company, inventing the technology and even creating the name Twitter.
Did he or didn't he?
As recent articles in The New York Times and The New Yorker point out, Dorsey may have created a creator's myth about himself. In fact, if some reports are to be believed, there were at least 140 characters involved in making Twitter the runaway success it has become.
According to reports, Dorsey was little more than a down-and-out program coding expert who happened to bump into two men (Evan Williams and Noah Glass) who had the original business concept and invented the name Twitter. Yet, after years of behind-the-scenes power plays and Shakespearean-like drama, Dorsey has emerged as a next generation Zuckerberg who, like the hoodie-loving Facebook CEO, has taken great pains to manage Twitter's creation myth.
A fawning profile by Lara Logan of 60 Minutes shows how some media have bought Dorsey's tale lock, stock and barrel. Indeed, I almost expected Logan to end the interview by asking for Dorsey's fingertips in marriage.
I'm the greatest!
Creation myths are nothing new. Countless politicians have reinvented their earlier selves in order to impress historians, voters, or both.
Harry S. Truman, for example, took great pains to paint a picture of the 'Give 'em hell Harry' we know today. A reading of the book 1948 by David Pietrusza reveals a very different (compliant and politically astute) Truman--who made many concessions in order to win re-election. The buck rarely stopped with Harry, according to Pietrusza.
The same holds true for great athletes. Muhammad Ali liked to regale sportswriters with his humble, inner city origins, especially leading up to his first fight with Smokin' Joe Frazier. As it turned out, though, Ali grew up in a comfortable, middle-class Louisville neighborhood while Frazier earned pennies picking cotton in South Carolina. And yet, because he won two of their three epic bouts (and was known as the Louisville Lip), Ali's creation myth has always been better known (and more accepted) than has Frazier's.
Why do they exist?
Every company needs a creation myth. Why? First, to feed the CEO's ego. Second, because curious employees want to know how their company began.
My firm has a creation myth. It goes something like this: 18 years ago, two disenchanted, big agency guys set up shop in the younger man's squalid, one-bedroom apartment. He decided to handle operations. The other more experienced co-founder pounded the pavement, wined and dined trade editors to let them know the firm existed, and begged every large agency CEO he knew to toss him a bone. After three months of silence, the phone rang and the first big client hired Peppercomm.
Today, we're an award-winning firm with 100 employees and three offices. Is my creation myth true? Maybe. Maybe not. But that's the story I tell people.
Winston Churchill wrote: "History is written by the victors." That's certainly true in Dorsey's case. Love him or doubt him, the fact is Jack Dorsey stands alone at the summit of the Twitter empire. That entitles him to say what he wants, do what he wants, and earn as much money on the IPO as the public markets will bear.
Meanwhile, Noah Glass, the man who allegedly created the business model and Twitter name, stands to earn a mere fraction while remaining virtually unknown to history.
Is it right? Well, as William L. Marcy wrote, "To the victor belong the spoils." He should have added: "And the right to create a whole new creation myth."