It’s said that Twitter’s early incarnation, Odeo, floundered so badly that founder Evan Williams offered to return investors’ capital. Some gladly accepted.
The big fish that got away: these stories are legendary in Silicon Valley investor circles. There are dozens of them for every outsized exit investors narrowly missed.
Of course the second act of Odeo was anything but a stinky fish, proof that early failures—as agile teaches us—yield our best learning opportunities, allowing us to recalibrate and refocus on the hunt for product/market fit.
Yesterday was probably a tough day for these early Odeo investors who stood to make a fortune on what is expected to be a massive IPO. But let’s not play Monday morning quarterback here; picking the winners in the dark days of an early market isn’t for the faint of heart and it’s the rare investor who can see behind corners.
Also, let’s not forget that Odeo was a very different offering, seeking to solve a very different problem. It was a podcast syndication service. I would have sat that one out, too.
Moreover, let’s remember what problem Twitter sought to address: a service for sharing the mundane detail of lives in progress in 140 character bursts.
Just ate a great burrito #yum.
I don’t know about you, but I was far from convinced. Frankly, I’m not interested in these details of my own life. So, as a potential Twitter investor, would I have written the check? Not likely.
But by rejecting the deal, I would have failed to look beyond the original use case. I would have failed to recognize that this early usage was little more than experimentation.
With time, the 140 characters would evolve to an art form, a news filter, a global conversation, a cultural barometer. It would give voice to the oppressed. Help coordinate movements at scale. Enable uprisings and the formation of political regimes. It would lead to the ouster of more than one politician. It would give us an inside look to the wild-eyed machinations of media-fueled egos (#winning). It would enable the rise of all manner of fakes, celebrity parodies more interesting than celebrities themselves. It would become a marketer’s best tool for making an idea catch fire.
That’s a long way from recitations on the daily diet. Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. Perhaps it has led to a slow decline in our attention spans and intolerance for the burdensome nuance of complete sentences. It has probably set us back by somehow or another by making the sound bite our most valued form of intellectual currency.
But, despite this, the change it has wrought is considerable. Twitter has reshaped culture, collapsed boundaries and it has made us all better informed and better connected, if perhaps a little more information-addled and focus deprived.
With yesterday’s announcement, it is now very clear that Twitter is indeed #winning.