Book Review: “Things A Little Bird Told Me” by Biz Stone

This book is a short memoir of Biz Stone, who stumbled on the idea of Twitter while researching new things to make when odeo, the podcasting startup, wasn’t doing so good. He teamed up with his coworker, Jack, to start a simple text message system where connect people can see the messages in real time. The 140-character limitation came from the text message system (160 characters).

During his high school years, he was too exhausted from attending school and working to help out his single-mom family. He negotiated with the teachers to not doing any homework and still maintain reasonable grades. Now that takes guts!

Until the Twitter success, he was constantly in debts especially after his initial start up company failed. He landed at Google doing blogging and eventually left that post to join Odeo.

The rest of the book he talked about the lessons he learned:
A short lesson on constraint: “Embrace your constraints, whether they are creative, physical, economic, or self-imposed. They are provocative. They are challenging. They wake you up. They make you more creative. They make you better.” The constraint of 2-week hackathon led to the creation of Twitter. 140-character tweet is in itself a constraint to force creativity.

Twitter is successful because of the flocking behavior as in birds as he observed when Twitter was introduced to the Southwest Interactive Conference (SXSW). That’s when Biz realized that Twitter is going to be a success.

Be willing to fail in order to be successful is one of the advises Stone gave with his example of learning and executing back handspring in high school.

Compartmentize the software modules allows Twitter to become more stable – a lesson from the Star Trek. This same philosophy should apply to every undertaking in life. Modularize if possible. Don’t open up to developers too quickly, lest suffers the stability issue Twitter faced in its early days.

Stone was asked to be the “bright spot” of the company when their system crashed. “An open, curious, optimistic mind yields solutions, and has a better time along the way.”

Twitter almost got bought up by Facebook back in 2008. He came up with a huge figure $500M for the company. And Mark Zuckerberg went for it. This was an interesting story.

The new rules for Twitter employees:
1. We don’t always know what’s going to happen – humility.
2. There are more smart people out there than in here – don’t always look internally for answers.
3. We will win if we do the right thing for our users – sometimes conflicts with profit.
4. The only deal worth doing is a win-win deal.
5. Our coworkers are smart and they have good intentions.
6. We can build a business, change the world, and have fun.

The 25-dollar in a gift card from goes a long way in choosing who you donate the money too. What a clever idea.

This is a fun book to read. You probably won’t learn too much but it’s good to know how you can stumble into a “billion”-dollar idea given a short deadline while fighting to survive. Biz Stone is a smart and lucky man.