Christopher “Biz” Stone is a minor celebrity thanks largely to a bold decision he made in the very early days of Twitter’s founding.
When Twitter was starting to take shape, Stone emailed Ev Williams, who was bankrolling Twitter, and asked, “Maybe this is inappropriate, but if I don’t ask, I’ll never know! What do you envision my title to be? Is there a chance I could be called co-founder?”
Williams wrote back, “I don’t know the answer to this yet. It is not an unreasonable request.”
These emails were reported by Nick Bilton in Hatching Twitter, a book on the founding of Twitter.
In the months that followed, Stone kept lobbying Williams for the title of co-founder. Williams was worried that if he gave Stone a big title, some of the other early Twitter employees would lobby for equally big titles for themselves.
When it came time to formalise the roles and titles at Twitter, Williams granted Stone his wish. He made Biz a co-founder.
Stone certainly earned a right to claim the co-founder title. He was one of the early people working on Twitter, when it was a side project inside Odeo, a podcasting startup.
But, Stone wasn’t the inventor of Twitter. He was just an employee who happened to be at Odeo and worked on some early designs of the product. It wasn’t a slam-dunk that he should be given co-founder credit.
To underscore how Stone’s title sounded bigger than it really was, Bilton reports equity in the company was split with Williams getting 70%, Jack Dorsey, who was CEO and co-founder getting 20%, and Stone, as co-founder getting 3% of the company. That was the same amount as Jason Goldman, who was an early employee working along side those guys. (The rest of the equity went to other early employees.)
Stone’s co-founder title didn’t get him a ton of equity, but it did afford him the ability to say he was co-founder of Twitter. That became priceless later on when Twitter became a smashing success.
But even before Twitter was a success, the title of co-founder had big benefits. Co-founder is a non-specific title. It’s not like Stone was CTO, or COO, or President. As co-founder, he was free to bounce around from role to role within the company, retaining respect and power without having a clearly defined responsibility.
This is an important lesson for anyone working in the early stages of company. It doesn’t hurt to ask for a big title, even co-founder status, because you never know what you’re going to get and how it could play out in the long run.