When Evan Williams announced several months ago that he was stepping back from day-to-day involvement at Twitter — the company he co-founded, financed and was the CEO of until last year — it wasn’t clear what he was going to do. That still isn’t clear, but now at least we know who he’s going to be doing it with: his Twitter co-founder Biz Stone announced Tuesday that he’s also stepping back from his involvement with the company, and joining Williams at a relaunched Obvious Corp., along with former Twitter product lead Jason Goldman. One thing is for sure: whatever kind of third act this group comes up with, expectations are going to be pretty high.
Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed a tiny clue about the new venture in Evan Williams’ blog post in March, which was entitled “An Obvious Next Step.” But for many, the obvious part seemed to be the fact that the former Twitter CEO was leaving the company — by that point, his involvement had declined so far that insiders said he was barely spending any time at all at Twitter headquarters, even though he was supposed to be directing product strategy. Williams had (apparently) voluntarily stepped into that position when Dick Costolo took over as CEO in October of last year.
After he left Twitter (although he remains on the board, and said in March that he would still be advising the company), Williams was replaced as director of product development by another former co-founder: Jack Dorsey, the man who came up with the original idea for Twitter and sold Williams on the concept while at Odeo, a podcasting startup. Odeo was later shut down and Williams took over Twitter, something Dorsey — who also happens to be the CEO of mobile-payment startup Square — said was like a “punch in the stomach” in an interview earlier this year with Vanity Fair.
As for Obvious Corp., that name has a long history, not all of which is positive: after Odeo failed to get much traction, Obvious was the vehicle Evan Williams and his partner Biz Stone used to buy back shares of the company from the venture capital investors who originally financed it. And it was also the vehicle that Williams used to effectively take control of Twitter, after it became clear that this idea of a short-form information network had some potential, and eventually oust Dorsey in 2008 (there’s a Quora thread with some more detail on these early years from an Odeo staffer).
As for Jason Goldman, the former vice-president of product for Twitter, he and Evan Williams go back even farther: Goldman was the product lead at Google for Blogger — the early blogging platform that Evan Williams and partner Meg Hourihan created and later sold to the search giant in 2003 (Biz Stone later worked on Blogger at Google as well). Much like Twitter’s early years (which have been the subject of some controversy over the ousting of Dorsey and some other events at the time) the rise of Blogger also led to some criticism of Williams and his abilities as co-founder and CEO.
For his part, Williams has admitted in interviews that he is not really cut out to be a CEO, and that he has learned a number of important lessons from the creation and failure of Odeo. Presumably he plans to apply those to his new venture — and his partners likely know him as well or better than anyone at this point. As for what Obvious Corp. plans to do now, that much is still a mystery. All the Obvious website says is that the company “makes systems that help people work together to improve the world” and that it is devoted to “developing products that matter.”
For all their flaws and tortuous growth histories, there is no question that Blogger and Twitter have been part of a communications and information revolution unlike anything seen since the web was first invented. Will the Obvious team be able to match that kind of track record with their new project? One thing seems pretty obvious: they shouldn’t have any difficulty raising venture financing, if they want it.
Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.