Jack Dorsey Was 29 and Unemployed. Then He Built Twitter.

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 9 2013 3:59 PM

Before He Built Twitter, Jack Dorsey Applied for a Job at a Shoe Store. He Got Rejected.

Jack Dorsey in 2008
Jack Dorsey in 2008

Jack Dorsey / Flickr

The New York Times today has an excerpt from tech reporter Nick Bilton's forthcoming book about the early days of Twitter. Those in search of juicy anecdotes and a Zuckerbergian antihero figure in the Twitter origin myth will not be disappointed. I won't keep you in suspense: It's Jack Dorsey.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

In the course of Bilton's excerpt, Dorsey goes from a shiftless NYU dropout with a nose ring to a backstabbing climber to a disastrous manager to being forced out of Twitter and considering a job at rival Facebook to ... well, just read the thing.

Advertisement

But what stuck out to me about Dorsey, amid the parallels to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, was that his is a more quintessential Silicon Valley rags-to-riches story than either of theirs. And it's a quintessentially Millennial story, at that. Jobs was out of Reed College just a couple years before founding Apple at age 21. Zuckerberg founded Facebook from a Harvard dorm room at age 19. Dorsey, on the other hand:

... was a 29-year-old New York University dropout who sometimes wore a T-shirt with his phone number on the front and a nose ring. After a three-month stint writing code for an Alcatraz boat-tour outfit, he was living in a tiny San Francisco apartment. He had recently been turned down for a job at Camper, the shoe store.

Then Evan Williams, the Blogger co-founder and then-CEO of Odeo, the startup that would become Twitter, walked into the coffee shop where Dorsey was blaring punk rock on his laptop headphones.

Dorsey, who was shy after battling a speech impediment as a child, was reluctant to introduce himself personally. Instead, he opened his résumé on his computer, deleted any signs of his desire to work for Camper shoes, found Williams’s e-mail address online and sent a message to see if Odeo was hiring. Williams, whose investment in Odeo had turned him into the company’s C.E.O., soon called him in for an interview. He and [co-founder Noah] Glass, both college dropouts themselves, preferred rabble-rousers to Stanford grad students and Dorsey, with his nose ring and disheveled hair, seemed like a perfect fit.

Dorsey was hired, worked with Glass to develop Twitter, brutally betrayed Glass, and eventually remade himself as the dashing public face of the hottest social-media startup since Facebook. He's now Twitter's chairman and the CEO of Square, the mobile-payments company. When he tweets that he's in New York, Michael Bloomberg tweets "Welcome back!"

Good thing he didn't get that gig at Camper shoes.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 9:26 AM These Lego Masterpieces Capture the Fear and Humor of the “Dark” Side
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 8:46 AM The Vintage eBay Find I Wore to My Sentencing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.