Origin Stories

I love origin stories. Some of them glorify entrepreneurship in a way that makes them challenging to parse, as the struggles of our heroines and heroes gets romanticized in a way that tastes sugary sweet. But, when they are written in first person, unedited, on a blog, they are often delicious in a tasty and fulfilling way.

Jud Valeski, the co-founder of Gnip, wrote a great one a few days ago. It’s titled How Did Gnip Get The Twitter Deal? and does a thorough job of telling the story from Jud’s perspective. If that’s all that was there, it’d be a solid origin story.

But then Doug Williams, who was on the Twitter side of the Gnip / Twitter origin story, weighs in with a comment that is the same length as Jud’s post. And now we get Doug’s view. Not the official Twitter view. Not the C7H5NO3S version that has been denuded of anything challenging and controversial.

The combination is delicious and worth reading. I lived it as an investor and only have two categories of things to add. The first is that the most important role of the investor in deals like this is to talk your team (in this case Jud and Rob) off the cliff. Or, more likely, to take the flamethrower out of their hands before they started spraying it on everyone in sheer frustration. The other is a few well timed phone calls to key people (in this case, Dick Costolo, who totally saw the value of the relationship but at the time was trying to navigate whatever the current version of Twitter dynamics were.)

The end of Jud’s post has two extremely important points in it. The first to play by the rules of your partner.

“This conflict between your product and the publisher, is real, and it can make or break you. On one hand, you want revenue, and if you break/bend the rules, you can get more of it. However, doing so puts you at odds with the publisher (arguably your bread and butter). Take your pick. We chose to play by the rules and were able to navigate to a successful partnership and outcome. We firmly believed that breaking/bending the rules would yield an incrementally small amount of revenue, and never actually let the business get as big as it could. Think about it this way, black markets exist, and always will, but they’re never as big as the open market. Pursue the open market, sure, it’s harder, but the rewards are bigger. If the only way you have a business is by breaking rules, stop what you’re doing and go do something else; that’s ultimately lame; explain that one to your kids.”

The other is what we called “Be Everywhere That Twitter Is.”

“We spent years cultivating relationships inside Twitter (from the CEO, which changed a few times during our efforts), to mid-level, to developers, to BD, to on and on and on). When we were at a conference and there was a Twitter person there, we elbowed our way to them to get a word in. When Twitter put on conferences, we were there. When Twitter wouldn’t answer the phone because we were that annoying gnat in the swarm, we backed off the calls until we had something significant to put in front of them (a new feature, a new business milestone). Partnership negotiation is a fine line between expressing your need for the other partnership, and illustrating your ability to be independent.

And Doug, in his conclusion, reinforces the value of that approach.

“I’ll leave you with this final anecdote. While in the midst of the start of our initial term sheet negotiations with GNIP, my team was moved under a new executive. After bringing him up to speed, he told me he didn’t like the strategy and called it off. That day, he and I were to meet with Jud and push things forward. I had to break this news to Jud that the exec had pulled the plug and wouldn’t be at the meeting. It’s difficult to say who was more heartbroken at this point. In his patient and persistent way, Jud keep calling. He kept asking questions. He kept showing up at the office. We kept working on the term sheet and he motivated me to go to bat again. Again, we eventually got the nod. Luck, timing and patience paid off, but more than all kept Jud showing up. That is the ultimate lesson he taught me, one that I carry with me every day.”

There’s a lot of healthy and tasty juice in this origin story. Jud / Doug – thanks for putting it out there.


Also published on Medium.

  • I remember you blogging the good news; there was a party in Boulder. It looked as though it had been an easy acquisition from the outside. In hindsight, just an assumption I had made.

    • Yeah – it was the opposite of easy. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t.

  • John McDermott

    So many thanks Brad, Doug and Jud for sharing this. Inspirational.

  • We are so lucky to have both Jud and Doug’s perspective here. Kudos to both for leading with integrity. Being unrelenting and doing the right thing eventually gets things done. Brad, it seems things were off and on shaky with Twitter, how did you coach Jud through those times?