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Special guest: Evan Williams (Co-founder - Twitter)


Evan discusses the details of the Web's latest love affair with Twitter, and also shares many interesting insights into his former projects - Blogger and Odeo.














Jason: Okay everybody, welcome to another episode of Calacaniscast. Tyler, this is number 21, correct?


Tyler: On the dot.


Jason: 21, so that’s, we’re cooking with oil as they say in the business. A lot of shows. People are wondering, like “Hey Calacanis, are you gonna do a Start-up or are you just gonna do your show full time?”


Tyler: Right.


Jason: And of course everybody knows that I‘m doing “Project X“. I don’t know why people have so many questions. I thought that explained everything.


Tyler: Right. No ambiguity.


Jason: There’s no ambiguity there. “Project X” is well underway.


Tyler: You have Space X.


Jason: We have Space X, and we’re a project.


Tyler: Project X.


Jason: Exactly. And you know, we have to have Elon on the program sometimes, Elon Musk.


Tyler: Well he was here the other day with . . .


Jason: Well he was here at “Project X“, Elon was at “Project X”, but he wasn’t on the show.


Tyler: I think it had to do with something cooking in the oven and he had to…


Jason: Yeah, he had something cooking. Yeah, he came here because “Project X” is obviously . . . Everybody knows that I’m doing a space project, because any good, great entrepreneur in this business now can’t possibly do anything to do with the Internet because the only things that matter are batteries, corn and space. I sort of feel like that someway with the industry right now. It’s like if you’re not doing something green or if you’re not, you know, putting rockets up you’re sort of insignificant. But anyway, whatever. So everybody knows the show is sponsored by GoDaddy. Thank you GoDaddy. I don’t make any money off the show. You barely make money off the show Tyler. But all the proceeds from GoDaddy and Podtech, our two sponsors, go to the BayRidge Preparatory School’s “Opportunity Fund“. And everybody knows the “Opportunity Fund” is for foster kids in Brooklyn who maybe, you know, they have a tough lot in life. And we decided we would give them a private school education, which if you’re in a foster home and maybe you’re, you know, maybe don’t have a lot of stability in your life, going to a classroom in Brooklyn with fifteen people in it that costs like $12,000 to $15,000 a year, I mean that’s the last option, and now we’re making that the first option.


Tyler: It’s a beautiful thing.


Jason: It’s pretty fracking cool. And I’m just so thrilled that Podtech decided to do it, and they dropped fifty large. Fifty Large as you know is how we say $50,000 in Brooklyn. And GoDaddy is gonna spend probably a little bit more than that, and they‘re just great for that. So if you’re registering a domain name, use GoDaddy.


Jason: I’m really excited about our guest today.


Tyler: Yeah.


Jason: This is the big one.


Tyler: Well we’ve been trying to set this one up for a little while.


Jason: I know, this guys has been busy though.


Tyler: Yeah, no doubt about it, he’s probably one of the busiest people on two feet these days!


Jason: As we say, he’s blowing up right now. But he’s no stranger to having things blow up. And blow up is in a good way in our business, right?


Tyler: Sure.


Jason: Things are blowing up. So I’m thrilled to have Evan Williams on the program. Evan is the, or was the . . . Or is the Co-Founder of Blogger.com, the world’s, I think it was the world’s first real blogging software, maybe Userland. He’ll explain all that. But he founded Blogger.com in 1999, he was one of the co-founders, which was of course sold to Google in 2003. Not bad, not too shabby. Then he went on to do Odeo which was like a podcasting business. And something happened there where it went a little sideways, he’ll explain. And he’s been very honest about it. And that’s why I actually really dig this guy. I mean we’re not really, we’re not buds or anything, we’ve run into each other a couple times. But like out of the entrepreneurs out there. I think this guy is like one of the best, because he’s so honest and transparent. And you know, I do that honest, transparent, honestly and transparent thing, and I come across as like arrogant and self-absorbed. But he’s figured out a way to do it.


Tyler: Somehow he managed not to come across . . .


Jason: Yeah, he’s like a good version, you know, like he doesn’t come off as arrogant or, you know, conceited or anything like that. He’s a real humble guy, but he’s brilliant.


Jason: Evan, welcome to the program.


Evan: Thank you very much Jason. Good to be on the line.


Jason: On the phone line, exactly, we couldn’t get you in the studio. But of course Evan’s new project is Twitter. And I was exposed to Twitter, gosh, about a year ago I was out at dinner with Ross Mayfield of Socialtext, and it’s like “Oh you don’t know Twitter?”, “Here!”, and he like took my phone and signed me up on the phone. And I got to watch him, I got to watch Ross like tell me like when his kids were going to school, whatever, and it was really annoying. And then something happened a couple of weeks ago where Twitter exploded again, and I got back in and I started an account, and now I have a thousand people following me, which I think puts me in the top ten or twenty users. But Evan, maybe for the people on the program who don’t know what Twitter is: how do you explain what Twitter is?


Evan: Twitter essentially is a way to keep up with friends, acquaintances, whatnot by sending and receiving short messages about what you’re doing. And those messages can come over the phone, via SMS, which is what you’re talking about, or you can just do it on the Web or via IM, or now there’s a bunch of clients. But essentially it’s a bunch of people answering the question “What are you doing?” at various times throughout the day, and then subscribing to people that they’re interested in.


Jason: Right. So in a way it‘s, some people have called it like what comes between blog posts, you know, or like the glorified status message in Instant Messaging.


Evan: Right.


Jason: But for the people who don’t sort of still understand this, go to Twitter right now : TWITTER and go check it out, sign up. It’ll take you ten seconds to sign up. All the products you make Evan are very simple to use. You’re pretty good at this user interface stuff, huh?


Evan: We like to focus on that a lot, yeah.


Jason: It’s very elegantly simple. And then you, like within ten seconds you’ve got these things, SMS messages coming to your phone, to Instant Message. And what happened over the last month in your estimation? What was, I mean I know South-By-Southwest was a tipping point. But I was in, a couple of weeks before SxSW when it tipped, what causes massive barrage of, and how big has the traffic spiked in the last sixty days? ‘cuz it seemed like it was sort of just cruising along, and then “Boom!”


Evan: Yeah, it’s been nuts. And I can’t even explain it necessarily. It definitely, in the last month, we’ve done, I was just looking at numbers today. We’ve gotten as many Twitter posts as we got since July, which was when we opened up fully publicly.


Jason: Right.


Evan: Like seven months and then one month we’ve reached the same point. But it’s been on a pretty steady doubling for about four months in a row in terms of messages and active users and web traffic. But in the last few weeks it has just hit some sort of tipping point where, at least within the blogosphere and pretty large community that everybody seems to be talking about it, which is kind of overwhelming for us of course.


Jason: Yeah, well I mean the closest I can see it, it seems like Robert Scobel to in at some point.


Evan: Yeah.


Jason: And I think Robert Scobel may be the tipping point. Do you think that?


Evan: Yeah, he’s definitely a factor. He’s very popular. Leo LaPorte also.


Jason: Ah, yes!


Evan: He’s driven tons of users. And there’ve been significant people like that, one after another the last few weeks. Just this week, or two days ago, Major Nelson, who I’m not even familiar with, but apparently is a huge figure in the Xbox world, posted about it on his blog and we got like thirty thousand visits in an hour or something like that two days ago, just from his referrer.


Jason: Now who has the, now this is interesting. And this is again I think one of your real strengths as an entrepreneur is you’re really good at making things simple to understand. You guys I think may have coined the term “followers”. I don’t’ know if I ever saw that anywhere, but there’s this concept that I don’t have to necessarily be friends with somebody, I can just follow them and get their update.


Evan: Right.


Jason: So is the definition of “Follow” an unreciprocated friendship?


Evan: Yes, I think so. I actually think our terminology is still a little bit confusing, and we wanna clean that up. But to follow someone on Twitter essentially means you’re getting their updates. And one of the key evolutions actually in Twitter that helped to take off is when we changed the relationship model.


Jason: Right.


Evan: ‘Cause at first we thought it was more like a mobile, social network, and it was actually: friendships had to be reciprocated.


Jason: Right.


Evan: And so more like your friends or whatever or “Are you my friend, yes, no” type thing. And we got rid of that, because, well at first we thought that it was only gonna be interesting with very small groups of people and you’re gonna wanna get like five or ten people’s messages, and not from people you don’t know.


Jason: Right.


Evan: And of course what’s happening now, that’s probably the majority of users. But then there’s also the cases like you and Scobel or, who are having thousands of people follow them. And so more of the blog models, the one-way relationships, seemed to make a lot more sense.


Jason: Yeah, I think that the innovation was that you basically created a way for, you know, “Web-famous” people, is that the joke? Like you’re “Web-famous”?


Evan: Right.


Jason: Like Blog-Celebrities to be followed. And so Scobel, I think last time I checked, he had 1,500 or 2,000 people. Leo had like 2,500 people. I have over, I broke a thousand this week, and I’m like, I just did a Twitter the other day, I’m like “What do you people . . . Why do you subscribing? what are you doing? why are you here?” And I got, you know, a crush of people responded and you know what they said? They said it’s just cool to know what you’re doing, because like I admire your blog or what you’ve done, and like it’s just cool to know that you’re at the Knicks game or whatever.


Evan: Right.


Jason: It’s very weird. I think you like, do you read Science Fiction, are you like a Gibson fan or something?


Evan: Not alot.


Jason: No? Because William Gibson had this great sort of thing in his virtual light series, you should read it. He, where like these little video cameras followed people around and like recorded and they were on blimps or something, and they would follow people and people subscribed to them. You’ve sort of the start of that, the total lack of privacy - but opting into it of course.


Evan: Right.


Jason: So speaking of that, photos and video, I mean you gotta be thinking about that right now. When does that come online?


Evan: Yeah, that’s a good question. We’ve been debating that since we started and we get that question a lot. But the way we look at it is simplicity is definitely one of the things that made Twitter work, and it will, at some point, I think it’ll become reliable and ubiquitous to enable photos and video. But it adds such a level of complexity that we’re nervous to do it yet. We can’t even, at this point, you can’t reliably deliver a photo via phone. So that’s the beauty of text in SMS, it’s really the only mobile thing that is ubiquitous enough. And you know, there’ll be a question at first of course. We also thought that it was much more about the SMS, and now a majority of people just do it through the web or through one of the clients, Twitterific or one of those. And you could argue “Well you could do photos on there and that they don’t have to go to the phone, but again it adds a level of complexity that we just don’t feel is needed yet.


Jason: Yeah. And the API stuff, you guys seem to have gotten that right from the beginning because it’s so different I guess than the last round of companies now that when you come out with something, it hits scale or starts to catch on, and then there’s a whole group of people who feel like, and you gotta sort of wonder like what the motivation is. But they basically build out your feature set for you.


Evan: Right.


Jason: Like this Twitterific and Twitteraholic, which is one of my guys from Netscape built of the list of the top like five hundred Twitter people.


Evan: Right.


Jason: Its’ pretty awesome to not have to build the features.


Evan: Yeah, it’s amazing, and I’ve never even seen it to the level that we’ve had with Twitter so early. So I suspect a lot of that’s due to just again the simplicity in dealing with very short text messages. You can do pretty much anything with them. So people have built clients, people have built visualizations. Twittervision is a really fun one.


Jason: What does that one do?


Evan: That takes and it shows Twitters streaming in over a world map.


Jason: Oh I saw that, yeah. And it’s sort of like, it’s the Google Map and it slides really cool.


Evan: Exactly.


Jason: And it’s kind of smooth. I heard that that was projected up on a wall up at SouthbySouthwest or something.


Evan: Oh really? I didn‘t see that, maybe it was in one of the panels or something.


Jason: So that’s Twitter, is that Twittervision, that one?


Evan: Yeah.


Jason: So what are the other ones then?


Evan: Oh there’s a whole host of them. So there’s . . .


Jason: There’s a Widget for Mac I just downloaded, I can’t remember the name of it.


Evan: There’s at least a couple Widgets for Mac, there’s Clients for Windows and Macs, Twitterlicious I think is maybe the Windows one. There’s Google Gadgets, there’s plug-ins for all of your, you know, PageFlix and all those sort of things.


Jason: So what are you gonna do about, ‘cause Digg had this problem with a bunch of people created like Digg This and Digg that, and I had to send them Cease and Desist letters, ‘cuz they were, you know, basically, you know, had to protect their trademark and all that kind of stuff. Do you have any thoughts on that now? I mean it’s sort of like a, it’s like a trap for entrepreneurs. You have to protect your Trademark but you wanna have this enthusiastic community. Are you gonna have to go through and just sort of anoint people and give them permission to use your name in their domain?


Evan: Yeah, I don’t know yet. I’ve been, that’s sort of been in the back of my mind as something we have to deal with at some point. I mean we have the same issue with Blogger, although Blogger is a little more complicated because when we started using the name it wasn’t a generic term, and then it became a generic term, but still people were building API stuff and calling it Blogger or whatever, and we just didn’t want the users confused that that’s us.


Jason: It’s such a complicated issue.


Evan: Yeah. Twitter, you know, a little clearer on the trademark, but we love what the developers are doing, so maybe it’s, I don’t know. It’s tricky.


Jason: It’s a really tricky issue. I think what has to happen at some point is people just have to go to a, the stasis will have to be that “If you’re gonna use my domain name in your brand, just get permission: you know? Like “We’re cool with it, but be anointed and we’ll give you a waiver to do it as long as you don’t”, whatever… But it sounds like people are starting to bounce around. I joked about this on Twitter, you know, like sort of my ongoing joke to my crowd was, you know, monetizing it, doing Google AdSense plug-ins and buying domain names. I bought a whole bunch of Twitter domain names. I never told anybody that until this point, but I bought about fifty Twitter names.


Evan: Oh geez!


Jason: And I camped on some stuff, ‘cause I was like, this would be funny either way: If Twitter really blows up and I create like the Autoblog and the EnGadget of Twitter, that would be kind of interesting. Like so a lot of people are looking at this and thinking this is a publishing platform like Blogger was. You could actually make a business out of that, what do you think?


Evan: I’m all for that, as long as we can figure out how to make a business too.


Jason: So what is the business, ‘cause I hear very mixed up views? Some people say you’re making a killing because of all the SMS traffic, ’cause you get a piece of it. And then another group of people, I think people don’t know what they’re talking about, ’cause then another group of people tell me, you know, when I do these like questions to the Twitter list, and they say “Oh no, no, no, no, no, it’s costing Twitter tens of thousands of dollars a month because they have to pay for each Twitter sent out.”


Evan: Right.


Jason: And you have to pay five hundred or a thousand dollars a month to maintain the 40404 from what I understand. So just maybe you could, without giving away your business, just explain what the hell’s going on. ‘Cause I got a $236 bill for 2,360 extra SMS messages. And I’m like “Who gets that money exactly?” ‘cuz I hope you get some of it.


Evan: Unfortunately not.


Jason: Ugh.


Evans: Yeah, it’s kind of fun to read the speculations. But the people who think that we’re making money are not correct.


Jason: Right.


Evan: I think that myth comes from, well two things: One is that people see these big bills which we apologize for and are trying to make it more clear what to expect. Everybody should upgrade to unlimited plans if they’re gonna turn on the mobile on their . . .


Jason: I think T-Mobile doesn’t have unlimited is the problem.


Evan: Oh really?


Jason: Yeah. I got 400 and then they have 500. I gotta go to the store ‘cuz I couldn’t find it on the website. But anyway, keep going.


Evan: Alright. I mean more carriers are giving unlimited plans, which is good. But basically we have to pay for those SMSs as well as the users.


Jason: Ugh.


Evan: So there’s, you know, the phone, the carriers are not the Internet we’ve learned, and they not only have a lot of control, but they charge everybody coming and going.


Jason: Wow! So when you send them to, when I send a Twitter to a thousand people on my list, what does that cost you?


Evan: It depends. It costs us like a couple of cents per message.


Jason: Ugh. Wow!


Evan: (Laughs.) However, that’s . . . So in the U.S., where the short-code works, it’s . . . Basically there’s tiered pricing plans and I don’t know what we’re paying right now, but there’s significant volume discounts.


Jason: Ah, ah, I got it, got it. So if you get to a hundred million, they’re like, they’re not gonna charge you five cents a message, they’re gonna charge you a tenth of a penny or something.


Evan: Exactly.


Jason: So you’re not getting crushed?


Evan: Right. It’s not impossible to deal with. If we can get it to a high enough volume and then you know, figure out some ways to make money, we think we could pay for it. But it’s definitely a money-losing operation at this point.


Jason: Is it six figures yet or it’s just five figures?


Evan: No. Not in SMS costs.


Jason: Five figures, four figures? What’s the ballpark?


Evan: It’s over five. I mean it’s five.


Jason: Five, right, okay. So that’s not so bad for a start-up if you’re spending $10, 20, 30 grand a month. But still that’s a cost, so what do you think the model is? Are you gonna put a leader board on my page?


Evan: I don’t . . .


Jason: I don’t mind.


Evan: Or interesting things we can do. I think it’s definitely going to take some experimentation. There’s a, the way I look at it is, if you look at it’s communication platform, potentially eventually a massive communication platform that has these real-time messages which is sort of unique, there’s going to be, there’s gonna be value for that, you know, in various ways. There’s gonna be marketing avenues, whether it’s advertising on the page or advertising in the messages. Hopefully it’ll be, we can come up with something that is, you know, adds to the user experience and doesn’t detract from it.


Jason: Yeah, absolutely.


Evan: So people, and there’s a bunch of people now using it for business purposes. I mean I don’t know if you saw Woot.com now sends up stuff for sale on...


Jason: Oh I see. So if I build up a large enough subscriber base, maybe there’s tools you could give me to manage my community and I could pay you $50 bucks a month.


Evan: Yes, yes. Maybe if . . .


Jason: Like a professional version.


Evan: If you’re using it for commercial purposes then there’s a subscription above a certain number of followers, and . . .


Jason: Ah, so I definitely got the model. So I’m definitely gonna be paying ‘cause I got over a thousand people. I think that’s fair though. And I think, I have to tell you, I think it’s turning into like a marketing vehicle for me. Like on Saturday . . . I don’t know if . . . Are you following me, or no?


Evan: Yes.


Jason: Oh okay. So I don’t know if you saw, I did this thing “Ask Jason“, where I said “Anybody ask me any questions, I’ll answer on Twitter in” . . . How many characters is it, like 120 or less?


Evan: 140, yeah.


Jason: So I was like I’ll answer any questions. I got about 50 people who asked questions, I responded. And then I lost like five people, ‘cause they’re like “I can’t follow this, there’s too many messages”, or whatever.


Evan: Oh, I saw your answers but I didn’t see your original message. I think I was snowboarding or something.


Jason: Yeah, you know, it’s really, I had to turn it off on my phone for now because it was just, I was getting crushed. But somebody told me there’s a solution for phone where you can get it through a web page or something, like cleaner.


Evan: We are actually working on that. Embarrassingly, we don’t have a good mobile version yet.


Jason: (Laughs.) Yeah. You’ll get to it.


Evan: Yeah, it’s in the works.


Jason: And so you have Biz Stone working over there?


Evan: Sorry?


Jason: You have Biz Stone is working over there?


Evan: Biz Stone does work here, yes.


Jason: He’s a cool guy. I spent some time with him, you know, back in the Google and Blogger days.


Evan: Yeah, Biz is awesome. He’s sort of a fount of ideas.


Jason: Yeah, yeah. So entrepreneurially, you know, like you’re a real fascinating entrepreneur, and you started Odeo, and then you did this like whole speech at one of the events, I don’t know which event it was, but it’s sort of legendary, you’re like “Listen, here’s all the things I did that were wrong, here’s the mistakes I made.” I don’t know, people were like “I don’t know, is this guy drinking or something?” People were really taken aback by it, because let’s face it, you’d had a huge homerun with Blogger, I mean there’s only fifty companies that have sold to Google in the last five years or something like that. Probably less, in the last two or three. So we had this tremendous success. Then you do Odeo, which it seems like is gonna parallel the success, ‘cause I mean it’s podcasting, you know, people are gonna need tools. This is the guy on the team that built the other one. And then it went sideways or something and you bought it back. What happened there and what lead you to go into that speech and just be totally blunt and honest like that, aside from the F.U. money?


Evan: Yeah, I don’t know. I just, I was sort of at a point where I had been frustrated for a while with Odeo and wanted to do this different thing. So I had offered, at the . . . When I did the speech I was planning on announcing that I was buying it back in the new plan, but I couldn’t do that quite yet ’cause the deal wasn’t closed. So I decided just to like kind of have the prelude without the conclusion.


Jason: Ah, so that led to a little bit of like “What’s up with this guy?”, you know.


Evan: Exactly. I figured, you know, it’s all honest and, you know, straightforward and no one can criticize you too much if you criticize yourself first. So it’s, you know, I thought it’d be useful too and I got a lot of feedback from people that, you know, it was useful for them to hear, so . . .


Jason: Very . . . That was very cool. And so you bought the company back from the venture capital. Who was in it, Charles River was in it and a couple of other people?


Evan: Yeah, Charles River was the VC and then a bunch of angels.


Jason: Right. So like what was that like, I mean as an entrepreneur if you can talk about it, you know, I don’t wanna pry too much? But it must have been, this hasn’t happened before that I know of that an entrepreneur said like “Hey VC‘s, I’m not into it, can I buy it back?” you know?


Evan: Right.


Jason: How did that go? Like I mean that takes guts to walk into a Board Meeting and say like, “I want my company back.” So it made you into a little bit of like a folk hero. I remember Mark Pinkus was writing about it on his blog.


Evan: It went surprisingly well. I mean the investors and the Board were always very cool and very supportive of me. And they, you know, they knew, it’s not like we were kicking all kinds of ass and I was, you know, stealing this asset from anybody. They knew that I wasn’t necessarily happy and that we needed to do something different. And I presented this option, and you know, they thought it was more than fair to everybody, so you know, it . . . Everybody was pleased with the outcome I think.


Jason: And so you, why didn’t it work, Odeo? I mean it seemed like you were the first guy in with the tool and everything, podcasting’s exploded, why didn’t it work by Blogger?


Evan: I think it could have eventually. But there were a few problems with it. Some just tactical such as just execution issues. It took us a lot longer to get our product out than we expected. I think we tried to do a lot, too much stuff, so we were so early in podcasting it looked like the field was wide open, so we were going to try to do everything.


Jason: Right. When you say everything, like hosting, directory?


Evan: Hosting, publishing tools, aggregation, listening, you know, advertising. And that was just kind of silly. Even if we wanted to do all that kind of stuff, we should have started, you know, more focused and got something out the door, because very quickly it got crowded and we spent like six months working on the listening experience, when we started in like January 2005, it was, podcasting was getting a lot of hype, but it was still ridiculously hard. You had to like go find the RSS feed and paste it into this shareware program that downloaded to your desktop, and . . .


Jason: Oh yeah, you made the software that let you . . . You made the like sort of like I-podder, and then I-Tunes came out and that became the default.


Evan: Exactly.


Jason: So game over.


Evan: Yes. And they basically lowered the bar for everybody to where we were pretty proud of where it got to, and then it was like, okay we’re not adding enough value, so we’re focusing more on this.


Jason: You had to scrap that business, yeah.


Evan: … On the listening tools, and one of the mistakes that, or the creation oand publishing, and like one of the mistakes there was that we weren’t really podcasters, and there was no one on the team who was really passionate about that.


Jason: Oh!


Evan: So we weren’t creating, you know, the best product on that side.


Jason: Right. And when you did Blogger you guys were bloggers so you built the tools that you wanted.


Evan: Exactly.


Jason: And so you had that massive insight.


Evan: Yeah, I think that’s critical, at least for me. I’m not a good enough researcher to know what people want and need and just don’t get behind it, and I think that shows.


Jason: Right. And when you did Twitter, that was a tool that you wanted.


Evan: Exactly. It was, again it’s the organic development process where you like, you have like an intuition and you try it out and you like it and you iterate based on your own desires. To me that’s where, you know, so many of the great products come from.


Jason: I think that’s an incredible lesson. I mean we get a couple thousand people who tune into this show and they’re basically all entrepreneurs who want to you know, or want to be entrepreneurs at some point, a lot of college students. This is a huge, huge point: If you’re not passionate about it, don’t do it, right? I mean what’s the point?


Evan: Right. And the whole processing, well I . . . With Odeo, and I knew this going in, which is why I kick myself with Odeo, is that you know, there was an opportunity, but it was . . . I sort of intellectualized it too much, and I got a lot of momentum, like a lot of people were buying into the idea, so I just sort of talked myself into it. But it wasn’t the same type of thing as Twitter or Blogger were where I‘m just like, it’s not clear that there’s a big thing here, but I feel it.


Jason: Right. And you know what the other thing is too, like you were coming off of that huge thing with Blogger.


Evan: Exactly.


Jason: You’re like the Web, Web 2.0 star, and of course that must have given you incredible confidence.


Evan: Right.


Jason: And I remember you at ETech when you showed it off I was in the room, the excitement about Odeo was just over the top. I mean it’s like you were . . . You know what it was, it was like know what it was like Tarantino coming off of Reservoir Dogs, it was like coming off of Pulp Fiction actually more accurately where it’s like oh my God, you felt that pressure, I take it?


Evan: Absolutely. And that, you know, that was one of the issues I felt personally is probably why I rushed into that a little sooner than I should have after leaving Google. ‘Cuz I needed to, you know, okay, I can. That it wasn’t just a fluke. I can do something else.


Jason: Yeah. And so did you have a business before Blogger? Were you an entrepreneur before that, or was that the first big entrepreneurial thing?


Evan: That’s the first thing that went anywhere. I had actually started an Internet company back in ‘94 in Nebraska.


Jason: Which is obviously a huge market.


Evan: Right. Especially at that time. Mostly I tried to explain what the Internet was, and then you know, didn‘t . . . Also didn’t really know, had no idea what I was doing, either building a company or developing products. So that was my first couple of ventures were big learning experiences. And then I finally came out to California and startedPyra Labs / Blogger.


Jason: So now like in Nebraska, are you like a total hero, like

‘cause I mean I’m taking it you came from a… What town was it in Nebraska?


Evan: It was a town called Clarks, Nebraska., it was about 400 people.


Jason: Wow, so you come from this little town and then you sell your company to Google and then you become this huge entrepreneur. It must be weird when you go back to Nebraska, huh?


Evan: It is, although I’m not sure many people there are aware of it.


Jason: Right. Yeah, I have that sort of experience too going back to Brooklyn sometimes, “Oh, I read about you in the New York Times.”, it’s kind of a surreal experience ‘cause it doesn‘t kind of happen every day. So when you look across the three companies and you think about lessons you learned and themes, because obviously you’ve been at it for now well over ten years in the Internet business, you got thirteen years in the Internet business, which is basically one more year than the Web existed with Images. Or actually that, ’94 was right when Mosaic supported Images.


Evan: Yep.


Jason: So you started right . . .That’s exactly when I started, when the Web supported images, it seems like that’s when people got involved. So if you look back on thirteen years, what are the lessons you learned about the Internet and then what are the lessons you learned about running start-up companies?


Evan: Oh gosh, I think one of my recurring lessons is you’ve got to follow your gut in that, you know, build things for yourself and kind of everything from, you know, who your partnering with, who you’re co-founding with, who you’re getting investment from, my gut is that that’s the way to tell. And most of my screw-ups have been from not listening to my gut or talking myself into something.


Jason: With investors, with partners, all that stuff, huh?


Evan: Exactly. And the other thing has been focus. I think this is probably for a lot of entrepreneurs a huge thing, focusing the idea of business, the number of things that you’re trying to do is such, it’s so often the cause that hardly ever, I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs who hardly ever are they looking at too small of an idea. They’re almost always trying to do too many things, ‘cause it seems like they’re trying to raise money, they need to justify the money so they’re painting this huge picture which just makes their chances of success so much lower.


Jason: It’s so much better to start smaller and then build up. I mean at this point you must be getting flooded with attention.


Evan: Yeah, absolutely. And the ironic thing really is that small things are hardly ever as small as you think. I mean look at Twitter or Blogger, it’s like it seemed trivial at first, like it’s just typing in a form and then spitting out this thing that’s not, you know, that’s barely a product, not a company.


Jason: Yeah, it’s interesting how that, I think that’s really sage advice. It’s like you know, you look at these things, they seem simple. But then if you imagine ten million people using it ten times a day now you’ve got a hundred thousand interactions, it’s not that small


Evan: Right.


Jason: And things have a way of turning that way really quick in this industry. So what do you…


Evan: Especially now. And that’s I guess going back to your question about lessons about the Internet is that there are so many people on there now, it’s just overwhelming once you have a hit and it starts growing, it’s flabbergasting how many more people there are every day potentially.


Jason: Right.


Evan: And that I think is helpful to keep in mind, even if they’re not coming to your door yet, because it allows you to focus I think a little more. One of my favorite examples of companies is Feedburner.


Jason: Sure, I remember Feedburner, yeah. Good company.


Evan: And they’re building an amazing company, super smart guys. When they started out I was like “What the heck, you’re just gonna focus on publishing feeds?” And that was like, well I was a blogger at the time and I was like “Well that’s one feature of our product”, and I didn’t realize at all how brilliant at all that they just drilled down on that one area, and they’ve added so much to it.


Jason: Yeah, they’ve added Metrics and they added Sales and an ad network, and they blew it out to a point that none of us could have independently.


Evan: Exactly.


Jason: Not the publisher or the stuff.


Evan: And they have no competition virtually and they just kick ass by, you know, drilling down and focusing on something that seemed small.


Jason: Okay, so there are the lessons: Focus, small things can become big, don’t go too wide, don’t take venture capital from dopey people. I think you said that sort of.


Evan: I didn’t say that.


Jason: You didn’t say that but I sort of heard it somewhere in between, I might have filled it in. Trust your gut, if you don’t, you know, and don’t do something that you’re not absolutely, totally passionate about. Two final questions….


Jason: Twitter device?. Somebody sent me in my “Ask Jason” session, “Will there be a Twitter device”, and I was like “That’s totally ridiculous, Twitter is platform invented. And now that I’m using it, I would really like a Twitter Device where I take somebody’s picture and then I hit “approve” and it goes to my Twitter. I take a video, I hit “approve” and it goes to my Twitter. Type on a keyboard and just hit it. A Twitter device, what do you think?


Evan: That’d be great. I want a Twitter Device to send to my mom, ‘cause she doesn’t have her own cell phone and doesn’t text message. And even if she, I could send her a cell phone hooked up to Twitter, but then typing and the little things would be annoying.


Jason: That’s good to take capital though. Are you gonna build that, are you gonna outsource, what’s the story?


Evan: I have no interest in that business personally. But if Nokia wants to build it, we can work from that.


Jason: Don’t worry about it, I have the Sequoia checkbook right here. I’m filling out a check for $10 million, made out to “Ev”. Do people call you “Ev”, or is that just your online handle?


Evan: A lot of people do.


Jason: Yeah, so I’m making a check out here, “Ev, $10 million for a Twitter device” in the Memo field, there it is.


Evan: Excellent, excellent, that sounds very focused.


Jason: That device would be really awesome. Oh, and the final thing, I always here this rumor story, and since it’s old news, it’d be great to know… Nick Denton was gonna by Blogger at some point, he always talks about that. True?


Evan: Yeah, as Moreover was going to . . . Actually Nick was going to twice. Once as part of Moreover one when he was CEO, he tried to get them to, and the Board turned it down. That was when we were basically at our lowest point in, right at the beginning of 2001, right before I…


Jason: Oh yeah, you guys were running low on cash and stuff.


Evan: Yeah, and it was right before I had to lay off everybody. And so it would have been, it would have been a very cheap deal. And then there’s another time when he came back later and tried to buy the stock of some of the shareholders, but….


Jason: Oh really? So he tried to, oh, that’s what we called “The End Run” in the business. He tried to do an end run, tried to buy out some of the folks, wow, interesting.


Evan: Right.


Jason: Wow, imagine how life would have changed if Nick Denton would have owned Blogger? I wonder if he would have been smart enough to sell it to Google. I don’t know.


Jason: He always, like every time I have drinks with him, I would say eight times out of ten times I’ve had drinks with him, he’s brought up he could have bought Blogger, how much stock he would have had and like, you know, just you can tell like that was the shot, you know. It’s brutal.


Jason: Anyway, it’s very cool to have you on the show. I really appreciate it. You’re obviously like a really honest guy and a genuine guy, and I think that’s rare in our space. I think that’s why you’ve had such huge success. And I’d love to grab a drink with you sometime in San Francisco.


Evan: Any time, my pleasure.


Jason: Thanks for being on the show man. I’ll talk to you. Bye.


Evan: Bye.


Jason: You like how I saved the most difficult question for last, “Oh, one of the things . . .”


Tyler: Oh yeah!


Jason: You know what I call that? A Columbo question.


Tyler: A Columbo.


Jason: One I think one more thing then, I just have to ask you one more thing, you said you parked in the car-park, it was raining, and I didn’t notice that there was any wet spot there.


Tyler: Right, a dry spot.


Jason: Wouldn’t it have been dry? Oh, Mr. Columbo. Anybody else could have parked there, you know? Ahhhh, I see, okay, you know what, that’s right, my wife says I’m a nudge.


Evan: The weird thing is he’s got a little bit of . . .


Jason: Oh, we’re gonna put this on the show?


Tyler: Maybe.


Jason: I forgot that we were recording.


Tyler: He’s got this little, maybe it’s because he’s from Nebraska, but he’s got like this very understated-ness that’s associated with Warren Buffet, which is like you can tell he’s got these big wheels turning, but it comes out like you just, you know, that you’re in Nebraska.


Jason: Yeah, he’s got that . . . See that’s what I need, ‘cause I come out like gangb… I’ve got the guns, I’m shooting things, I’m kicking tables over. I should come out like Ev and be just like “Yeah, you know, small things can be big!”


Tyler: Right.


Jason: Then I would sound smart as opposed to people saying like I’m too aggressive.


Tyler: Right, because you just totally underestimate, you know….


Jason: I think people underestimate him big time.


Tyler: I have the feeling he’s underestimating himself. He’s just got, you know…

Jason: I think he’s a humble guy.


Tyler: Yeah.


Jason: But you know what, you saw it when he was talking about Odeo.


Tyler: Right.


Jason: When he was talking about Odeo, he was saying like “I thought I had to get a project out there”, and “I could take that space.”, and he talked himself into it. I could tell you what was going on. He had a decent amount of Google stock and cash in the bank, he’s sitting there doing nothing. Everybody’s like “Ev, what’s your next project?”, you’re this big hero. And people are putting pressure on you like “Give us the next thing?”


Jason: You know, it’s like Jay-Z, you know, like “Where’s the next album?”, you know? And people want it, they need it, they love it, they love it. You know, I don’t know if you know that album, he’s like, they wanna know when the new album’s gonna drop. And it’s a pressure. You know. People are putting me under pressure now with “Project X”, they all wanna know, “Project X, when’s it gonna drop?” I’m telling you right now, the album’s gonna drop soon. I think in third quarter… Fourth quarter, the new album drops, we’ll put it out with the tour. Me and … out in public.


Tyler: Okay.


Jason: Well I think that’s as much post-interview as we can do.


Jason: But yeah, smart guy.


Tyler: Yeah, I don’t think this is the end of, you know . . . I think he’s got another round. It’s like the great artists. There is a separation between, you know, your B-List artists and you’re A-List artists is they have an ability to replicate their talent, album after album.


Jason: So like Dylan.


Jason: Dylan or Scorsese.


Tyler: Anyone can have one hit, you know.


Jason: Right.


Tyler: But he’s over on the, kind of on the second one.


Jason: Oh no, not kind of, he is.


Tyler: I know, but that’s what makes it interesting, he’s kind of proving that he might have what it takes to really be your Jobs or your Gates or whatever.


Jason: I think so, I think that’ll be interesting, ‘cause he’s two years younger than me I guess, so that makes him 34. I mean if you’re 34 and you hit two home runs, when you’re 50, you’re gonna be somewhere. It’s gonna be interesting because, you know, it reminds me of like Diller, John Miller, my guy, and a bunch of those other cable guys, Les Moonves . All those Cable guys were running around trying to make those Cable channels. They learned so much, ‘cuz they saw an industry go from nothing to dominance, and just massive, you know, growth. And they all still buzz around, they’re all still doing things. And then you look and you’ve got all these guys who are like running companies now like Diller and Katzenberg and all these like filmmaker, Geffin, this whole class who worked in the late ‘70’s. I guess Diller even worked in the movie business, whatever. Anyway. Can we get Diller on the show?


Tyler: Sure.


Jason: Why not? Why don’t we have like some of those like old dudes? Who would be like the good old guest to have? We could get like Murdock?


Tyler: We gotta get Turner, Ted Turner.


Jason: That is the guy!


Tyler: I know!


Jason: You get Ted Turner . . . What do I do for you if you get Ted Turner? If you me Ted Turner in studio, we’ll have to go for, what will we do? We’ll go to...


Jason: OK. Thank you everybody. Calacaniscast Number 21 with Ev Williams. Thank you GoDaddy. Thank you . . .


Tyler: Podtech.net.


Jason: Podtech.net. Let’s end with just a continuous stream of 60 seconds of Scobel laughing, and then just random pictures of Scobel with his shirt off.


Tyler: Okay.


Jason: So just wrap it up with that. It’s the Scobel, naked, belly . . .


Tyler: A Scobel medley.


Jason: A Scobel medley if you will, for your viewing pleasure. A Scobel medley.

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