Biz Stone was one of four co-founders of Twitter, building, in his words, “a moral compass and righteous soul into the company”. The 40-year-old has previously worked at Google and helped to pioneer blogging and podcasting, before being named GQ’s “Nerd of the Year” and one of Time’s most influential people in the world. He has written a book, Things A Little Bird Told Me, and is now CEO of a new venture, Jelly, a Q&A app that is “a complete reimagining of how we get answers to queries based on a more human approach”.
You seem to be quite a caring chap and are the only one of the four co-founders not to have fallen out with the others. Do you prove that nice guys can finish first?
Yeah, sure. “You can be successful and also be nice at the same time” is kind of the gist of my book. You don’t lose anything; you gain things. In my case, you gain notoriety, knowledge, friends. I decided one day that I was going to be nice all the time and see if that got me anywhere. And it was fantastic. It made me feel free to go up to teachers and say things like: “I have a no homework policy, here’s how it’s gonna go.”
One reviewer of your book wrote: “I wanted to hate this smug, obscenely-rich vegan do-gooder, but I concluded by thinking success couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” Is that a difficult path to tread?
Most of my Twitter feed is full of people who are saying: “This book is inspirational.” And then there are some people who read it as I’m a jerk. What’s ridiculous is that, a year and a half ago, I was talking to an executive coach who shook my whole understanding of myself. He said: “Biz, you can’t really think that everybody likes you, can you?” And I said: “I’ve been operating under that assumption for a long time.”
I’ve been wanting to “operate under the assumption that everybody likes me” as an experiment to see what happens. It’d be interesting and if nothing else, I’d be a happier person.