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July 28, 2009

Excerpts of the following interview appear in the July issue of Lacrosse Magazine. As promised, here's the full interview with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.

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Lifestyles: Biz Stone Tweets at Length on Start-Ups

Biz Stone is on the move, much like his company — the wildly popular social phenomenon Twitter.

Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder and former lacrosse player.

© Twitter

But like any former lacrosse player, he loves to talk about the sport, so he violated his 140-character rule to dish the dirt with LM.

How did you first get into lacrosse?
When I got to high school at Wellesley (Mass.), I wanted to get involved in sports, but I’d never done anything in my youth like the other kids, so I was intimidated by the learning curve. When I learned that my high school didn’t have a lacrosse team, I saw that as an opportunity — if nobody knew how to play lacrosse, then we would all be equals. So I got a coach and helped found a lacrosse team. It turns out that I was pretty good and led the team for four years, which was a great learning experience.

Was that your first start-up, so to speak?
You could say that was a first start-up. Although, as a kid I would go into the basement and try to invent things — my own scuba tank made from soda bottles did not work out. When I was in middle school, I started Stone’s Weekly Lawn Care, which was just me pushing a lawn mower around the neighborhood because I wasn’t old enough to drive. There was one lawn that was pretty far away, which was a little weird.

Do you think entrepreneurs are born or made?
Some entrepreneurs are born and others just need to have the vision unlocked somehow. There is a German film called “Wings of Desire” — in it, an angel wants to know what it feels like to taste food, drink coffee, fall in love and other things. In order to do so, he must become mortal and that, to me, is what being an entrepreneur is like. That overwhelming willingness to go for it.

How did you first become interested in technology and social networking?
My initial interests were in the arts. I dropped out of college to accept a position as a graphic designer and later taught myself to design for the Web. As luck would have it, some friends wanted to start an Internet company, so we put our heads together and created in 2000. Xanga launched me into the world of social media.

How important is teamwork at Twitter?
A strong focus on internal communication and teamwork are what pulled us from the brink when our popularity far outstripped our preparation. During that trial by fire, breaking our team up into smaller teams that could focus on a more craftsman-like approach to work led to more communication. We continue to focus on communication and culture so the company will grow up properly.

How about resiliency? There must be a lot of trial-and-error at a start-up, not unlike kids and parents trying to get lacrosse off the ground.
It’s important to get started, make mistakes and iterate towards success. Yes, Twitter ran into trouble when it got popular fast, and we weren’t ready, but that’s preferable to a service that is built perfectly to scale but nobody uses it. The important thing is to be playing the game — not talking about playing the game.

What advice would you give to someone starting a team or a company?
Whatever you start, you should be an active participant. Don’t start something because other people will like it, start it because you want it in the world. Start it because you want to be part of it and you’re emotionally invested.

What do you see for lacrosse in San Francisco? It’s very popular in SoCal, but I understand it’s growing in the Bay Area.
We just hired someone who was a lacrosse player at Stanford here in the Bay Area — she brought her sticks the other day and we’ve been playing catch in the office. It’s a big loft space.

How do you handle corporate growing pains?
Scaling is an important word from a technical aspect, but also from a company and team aspect. The key is to focus on those ingredients that are important — the people. We try to answer the question, ‘What does it mean to build a company?’ You need a great product and an awesome place to work, but you also want to contribute to global and local issues. It should be meaningful to come to work.

What is your favorite Tweet ever?
My friend Philip wrote a funny tweet a while back, “Taking a bath. Come over if you want to learn about water displacement.” Knowing Philip, that made me laugh out loud.

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