Twitter has millions tweeting in public communication service

ByABC News
May 26, 2009, 7:36 AM

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's tea time at Twitter. While that may evoke images of courtly discussion over Earl Grey and finger sandwiches, it's quite another thing at Silicon Valley's new "it" company.

The idea is that any employee can step in front of the 43-person start-up and offer a no-holds-barred weekly critique on a Friday afternoon. Co-founders Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone often watch from the back, taking mental notes. Some employees recite poems; others make wacky slide presentations. The point is to express what the company means to them.

In another tradition, Alison Sudol, a musician with more than 500,000 followers on Twitter, this month spoke at headquarters, part of a monthly ritual in which artists and academics drop by to impart wisdom and entertain.

Both events underscore the bottom-up culture fostered by Twitter's unassuming co-founders, who have become reluctant media stars. "Tech founders get a little too much emphasis," CEO Evan Williams says. "So many people here contribute to our success."

Today, it seems everyone wants a piece of Twitter. There have been rumors of takeover overtures from Google, Facebook and Apple. Twitter, like Google, has become a verb (though the proper term is "tweet"). Twitter's co-founders have had a profound impact on how millions of people communicate. Yet, despite appearances on Oprah,The View and The Colbert Report, many refer to them as simply The Twitter Guys.

"They've created a new way for people to communicate publicly and instantaneously," says Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who is on the company's six-member board and an investor.

The trio, all in their 30s, are college dropouts with a modest track record of success. Each helped start a company before Twitter. Dorsey invented the service out of his deep fascination with taxi dispatches and city grids. Williams began reading business books for fun as a teenager. Stone wrote two books on blogging, and is Twitter's de facto public relations department.

They're sitting on a potential gold mine. The 3-year-old firm raised $35 million in February alone $55 million to date and was recently valued at about $100 million.

To be sure, behind the feel-good vibes, meteoric growth and nationwide fixation, Twitter's founders face issues of user retention, outages and persistent questions about monetization. Such are the challenges for a highflying start-up trying to live up to its considerable hype in the worst economy in more than 70 years.

Yet, industry leaders such as CEO Tony Hsieh are convinced Twitter is up to the task.