Twitter founder tweets his breakfast menu

Jack Dorsey discusses Twitter, new venture and the creative process in Stanford talk

The creator of Twitter thinks it's worth tweeting what he had for breakfast.

Or so he told a Stanford University audience Wednesday (Feb. 9).

Though his breakfast menu is of no interest to the overwhelming majority of the people in the world, "it's extremely meaningful to my mother," 34-year-old Jack Dorsey told a mostly student audience in Stanford's new Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center.

He said he likes that people can use Twitter from a small scale to a global scale.

Dorsey, chairman of Twitter and founder of the mobile device credit card startup Square, spoke at Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar.

In a talk that ranged from his childhood fascination with city maps to the inspiration he finds from Apple, he discussed the history of Twitter and the thinking behind his new venture -- which aims to make it easy for businesses as small as taco trucks and piano teachers to accept credit card payments.

As a boy growing up in St. Louis, Dorsey said the "hidden energy" of the city's downtown was a "joy and a wonder to me.

"I became obsessed by maps," he said.

"I put them all over my room, hung them all over the walls and would just look at them and wonder what was happening at this particular intersection, how to get down this road more efficiently."

With an early MacIntosh computer in the mid-1980s, Dorsey taught himself to create maps with dots on them, and move the dots around. His parents owned a police scanner and he began entering data about real cases into his computer.

Later, he found open databases of the information.

"Now I had a picture of real live data -- of a real live city -- operating in front of me. I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever. I could visualize a city living and breathing."

More than a decade later, Dorsey launched a crude attempt at urban networking, using a Blackberry and an e-mail list of friends.

"I wrote some simple software and typed an e-mail that said, 'I'm at Golden Gate Park watching the bison' and broadcast it out to all the people. First of all, no one cared and second, no one else had a Blackberry, so I was alone in my sending and receiving."

It wasn't until late 2005 and early 2006, while working for consumer podcasting company Odeo, that he sent the first real tweet, and the venture was spun off as Twitter.

"It's still a desire for me -- and now that more and more people are using (Twitter) all over the world, you can see even faster what's unfolding in the world," Dorsey said.

"It really comes down to curiosity about what's happening right now, everywhere, and being the pulse of what's happening right now everywhere."

Akin to his joy in visualizing the life of a whole city, Dorsey said his new venture, Square, leads him to visualizing financial transactions.

"Imagine a visualization of money flowing from one place to another place," he said.

"We want to make payments feel amazing, this exchange of value feel awesome."

Dorsey said a major lesson he's learned as an entrepreneur is the power of a great story.

"If you want to build a product that's relevant to folks, you need to put yourself in their shoes and write a story from their side," he said.

"We want one epic and cohesive story we tell the world, and both Twitter and Square are striving toward this goal."

He cited Apple's Steve Jobs as a master storyteller.

"Apple is run like a theater company -- they have a great sense of pacing, great sense of story, great sense of execution. It's all event-driven and the billboards, keynotes, product launches all have a cohesive, end-to-end story.

"I've learned a lot from that company and others who operate in a similar fashion."

Dorsey said when he has a "shower moment" or an inspiration while walking at midnight in New York City, he's learned it's important to write it down.

"Draw it out, or code it, but you need to get it out of your head and see it on a surface that's not your mind," he said.

"Once you do that you can step back from it, say 'This passes my filter, maybe I can share it with some other people.'

"They'll be, like, 'This is the stupidest idea ever, or it's something interesting.' But the sooner you can do that, then you have momentum around it and can decide if you want to commit to it or put it on a shelf for a later date."

Asked whether he aspires to scale up the Square venture for use by larger retailers, Dorsey said it could be possible in the future -- similar to the way Twitter is used both on a what-I-had-for-breakfast scale as well as for global issues.

"I really like building utilities that scale from individual use all the way up to a larger use," he said.

"You can see this with Twitter, with people using it to talk about what they had for breakfast -- which is something that I do -- to having businesses and governments using it."

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that some potential acquirers are valuing Twitter between $8 billion and $10 billion, and that the company has held "low-level talks" with both Facebook and Google.

Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar is co-sponsored by the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and BASES, a student entrepreneurship group.

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Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:22 am

Wow, this is a new low. I've appreciated what the Twitter co-founders have said in past interviews because they come across as interesting, egalitarian, thoughtful & smart. I know that this medium can also be used for banal & puerile transmissions, but by one of the founders, talking about it publicly? Puhlease. That's what a text message is for. Perhaps his mom is to blame - if she is still that interested in what he had for breakfast, get the woman a real job!

Like this comment
Posted by what is worse
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:35 am

What is more boring, tweeting you breakfast menu or reporting that someone tweeted his breakfast menu?

If there is no bad news going on today, how about hitting the streets and looking for some good news to report?

Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:57 am

Ok, well being a cleverer person than apparently some others are - I read the entire article and by about the third paragraph figured out that it wasn't actually an article about tweeting breakfast menus.

What the tweet founder had to say was quite interesting, and could be downright inspirational to students.

Thank you Chris for reporting on this.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:47 am

It amazes me that the only way to find out if there is a problem with Caltrain is to look on Twitter. Have you noticed that all the traffic guys on the radio/tv ask people to tweet them with traffic delays, likewise weather?

Twitter sounded like a strange idea when it first came out, after all who wants to read tweets about who ate what for breakfast. Yes, some college students did use it first to help organize their social life.

But, it is now an important tool with useful applications. In the immediate information age, not for gossip, but for useful information, it is right on track.

Like this comment
Posted by Max
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Sounds like an interesting talk by a guy who is well equipped to inspire students and entrepreneurs. The only problem is the article's headline. Come on, Chris. You're predisposing your readers to buy into the uninformed school of thought that Twitter is a banal playground for ego maniacs.

People joke about Twitter being about "what's for breakfast" but its true value is capturing what's going on RIGHT NOW all over the world. I suspect that what Jack was trying to say (with his breakfast reference) is that what is interesting to different folks varies dramatically. His mom may still be interested in his nutrition, a lot more people in Stanford's Orange Bowl victory, and even more in the uprising in Egypt. The same tool is useful in each case. That's what's cool about it.

Like this comment
Posted by Yasmin
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I, too, found Dorsey's story quite interesting. Thanks for the article, Chris!

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Yeah, anon, I got it, too. Still take exception to him tweeting is breakfast - ridiculous. If he'd been smart enough to leave that out of his talk, it wouldn't have been reported. He's a smart guy & he can do better.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm

can someone inform me on: Twitter's policy on ownership of content and other privacy policies. Thx.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Twits? Isn't that what they call people who use Twitter? ;-)

I supposed it is a great invention for a world-wide reporting of revolution, disaster, and such, but breakfast?

I suppose we should all be happy that so far we are only getting the story how what goes in, I guess it could be worse! ;-)

Like this comment
Posted by ??
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Reminds me of King Louis XIV and his public breakfasts at Versailles... Sounds a bit megalomaniac to me...

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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