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Evan Williams's Start-up Secret: Just Hang On

The co-founder of Twitter and Medium, perhaps best known as @Ev, explains the power of conviction when starting a company through tales of his ups and downs with Blogger and Odeo.

Evan Williams

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Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and creator of the blogging tool Medium, spoke at the Wired Business Conference Tuesday about the most important judgment call an entrepreneur ever has to make. He also explained the role he believes his latest project plays online, and the joy of posting cat pictures.

Here are a few highlights:

"If you don't die, you win sometimes."

As an entrepreneur, how do you know when it's time to throw in the towel? What about when it's right to stay the course?

"I don't know any way to do it other than really listening to your gut," Williams said. When Odeo, a podcasting network that was something of a precursor to Twitter, hit the skids a few years ago, Williams said he realized his team was no longer passionate about the project.

But, in contrast, "Blogger was in more dire straits when I still kept going with it, but at that time I was completely convinced it needed to exist in the world," he said. So, he kept Blogger going.

There are, he went on to say, more sophisticated ways of gauging the question of course--testing the market or examining your numbers, for instance. But in the end, whether a given project sinks or swims, hanging around in the same industry might just pay off. "There's something about just hanging around when it comes to success on the Internet," Williams said.

"I just had this idea we should let people post their cat pictures."

To bet on a new idea, you have to have faith, Williams said. Don't overanalyze it.

"When we were doing Twitter, even inside of Odeo, we were excited about Twitter but realized we couldn't turn all 14 people to Twitter because it was this little spark of an idea," he said.

If you put too many people around a flickering idea, he explained, you risk blowing it out. A wiser strategy is to "let that thrive, and if that starts burning brighter, send more people over to pay attention."

"It's not a social network."

Williams said this of Medium. It's "more than 140 characters, not just for your friends." Williams said. There are numerous places to publish online. But what makes Medium unique, Williams explained, is the platform's ability to tap into the power of the Internet. "What the Internet is great at is building networks," he said.

"We didn't get that when we built Blogger," he added. "We were doing nothing to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts."

IMAGE: Joi Ito/Flickr
Last updated: May 7, 2013

JULIE STRICKLAND covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurial endeavors of all kinds for Inc. Her work has been published in Brooklyn Based and City Limits in New York, the Free Times in Columbia, SC, Real Travel Magazine in London, and Daegu Pockets in South Korea. She lives in New York City.
@Jules5168




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