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Biz Stone on Being Twitter's "Best Supporting Actor" and His Secret Startup Idea

"My perspective tends to be hallucinogenically optimistic," said the Twitter co-founder, in an onstage interview.

Hachette Book Group

When Biz Stone walked into San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club Monday night, many people didn’t recognize the Twitter co-founder, still boyish at age 40.

“That was him? He’s like my next-door neighbor, so unassuming,” said Jennifer McDonald, who was hosting a Western Pension Benefits Council meeting in the next room over. “A down-home kid.”

Before the sold-out event began, Stone navigated through the crowd of 350 people, made his way to the spread of Brie and snap peas, and debated whether he should have a glass of wine. He asked his media manager for advice.

“I want to be loose, but maybe not too loose,” Stone said.

Opting for the house white, he headed onstage for his interview with Re/code Co-Executive Editor Kara Swisher, during which he talked about his feel-good if somewhat vague new book, “Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind.”

“My perspective tends to be hallucinogenically optimistic,” Stone said. His goal in writing was to “allow readers to look at the world through my eyes.”

A manifesto about how to be as happy as he is, the book is a nice-guys-finish-first treatise. He sums it up in three points: Creativity is a renewable resource. Opportunity can be manufactured. And there’s compound impact in altruism.

How you take Biz Stone’s opinion depends on what sort of personality you have. As Tim Wu put it in his Washington Post review: “Stone is an exceedingly positive and upbeat person, whose account of how he made it big by being a nice guy you will find either uplifting or unbearable, depending on your disposition.”

Though the Twitter executives had a notoriously drama-filled jostling for who would be CEO (“a hipster ‘Game of Thrones,'” as Swisher called it), Stone sees himself as pretty separate from all that.

“I was the creative guy,” he said. “I always felt I was the Oscar-winning supporting actor. Ev (Williams) and Jack (Dorsey) are very similar, thoughtful, pensive, speak when spoken to.”

He’s not above taking a few shots, though, and the book includes digs at current Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. Onstage, he did impressions of Williams and Dorsey — both involved clasping his hands on his lap and smiling to himself. For Williams, he looked up and said, “Well.” For Dorsey, he just stared at his lap and said, “Hmm.”

After being sidelined at Twitter, Stone said, he wasn’t very upset, and told the team that he wanted to leave to “noodle around.” And that’s what he’s been doing since 2011. His new question-and-answer app, Jelly, launched in January.

Presenting his 60-second idea to change the world (a Commonwealth Club tradition), Stone proposed Neighborly, a communication system through home Wi-Fi network names (rename your network to send daily messages across the fence or to the apartment next door). He had named his own network AppleTree; one day, his neighbors asked if it meant that he was angry about their apple tree, which overhangs Stone’s lawn.

Of course not, explained the sunny-side Stone: He named it because he loved their apple tree — and had actually just made a pie.

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