Twitter, the Startup That Wouldn’t Die

Life inside successful Web startups—especially the really successful ones—can be nasty, brutish, and short. As companies grow exponentially, egos clash, investors jockey for control, and business complexities rapidly exceed the managerial abilities of the founders.

Venture capitalist Peter Fenton calls this phenomenon “the violence of a startup.” And nowhere has the violence been fiercer, or more public, than at a company Fenton invested in and has helped to guide: Twitter.

Throughout its first five years of existence, Twitter always seemed on the verge of committing some excruciating form of startup seppuku. There were constant service outages (epitomized by the ubiquitous “fail whale” cartoon message), an embarrassing security breach in 2009 that released a torrent of internal documents, and nonstop departures of key employees. The pièce de résistance was the turmoil at the top: Twitter had three chief executive officers in as many years. That drama culminated with the promotion of serial entrepreneur and former Google executive Dick Costolo as CEO in 2010 and the return last year of one of Twitter’s founders, Jack Dorsey, as executive chairman and product chief.

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