EVAN WILLIAMS is the co-founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium. In January 1999, Evan co-founded Pyra Labs, which created the blog-publishing service Blogger (and coined the term “blogger”), which was acquired by Google in early 2003. He then co-founded Odeo and Obvious Corporation, which gave birth to Twitter in 2006. Evan was Twitter’s co-founder and lead investor, and is its former CEO. He is currently CEO of Medium, the online publishing platform. Evan grew up on a farm in Clarks, Nebraska.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
At Blogger, it was after the dot-bust, and we were out of money (like lots of others) and looking around for a soft landing. We had a meager acquisition offer from another private company for all stock. I wasn’t excited about it, but my team wanted to do it (understandably, as it meant they still had jobs and, in theory, we could continue working on our product). I would have acquiesced, but we failed to close the deal, because their board didn’t approve it. I did have to lay off the team, but we scraped by and two years later sold Blogger to Google. The other potential acquirer went out of business. From then on, I realized that some of the most successful deals are those you don’t do.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Mindfulness meditation, which I started doing regularly about five years ago, has changed my life more than any other behavior. I feel like it rewired my brain (probably because it did). At first, I felt the effects very powerfully. After a few years, it feels less dramatic but necessary. If I go more than a couple days without sitting, I feel off. Wish I had started many years before.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Be in a hurry to learn, not in a hurry to get validation. In a team environment, you will make a much better impression if it seems like you’re not at all worried about yourself. It’s okay to actually be worried about yourself—everyone is— just don’t seem like it. If you resist asking for too much, you will often get more.