Creative Artists Agency is reportedly discussing opening a Silicon Valley office where tech executives would become "rock stars." And they may start with Biz Stone, the vodka pitchman, Twitter co-founder, AOL adviser, and blogging how-to author. Stone is a good choice, being undistracted as he is with being an actual functioning technology executive.
CAA hopes to do everything from dispensing movie advice to representing hotshot entrepreneurs to incubating startups, according to Reuters. The Hollywood talent agency is already representing Stone through its speaker division, alongside Randi Zuckerberg, the fameball sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It's clearly hoping the national fascination with tech titans like Zuckerberg, profiled in Oscar-winning The Social Network, and Steve Jobs, subject of a TV pilot and theatrical production, will help avoid failures like William Morris Endeavour's ill-fated Mail Room Fund.
Maybe CAA's agents can turn Stone into the next object of Aaron Sorkin's fascination. Who knows. As a businessman, he's not going to give them much to work with. As a spinner of fantasies, he is more accomplished.
Stone has been confounding us for years now. What does he really do? His claim to fame is that he helped start Twitter, but so did lots of other people, and the details on Stone's special contribution are elusive. The idea for the microblogging service came from designer Jack Dorsey; the name and crucial early evangelism came from Noah Glass; the money came from Blogger.com creator Ev Williams.
It's true that Stone was part of the small team that created the first Twitter prototype. It's also true that afterward the co-founder's duties seemed to consist mainly of showing up on television and in print to talk about Twitter, convincing everyone the site was the inevitable future of human communication and social liberation. There was a time when Stone was also referred to — for example in Time — as Twitter's "director of business development." That's not one for the a resumé, given the microblogging service long and well known history of not earning any real revenue. And Stone's spin about Twitter — on Colbert, on Conan, on CNBC — belied the fact that it has been an unprofitable experiment rather than a real business like Facebook.
Now, Twitter was always supposed to be a different company of company, granted. Vegan animal lover Stone led Twitter's campaign to position itself as a force for good in the world. He bragged in The Atlantic that Twitter was on at least one shortlist for the Nobel Peace Prize; he blogged on Twitter's corporate website about the company making wine to benefit education; and he was outspoken on behalf of its "Hope 140" philanthropic programs. But then Twitter, acting more like a typical hard core capitalist enterprise than the altruistic force Stone envisioned, strong armed its way into $22 million in city tax breaks, fueling "catastrophic cuts" to San Francisco's health, police and transit services. Stone didn't mount so much as a token defense and soon parted ways with the company.
Stone has also been baffling outside of Twitter. In March, AOL and the Huffington Post jointly appointed him a "strategic adviser for social impact," the idea being that he would help the company "do good" and adopt a "higher definition of success."
How did AOL do ethically after Stone began his advising? Well, the day after Stone joined up AOL's MovieFone division unapologetically pressured an AOL writer (at TechCrunch) to "tone down" a "snarky" blog post about a movie. Three weeks after Stone came on, AOL fired a ton of freelancers, invited many to work for free, fired the editor who invited them to work for free, and a week later got hit with a class action lawsuit from aggrieved former Huffington Post bloggers.
In subsequent months the company was called unethical by the leading national association for designers, pilloried by employees who said editorial director Arianna Huffington created a hostile and brutal work environment, and publicly asked whether its pressure cooker newsroom sent a writer to the hospital.
Talk about social impact!
Stone left still unprofitable Twitter in June after an executive shake up. He and former Twitter CEO Ev Williams, who met at Google eight years ago, re-formed an incubator called Obvious Corporation, which at the moment is helping to develop a "positive reinforcement" social network now in "private alpha.". Stone also launched a sideline in academia; earlier this month Stone temporarily joined the faculty at the UC Berkeley business school to speak to students and "advise" staff and other faculty.
Maybe his first lesson can be on how to make a career talking up good ideas until they sound deceptively like good businesses — and until the talker sounds deceptively like a visionary creator rather than a peddler. It might not be the most useful of gigs, but it pays well and is high profile. Maybe even Hollywood level high profile. For a clutch of MBA types, that should be good enough.