What I Learned From Interviewing Ev Williams, Founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium
Last year, my best friend Michael and I started a podcast called InTheir20s.
We created our podcast as a way to share professional & career development advice from influential business leaders, celebrities, and all-star athletes. During the pandemic, many of our friends and peers were struggling to find jobs and purpose which is why we have turned to the most influential people in the world about how they have overcome uncertainty and achieved success. In this time of uncertainty, listening to each of our guest’s journeys to impact in their respective fields has been exceptionally informative and inspiring.
My co-host, Michael, passed away on April 20, 2021 after a battle with brain cancer. I’m committed to keeping his memory alive through the podcast we started together.
Interviewing Ev Williams was a pivotal moment in the growth of our platform. Writing about it on Medium, the company Ev founded, is even more rewarding.
Williams has revolutionized the internet as we’ve come to know it. With Blogger, he made blogging accessible to everyone; with Twitter, he helped people share ideas from anywhere; and with Medium, Williams has created a digital network of curious minds. Williams has been instrumental in giving people a voice on the internet. And even with all his accomplishments, Williams sees no reason to stop creating.
Williams fell in love with the internet in his 20s and never looked back.
Growing up on a small farm in Clarks, Nebraska, many would not have expected Williams’ global impact on the Digital Age. After discovering the 2nd-ever edition of Wired Magazine at a local mall in his early 20s, Williams was inspired to make his mark on the cyberspace.
The rest is history.
Here are the top three moments from my interview with Ev Williams:
Learn from Failure
In his life, Williams has reached heights of business acumen that only few will ever see. He sold Blogger to Google at age 31; helped build Twitter into a platform with over 330 Million users; and started Medium, which has the power to become the largest online publishing platform.
Williams endured failures that helped him become a wiser entrepreneur.
Before moving out West, Williams started his first internet company while in Lincoln, Nebraska. From this company, he learned how to build websites and software products. One of the “toughest pills to swallow in his life” was dealing with the early failures of his Nebraska internet company. Williams was forced to fire many of his friends that worked for him and lost money that his father had invested into the company.
After his first year in the Bay Area, Williams started a company called Pyra Labs (Blogger was built as a side-project for Pyra Labs). After Pyra Labs’ first round of funding, the dot com bust occurred. Williams was unable to raise additional funds and was forced to let members of his team go, much like his previous company. During our interview, he mentioned this period of financial hardship was another hit to his self-esteem. Williams was candid about memories spending hours combing through couches for spare change just to be able to afford a cup of coffee.
These moments taught Williams how to “work through failure.”
By working through failure and continuing to create companies, Williams was able to learn from his prior mistakes and plan for the future.
I asked Ev, What is a common practice you developed in your 20s that has guided you towards success?
His answer: Focus
Many people are aware of the power of focus, but find it challenging to harness it for themselves. During our interview, Williams shared that at times, even he has difficulties focusing.
With so many distractions, one of the most important skills entrepreneurs must possess is focus. Williams recommends younger entrepreneurs find a very small part of a market, or a specific use case, and focus solely on that.
“Don’t try to do too many things, too early.”
Williams believes that many people are discouraged from focusing because they might feel self-conscious about their work. Meaning, if an entrepreneur is focused on solving too small of a problem in a marketplace, they may feel that they are not contributing to the world as they should, or that their work isn’t “exciting enough.” Williams wants more entrepreneurs to push through that feeling of doubt. “Narrowing your focus at first allows you to expand your focus later.”
Always Choose Growth Over Status
In 2017, Williams was invited by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to be the Commencement speaker, in addition to receiving an honorary degree.
In his 15-minute speech, Williams spoke about the most important lesson he wish he gave himself in his 20s: “choosing growth over status.”
Growing up in Clarks, Nebraska, there was a lot of pressure for Williams to follow a specific path in life. In his hometown, many people achieved status by excelling in sports, particularly football, or through material wealth. Williams found it difficult to align with this culture, and often felt like an outsider.
Williams ultimately dropped out of college because he was anxious to get out into the world and find external validation through entrepreneurship.
During our discussion, Williams shared that there were many moments in his youth where he felt he was in a rush to prove himself. By focusing on his growth as an entrepreneur instead of his status, Williams may have made more progress sooner if he was focused on his development and progress, rather than what he was achieving.
Growth is directly tied to patience.
Williams has observed many people that are too pressed on getting a better title or managing more people, when instead they should be patient with their progress and focus more on the day-to-day. In the long-term, people who focus on their growth early in their career find more success later down the line.
Stream InTheir20s on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, & YouTube for the best advice from the best people. Learn more at www.intheir20s.com