In middle school, my teacher assigned a book by Mario Puzo called “The Godfather.” Yes, it was pretty epic. From that work of art, mass audiences were introduced to Don Corleone and eventually its derivatives; Goodfellas, Bugsy, Capone, Casino, Heat, The Departed, and scores of other pieces that romanticized the notion of organized crime across the globe, a world of big bosses, willing soldiers, and internal codes of helping out each other, from family to family.
One reason I believe the Valley is so enamored with these types of groups is because individual stars emerge from an organization that go on to become more influential and powerful. And so, in the world of the web, the term “mafia” has also caught on, albeit in a much more positive way. This has all been written about before. The premiere group is the “PayPal Mafia,” which lumped together incredible minds to form one of the world’s most important companies and whose alumni are now founders and/or financiers of some of the most disruptive new technology companies today. The other important mafia hails from Facebook (which Sarah Lacy has chronicled brilliantly), where early employees have gone on to found Quora, Asana, Path, and Cloudera, among others, and who have also quietly provided angel funding to some of the most interesting new startups (and perhaps even acting as limited partners in other investment funds). Facebook liquidity approaches for many more employees, which will only deepen its impact.
Which leads me to speculate where the next mafia could emerge from: Twitter.
It’s a bit early, but Twitter has the makings for the next “family.” At the moment, Facebook is in a significantly stronger financial position and set to go public this year. Twitter’s future is less certain, but as a loyal and heavy user for three years, I am extremely bullish on Twitter and believe it’s currently undervalued economically today despite the kinks it needs to iron out. That’s an argument for another post, but for now, I believe Twitter alumni have a terrific chance to form the next Valley mafia. We are at the early stages of this, but as the first few flocks of early employees and the founders start to move on, they are already spreading their post-Twitter wings and are in a position to exert a good deal of influence, both financially as well as in the formation of new businesses.
To begin, some well-known leaders at Twitter have gone on to found new companies or to make a nest on Sand Hill Road. Former PM Josh Elman is now investing with Greylock Partners, though he also has membership in the LinkedIn and Facebook mafias. Mike Abbott, a former VP of Engineering with Twitter, is now investing as a General Partner with Kleiner Perkins. Alex Payne has gone on to start Simple, a highly anticipated startup focused on banking. Jeremy LaTrasse, who was at Twitter from the beginning and logged four years in ops for the company, is now a co-founder and CTO of Message Bus. Kevin Cheng founded Incredible Labs and is working on a new product called Donna. Anamitra Banerji is currently an EIR with Foundation Capital, perhaps mulling over his next thing, and Abdur Chowdhury left to start a new school in San Francisco, Alta Vista School.
And of course, there are Twitter’s three founders, and early employee Jason Goldman. Obviously Jack Dorsey is still at Twitter but also leading Square, as well as being an early investor in ultra hot startups like Kickstarter, Instagram, Flipboard, and Foursquare. The other two founders, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, have returned to the lab that created Twitter — Obvious Corp — and brought with them product extraordinaire Jason Goldman as a third founder. The group has been somewhat vague so far about its ambitions to date, but we now have an early peek at a potential strategy, as the group is closely tied to Lerer Ventures and has invested in Caterina Fake’s Pinwheel, incubated Lift, and most recently Branch (formerly know as Roundtable).
Along with their product knowledge, wealth, and broadcast influence through creating Twitter, we may start to see these early Twitter stars begin to flex their muscles as an entirely new mafia in fascinating ways. Though it remains to be seen if Twitter will generate the type of wealth that PayPal and Facebook will, the early alums are a good indication of the diversity of talent within Twitter HQ today. Simply living through the fires that the company has survived will toughen present and future alums for bigger risks, and their intimate knowledge of Twitter strengths and blind spots could help them and others chart more precise courses as the ecosystem grows and widens. Only time will tell if Twitter will join the ranks of PayPal’s and Facebook’s mafias, but if the recent past is any indication, there’s a great chance we’ll be using the term “Twitter Mafia” more regularly.
Photo Credit: Jerine on Creative Commons Flickr