Twitter Inc. co-founder Evan Williams is the company’s biggest shareholder with about 15 percent, said people familiar with the matter, leaving him in position to become a billionaire after the initial share sale.
Williams owns a bigger stake than co-founder Jack Dorsey, said the people, who asked not to be identified because ownership stakes haven’t been disclosed. Twitter said earlier this month that it confidentially filed for an initial public offering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Should Twitter achieve a market capitalization above its $10.5 billion private-market valuation, Williams’s stake would top $1.5 billion. A higher listing price or an opening-day pop could put the 41-year-old serial entrepreneur in an elite class of technology multibillionaires that includes Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates, Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle Corp.’s Larry Ellison, Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos and Google Inc. founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
“It’s a testament to his belief in the company that he’s held on as long as he has,” said Maha Ibrahim, a partner at venture firm Canaan Partners in Menlo Park, California, which is not a Twitter backer. “There’s been so much opportunity to sell on the secondary market.”
Williams didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did Gabriel Stricker, a spokesman for Twitter.
Other Twitter shareholders who own stakes that currently would be valued at close to $1 billion include Dorsey, who also has a large ownership in his mobile-payments company Square Inc., and investment firm Union Square Ventures. Fred Wilson, a partner at Union Square, led the first institutional financing of the microblogging service in 2007, when Twitter was worth $20 million.
Williams, who previously sold the site Blogger to Google in 2003, built his stake in San Francisco-based Twitter by self-financing the project in its early days. Odeo, the podcasting startup Williams created in 2005, went bust, leading him to team up with Dorsey and Biz Stone. The result was a site that lets anyone post messages about anything in 140 characters or less. Twitter now has more than 200 million users.
Williams was Twitter’s chief executive officer from 2008 to 2010, the site’s fastest years of user growth. In October of that year, he stepped down, handing over the reins to Dick Costolo, the company’s operating chief. In 2011, Williams left Twitter to work on a new startup that became Medium, a publishing service for long-term articles.
Facebook’s IPO last year minted at least four multibillionaires, including CEO Zuckerberg, co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Eduardo Saverin and former president Sean Parker. LinkedIn Corp. co-founder Reid Hoffman is also a newcomer to that group after his company went public in 2011.