Biz Stone doesn’t need to be launching a new startup. He’s about to turn 40, has a young kid and a slate of philanthropic stuff to keep him busy. Oh, and thanks to the Twitter IPO, he no longer needs to work again. (Just how scratch Stone is remains a matter of some mystery, since the company’s SEC filings don’t list him among the shareholders who own more than 5 percent of its stock. But for the record, Stone told me, he certainly wasn’t dumb enough to unload all of his shares before the IPO.)
When I spoke to Stone today about the official launch of his mobile Q&A app, Jelly, he called the startup’s birth “like an accident.” After leaving Twitter, “I was getting more philosophical about things, like why are we so connected as a society?” During a summer stroll with pal Ben Finkel, Stone starting mulling the way Web search works by crawling hyper-linked documents. And, he said, he realized that mobile phones are “the hyper-links of humanity. All we need to do is make an app where you can ask your social network a question, and those people can forward it to anyone they know. You can reach anyone in the world within a couple hops.”
Stone started bouncing the idea off more people, and, he said, “I couldn’t find one trusted fried who wasn’t encouraging me to go through with it.” After that? “I sort of felt nauseous,” he said. “I thought, ‘Now I gotta go do this whole thing again.'”
But Stone also admitted he wakes up every morning feeling geeked about the way Jelly can help users get important questions answered via cell-phone photos. “We couldn’t have built this five years ago, because the infrastructure wasn’t there,” he said. “People weren’t carrying mobile phones, and they weren’t connected via Twitter and Facebook.” And it’s clear he views the service as a real utility, not just a way to kill time.
I’m thinking of the way I sliced off a hunk of my fingertip while chopping cabbage the other night; I sent an iPhone photo to my dad, a retired doc, asking if he thought I should go to the E.R. With Jelly, I could hypothetically have gotten second opinions from a whole host of others … Whether those opinions would have been informed or not is another question.
Stone photo by Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images