Nick Bilton is the Bob Woodward of Tech
The Forrest Four-Cast: September 20, 2016
For those who thirst for in-depth, investigative analysis of the tech industry, some of the best writers to chose from include David Kirkpatrick (“The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World”), Steven Levy (“In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives”), Brad Stone (“The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon”) and Ashlee Vance (“Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future”). Yet for my money, the author who stands atop this distinguished list for hard-hitting analysis of the triumphs — and the ensuing pitfalls — of tech-land is Nick Bilton.
I first became a fan via “Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal.” As implied by the title, Bilton pulls few punches while following this company from small startup to international stardom. Although published two years ago (September 2014), “Hatching Twitter” remains extremely relevant in terms of understanding this company’s current monetization challenges, particularly given Jack Dorsey‘s return as CEO last October. On a side note, the book also chronicles the company’s somewhat unexpected domination of SXSW 2007, so those pages are particularly enjoyable for me to read.
More recently, Bilton covered the rise and fall of Silk Road in a two-part series originally published in spring 2015 in Wired. These two pieces chart the evolution of Ross Ulbricht as he transforms from an idealistic entrepreneur to a calculating businessman while pioneering the as-yet-untapped market for illicit goods and services. Of course there’s also an Austin tie-in on this one, as the man who eventually called himself Dread Pirate Roberts grew up in Central Texas. Read more about Ulbright and the thrilling cat-and-mouse game that ultimately resulted in his capture when “American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Dread Pirate Roberts, Creator of the Silk Road” is released as a book on May 2, 2017.
But don’t wait until next spring to devour “How Elizabeth Holme’s House of Cards Came Tumbling Down,” which is published in the September 2016 issue of Vanity Fair. This report follows an all too familiar Bilton theme — ambitious young founder flies too high (too fast) and the fall proves to be catastrophic. It makes for great reading, albeit not in the happy ending kind of scenario that startups dream about when beginning their entrepreneurial journey. Detailed and specific, Bilton is masterful at re-telling these kinds of stories. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of compelling material for him to work with in the current tech ecosystem.