Jack is Back (2015-2021)
After seven years, Jack returned to Twitter as interim CEO . During that time he co-founded Square, a payment company helping SMBs do business. The board was impressed with Jack’s execution and needed a founder’s vision to get Twitter back on track.
After three months, the board decided to make Jack the permanent CEO. He would split his time between Square and Twitter which has received criticism over the years.
The board looked for 4 key criteria in the selection process:
- A world class leader with a track record of success in the consumer internet technology and media sectors.
- A person able to articulate a clear direction for the company’s future and a plan for how to get there, one that can both guide the company and inspire employees, users, investors and the public at large.
- An executive with a demonstrated record of execution and thoughtful risk taking, who can get the most out of product and engineering teams while prudently managing the company’s financial resources.
- We sought a leader who understands the importance of company culture and knows how to foster it.
In what would be a rare occurrence for a founder to do, Jack gave up one-third of his Twitter holdings to the benefit of current and future employees. He did the same also at Square previously.
The period after Jack’s return can be split into four phases: Direction, Health, AdServer Rebuild, and Product Innovation.
Twitter’s top of funnel has remained robust over the years. Top of funnel describes millions of people that interact with Twitter who are new or who have not logged in for 30 days or more.
2016: “when we look at the top of our funnel every day, we’ve said on the calls in the past, it was millions of people that are new or resurrected, either not currently user in the last 30 days that comes to the top of our funnel every day and that’s a massive number. That translates into over 400 million on a quarterly basis and 700 million on an annual basis of that translate into actual users. If we saw a decline on the top of our funnel that was significant, your concern would start to concern us as well, as well as other factors, but we have not seen that. And we think it’s a competitive advantage and it actually reinforces that top of the funnel dynamic that we benefit from and that still creates such a unique opportunity for us.” - Anthony Noto, Q4 2016 earnings
2021: “Our top of funnel remains extremely strong with more than 2M people coming to Twitter every single day that are people who are either new to the service or who have not logged in for 30 days or more.” - Kayvon Beykpour, Analyst Day 2021
People are attracted to Twitter because it’s the fastest way to see what’s happening and what everyone is talking about around the world.
Jack first task as CEO of Twitter was to give direction and prioritize the product road map. The leadership team flattened the organization to elevate engineering, product, and design to report to Jack.
Twitter trimmed their fat with two significant lay offs to focus on its core strength. That meant gradually taking away resources from products like Fabric, Vines, and Periscope until they were either shutdown or sold.
“So we’ve been reviewing our road maps to make sure that we are making Twitter easier for everyone around the world. Currently, the product makes people do a lot of work to realize the value, and there are a lot of initiatives aimed at making sure that people can immediately get value out of Twitter and get a lot of power from it as well.” - Jack, 2015 CEO transition
The health of the public conversation was deteriorating from harassment, abuse, and misinformation. In 2018, Twitter publicly announced they were removing fake bots and prioritizing health over product improvements. The health initiative would impact user growth near term but long-term would create a more sustainable social platform.
Technology like machine learning and AI can help lift the burden from users self-reporting, but improvement on health initiatives will always be on-going effort.
Twitter has done more than other social media companies on health by allowing users to revert their feed to chronological timeline. This allows you to see tweets only for the accounts you follow. They were the first to stop accepting money from political ads and the first to label misinformation tweets.
In an interview with Kavyon, Twitter Products Lead, he explains that Twitter is rethinking the fundamental incentives on the service.
“Things going viral on Twitter can be a really awesome thing. But oftentimes, unhealthy content can get viral more easily precisely because of those mechanics. So one of the things we’ve been thinking about is whether we have the right balance of incentives within the core product experience. Putting our rules aside for a moment, just as an example, there isn’t really a disincentive today to being a total jerk on Twitter. And that’s a product problem. Like that’s something that we should think about in terms of what are the right metrics to use to tip the scales a little bit and create a disincentive for people to behave in a way that we might consider abusive.” (LINK
AdServer Rebuild (2019-2020)
More on the AdServer rebuild in section “Greatest Risk is Behind Twitter”.
Product Innovation (2021 and on)
The openness and cadence of product developments has accelerated in the last year. Some of the products I am excited for are:
Communities - Twitter has been taking cues from subreddits at Reddit as they are testing communities.
Communities will be great for all Twitter users who want to engage deeper into a niche community. It might be intimidating to tweet for the whole world to see and less so for a smaller community. For example, asking about how to filter honey inside the “Bee Keeping Community” and getting a reply will be magical for a less followed account.
Humans natural tendency to belong in groups to survive, share, and learn from has remained in our DNA since the beginning of time. Communities is just another way to easily find your “group”.
Spaces - A different form of casual podcasting with audience participation that includes all the uhms and uhhs. I’m excited to see what new use cases the world can create with Spaces.
Twitter Blue - Pay $2.99 USD to get premium features like undo tweet, categorized bookmarks, easier experience reading tweet threads, most-shared top articles, custom navigation, etc…
All these features are great for the power user but will probably not have enough value for the casual user. $3 a month is almost half a Disney+ subscription.
If 1% of Twitter’s 211m mDAUs are power-users and subscribe to TwitterBlue annually, that will bring about $75m in revenue. 10% about $750m.
I’m less optimistic on how much Twitter Blue can bring to the bottom line. From Tony Haile’s tweet, it seems all of the $3 will go to news publishers to fund an ad-free experience. With the goal “to earn publishers 50% more revenue per person than they would make from serving ads.” (total adds up to $3.51. Will Twitter be paying the extra .51 cents?)