Not entirely surprisingly, Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO, officially stepped down on June 11, effective July 1st. The only surprise in this announcement may have been in the relative suddenness in which it was made, but the idea of Costolo leaving had been in the air for some time now, and for a few reasons — good or not:
- His management of Twitter was not bad, and the company started generating serious revenue under his watch. However, growth perspectives were almost systematically hampered by disappointing user acquisition forecasts and results. That does not undermine growing short term revenue streams, but the long term trust in the company’s global potential was brought down almost every quarter in the last 18 months by this indicator. Is this Costolo’s (un)doing? Not really or at any rate not only: this has more to do with the product itself than any mid-term management policies that may have been put in place by Costolo during his time as CEO.
- If compared to other tech giants (obviously, Facebook and LinkedIn; possibly, the great Google; increasingly, new superstars like Uber…), Twitter’s status is somewhat more fragile than theirs. Twitter is obviously a benchmark online product, and has incredibly high brand recognition, but it suffers from a concept that somewhat limits its reach. Facebook’s appeal is near universal; to be willing to tweet short messages in a rather diffuse system, you have to be an uber-sharer, a youngster, or (obvious overlap) both. Is this in any way related to Costolo? Not really, since it is at the very core of Twitter’s service and was therefore evident far before he came around, although there have been talks of improving the Twitter feed to make it a more engaging content source, and any update has yet to materialize.
- Even beyond Twitter’s core philosophy, the men who created it are quite the ever moving multitaskers: their original company, Pyra Labs, being a multiproject “personal” incubator, which also produced (now) Google’s Blogger; their original head, Jack Dorsey, also starting Square a few years ago; their original CEO, Ev Williams, essentially leaving to create… this website; their original product/marketing guy, Biz Stone, leaving to create all sorts of projects and apps… In short, Twitter, as opposed to Google, Facebook or Apple, is a moving entity with high turnover all the way to the top. Does it explain Costolo’s departure? Maybe, partly. There is a feeling that things and people move fast at Twitter, even its greatest leaders. Costolo’s time at Twitter was probably limited to begin with.
In short, Costolo leaving is not quite surprising, nor is it that significant: the company’s future, in my opinion, would only be changed (for the better) if a profound product rethinking was initiated, which would require one or more of its brains to be focused on the service long enough to get there. Dorsey may be that guy: after all, he’s the one who got the idea in the first place…