Recruiting the Draft Picks: Twitter’s Internal Shuffle, Spurred by a Year-Long Talent Raid on the Valley
Twitter is looking more and more different by the day — and it’s not just the company’s fancy new little blue bird logo.
The company is in the midst of a significant ongoing internal reorganization of key roles in its product, engineering, strategy and sales teams, stealing a number of major players from one of its favorite poaching targets, Google, among other companies.
The brains behind the hiring and restructuring? It’s most likely CEO Dick Costolo and head of product Jack Dorsey, a source familiar with the matter tells me, having put the gears into motion months ago.
The series of hires, promotions and departures is in part an effort by Twitter to strengthen and grow out its organization, much in the same vein as its older, wizened — and, notably, publicly traded — Silicon Valley competitors, Google and Facebook.
But while it is one of Twitter’s most ambitious shuffling and hiring efforts yet, it isn’t occurring without disturbing a few existing players.
The Product Reorg
The thread started unraveling with VP of product Satya Patel’s departure, unearthed by TechCrunch on Wednesday. Satya wasn’t hired to be the head product honcho at Twitter. It just so happened he grew into the role.
After longtime VP of product Jason Goldman left his position at Twitter at the end of 2010, Patel wasn’t on the original shortlist for the top spot. Twitter lobbied hard to get Sundar Pichai, Google’s man in charge of Chrome, to fill the position. When that didn’t pan out, Twitter went after another Googler, Neal Mohan, who leads the company’s display ad business. Again, Twitter struck out.
The search for a new product seer ran on far too long. Jack Dorsey ended up making a triumphant return to the company, assuming the role of head of product at Twitter, the very company he co-founded and was subsequently ousted from.
But Dorsey needed a point person to deal with the day-to-day. Just days before Dorsey’s return was announced, Patel was hired on as director of product management. He essentially became Dorsey’s deputy, handling both ad product as well as assuming an active manager role over the entire product department when Dorsey was tending to his other job, leading the micropayments start-up Square.
So when it was outed that Patel was leaving Twitter after what looked like a successful year-long stint, it seemed curious. Why would Twitter lose a good VP — one who hasn’t announced where he is headed next — if the company didn’t need to?
In essence, it’s all about the reorg. Instead of Patel acting as VP of product and overseeing all of its operations -– while still reporting to Dorsey –- my sources say the department was restructured into three separate roles: Consumer, growth and international, and revenue (or ads).
Two of those spots were filled. Othman Laraki scored a promotion as VP of growth and international product. Twitter also snagged Michael Sippey from SAY Media in January, who now acts as the current consumer product lead. That left the ads products position, essentially the same gig that Patel came on to handle in the first place. Patel was offered the job, and turned it down.
It’s not that he’s dodging a crappy job. Quite the opposite, actually; estimates peg Twitter’s ads business on track to surpass revenues of $1 billion come two years from now, according to Bloomberg. And CEO Costolo claims Twitter is actually figuring out mobile ads, a business that other tech industry titans — ahem, Facebook — can’t seem to wrap their minds around.
But taking the new-old position after the reorg would literally be one step back for Patel after a year of being in charge while Dorsey was tending to Square. But bucking claims of a recent Business Insider report, I’m told Dorsey is still spending a significant amount of time at Twitter. He remains the visionary in the head of product role, while the growth of the consumer and ads businesses necessitated promotions of key leaders Sippey and Laraki.
So when Patel turned down what essentially amounted to a lessened workload while two colleagues were being promoted, Twitter execs were willing to let him walk. Instead, Sippey and Laraki will continue to do the heavy lifting and pick up the ad product responsibilities. Right now, I hear the plan is to see how the two do in managing the three sections of product between themselves while reporting directly to Dorsey. (And if that doesn’t work out, there’s always another potential Google poaching raid to be done.)
Twitter, of course, had no comment on any of this upon my request, beyond a kind well-wishing to Patel in his future endeavours.
Natch, Patel didn’t respond to my request for comment, though I don’t imagine he’s entirely satisfied with the terms of his departure. For what it’s worth, a few of his former colleagues I spoke to had only glowing things to say about him.
Sales, Engineering and More Shake-upsProduct isn’t the only section being shaken up, however: Over the past year and a half, Twitter’s monetization team efforts have gone from a staff of zero to more than 200. And now, the former Google sales exec Richard Alfonsi started his first week on the job at Twitter this past Monday, acting as VP of global online sales (also noted by TechCrunch).
A source tells me that Twitter needed someone with massive scale experience to inhabit the role, and for that, my source says, there’s only one place to look: The Goog.
Think of him as taking the role of a Google-era Sheryl Sandberg, leading the very important charge of self-serve ads, which Twitter hopes will be its own AdWords, the lucrative service Sandberg ran and used to build Google’s advertising empire.
Alfonsi will report to Adam Bain, who will continue to act as president of global revenue leading the three-pronged division — brands and deals, online sales, and operations — managing a global staff of 120 employees in the U.S., the U.K., Japan and Ireland.
Further staffing up sales, Twitter circled back to the Google poaching pool for more international sales hires, snagging Shailesh Rao as its VP of international revenue and Stephen McIntyre as director of online sales and ops. McIntyre’s Google gig also involved working on the company’s self-serve ads team, most recently in Ireland. Twitter tapped Joel Lunenfeld, formerly of Moxie Interactive, to head up its brands division.
Though not recent, there’s another hire from 2010 to continue paying attention to: Former Pixar CFO Ali Rowghani, now Twitter’s CFO. Since Costolo was promoted to CEO from his former position as COO, Rowghani has silently and unofficially taken over many of Costolo’s former responsibilities, pulling strings in the background and making sure the trains run on time. And of course, when moving toward an eventual IPO, he’ll grow into an increasingly important figurehead for the company. (Think of how Facebook’s David Ebersman came into the spotlight over the past month.)
As Twitter continues to grow its monetization team, we should expect more hires in the coming months.
And then there’s the two key hires on the engineering front. Aside from rank-and-file general recruiting for valley engineering talent, Twitter poached Chris Fry directly from Salesforce in April to lead as a VP of engineering. Adam Messinger also signed up last November, snagged from Oracle to become VP of engineering infrastructure at Twitter.Then comes the PR department. Former head of comms Sean Garrett stepped down from his position back in November. In April, Twitter poached another bigtime Googler, then director of global communcations Gabriel Stricker, to replace Garrett. Alongside him is another Xoogler, Karen Wickre, who is responsible for Twitter’s editorial voice. And as recent tweets of current PR team members Matt Graves and Carolyn Penner will attest, the department is still looking to staff up.
Lastly, former VP of corporate strategy Elad Gil has stepped down from his prominent role and into a lesser one, though I’m told this is mostly a coincidence with the other major reorganizing occurring within the company. Gil’s new role will be an advisory position, which he says will ultimately give him more time to focus on a different interest: The start-up world. Gil was originally hired through Twitter acquiring his start-up Mixer Labs in late 2009.
“I am still spending time at the Twitter offices every week as an adviser to the company and its execs,” Gil told me in an email. He plans to take the next six months off before working on another start-up, as yet to be revealed.
The Dream Team?
In all, I’m told it’s a large undertaking set into motion months ago by top brass. Essentially, Costolo and Dorsey sat down to make a veritable list of all-star draft picks, and, over the course of the next six to eight months, moved forward in picking up all of the key hires.
Look at it this way: Slowly but surely, Twitter is trying to grow up. On its slow, steady, multi-year trudge toward IPO-hood, it is poaching seasoned employees from top spots at competing companies — with a particular penchant for Google, no doubt — to grow out and lead Twitter going forward.
In other words, the company is finally spreading its wings in key recruiting areas. But not, of course, without ruffling a few feathers in the process.