As IPO Gets Closer, Twitter Tries Growing Up Fast
Preparing for an eventual IPO isn’t easy, taking years of planning, of careful strategy decisions, of picking your people perfectly. Even then, things can still go wrong. Just ask Facebook.
While an initial public offering is still far down the road for Twitter, perhaps sometime in 2014 at best, it seems the company wants its house in order now.
The culmination of this came on Wednesday evening as Twitter shuffled two of its highest-ranking execs, shifting Ali Rowghani from his position of CFO to COO, while moving recent hire and former Zynga treasurer Mike Gupta into the CFO seat.
In typically understated Rowghani fashion, the move went down rather unceremoniously. Rowghani and Gupta updated their Twitter profiles with their new titles at some point on Wednesday. After word got out, CEO Dick Costolo congratulated the two men over Twitter.
Rowghani has long been a quiet, behind-the-scenes force in the organization, preferring to take a backseat to the limelight so often reserved for Costolo and co-founder and now Twitter board Chairman Jack Dorsey. Despite holding the CFO title for the better part of three years, Rowghani has worked in a major operational role inside the company, acting as Costolo’s most trusted adviser. Wednesday’s appointment just made it official.
But Twitter’s C-suite troika isn’t the only part of the organization that needed tweaking. Over the past year and a half, the company has quietly cherry-picked talent from around the Valley and re-organized its ranks — or “grew up,” if you will — better suiting itself to become a tech company to take seriously.
From the top down, Twitter looks much different than it did just a few years ago. Product, the core of Twitter, was split into three separate areas: Consumer, growth/international and revenue. Michael Sippey and Othman Laraki focused on consumer and growth/international, respectively, while splitting revenue responsibilities (after the departure in June of former product VP Satya Patel).
Engineering is almost entirely transformed. I’ve been told Twitter poached literally hundreds of Googlers to join the ranks of the engineering department, an area which was sorely deficient in 2010 considering the scale and growth of the product’s reach. Now Adam Messinger and Chris Fry have joined as engineering heads from Oracle and Salesforce, respectively. I’m told that both are recruiting heavily from their old organizations, too, bringing on much new engineering blood at a fast pace.
The design department is also in flux. New arrival Mike Davidson has been snatched away from his Seattle design gig to lead Twitter’s efforts as VP of Design, working with existing director Doug Bowman. Both are currently pushing hard to recruit new design talent, looking to fill nearly 10 slots in the department (while that sounds small, it’s nearly a quarter of the team’s current numbers).
Sales is no different. President of global revenue Adam Bain snatched up Richard Alfonsi from Google in June to be VP of global online sales, and tapped Xooglers Shilesh Rao and Stephen McIntyre, too.
The overall goal is this: At six years of age and now 200 million active users, Twitter is maturing beyond the scrappy start-up it was in its early days. On the one hand, that environment contributed to some of its most enjoyable early qualities for many employees. But I’m told by multiple people close to the company that part of the organization’s maturation means moving away from hiring the “generalist” types that populated early Twitter, moving instead to highly specialized industry veterans who have strong experience with very particular sets of skills.
In theory, that means reliability — of internal departments, of site infrastructure, of revenue, of a business model — of the type that makes a company stick around for the long haul. And ideally, it moves out from under the shadow of Twitter as the Valley company known so famously for its tales of internal strife (Costolo has often referred to the company’s bad rep as “palace intrigue,” not to be taken seriously).
If it’s an idyllic setting I’m painting here, part of Twitter’s process of closing ranks, it’s also not without its problems.
The company has swelled with new hires in a relatively short amount of time, ballooning up from a couple hundred employees to around 1,500 in under a year.
New talent is good, but explosive growth in such a short amount of time takes its toll on the company’s structure and DNA. Each new top recruit from Google has brought with him or her a host of new Googlers. So much the case, this is, that I’m told it’s not uncommon to hear new recruits explain “how we did things at Google” during team meetings or while working on collaborative projects.
And with such an influx of new blood, I’m told many of the old guard are finding it difficult to recognize the Twitter they joined. Internal disagreements with Twitter’s new stance on its platform rules have been cause for some grumbling. The design team has seen a near exodus over the past two months (for many reasons, but not the least of which is Twitter’s changing internal vibe). The Google management style, incorporated — however unconsciously — by many of Twitter’s top talent, doesn’t always translate well when brought over to Twitter.
To put it another way that I’ve heard so often from current and former employees: Twitter is slowly growing more corporate in feel, day by day.
Is that a bad thing? Perhaps, if you’re a Valley type looking to live the start-up life. But if you’re a business on a trajectory with an IPO in a few years or less, perhaps Twitter is right where it needs to be.