Twitter Must 'Change to Survive', Says Co-founder
Twitter must innovate to survive, one of its founders has said, even offering to return to the company to help.
Biz Stone, who set up the micro-blogging phenomenon in 2006 but left five years later, has echoed investor concerns that Twitter is in need of “creative vision”.
Shares in Twitter, which listed in New York last year, have plunged 40 per cent this year, wiping billions of dollars off a company that was worth $41.2 bn at its peak.
Stone told The Daily Telegraph that Twitter “is going to change, it’s got to change. People, times and culture are changing and so the software that reflects this kind of zeitgeist has got to change too”.
He said he had confidence in the executive team, led by Dick Costolo, that they would “figure it out” and “find the best path forward”. But asked if he had the ideas Twitter needs, Stone said: “I do. I’m happy to share them over drinks with Dick, if he wants to hear them.”
He added, “Would I go back? Sure. Who knows?” However, he insisted he wanted to focus on his new Internet start-up, the Q&A platform Jelly.
Stone, who is in the UK to promote his book, Things a Little Bird Told Me, said he had already shared some ideas with Costolo. “People who know me know that I don’t hold back. I just say, here’s what I think you should do and here’s what you shouldn’t do, take it or leave it.”
He refused to reveal the suggestions he’d passed to Costolo, but said, “Maybe the Twitter of the future will have an entire news department dedicated to verifying the truthfulness of the Tweets. It could have another department just for fun, for chatting. Or they could change direct messaging into an entirely different product.”
In his book Stone, who is 40 and from Boston, says he and fellow Twitter founders Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams originally hired Costolo as “a joke”.
“Evan was going on paternity leave. Dick was a friend of ours,” he writes. “Ev texted him on whim and said, ‘Hey, want to be interim CEO when I’m on paternity leave?’.”
Costolo joined in 2009, and just over a year later the board voted to make him chief executive. “I remember sitting in a board meeting and thinking to myself, why is all this happening?” Stone writes. “And then the answer dawned on me. Oh. Because billions of dollars are now involved.”
He says the process of changing the management was “feisty at times” but he insists Costolo is the right boss for Twitter. He says that running a company is “in Dick’s DNA, he’s so good at it”.
He also backs the recent decision to streamline the company’s management, which led two weeks ago to the departure of Twitter’s chief operating officer and chief technology officer. “I think it’s great that Dick is taking full accountability,” Stone says. “Twitter needs to be collected, reined in and one person needs to be responsible for moving it forward, instead of spreading the accountability, which has been too disparate. It’s refreshing to see Dick saying ‘the buck stops with me’. It’ll give the company more focus.”
Meanwhile Stone has set up Jelly, a service designed to allow users to ask questions and provide answers. He admits the idea needs refining. “It’s only four or five months since we launched so it is still in the phase where it’s changing every week. The idea is to try to build a platform for people to help one another. What could change is the way we approach it. We have to keep on keeping on until something really, really catches. We’re doing OK now but we could be doing even better. It is a simple idea, I think what’s missing is it could be even simpler. We’re working on it now.”
He adds, “The over-used expression for a start-up is that it’s like a rollercoaster ride. The only reason I agree with that is that sometimes it’s fun and sometimes you want to throw up. But I think Jelly has the potential to be a very broad consumer application, like Twitter if we get it right. We just have big tuning to do to get it there.”
© The Daily Telegraph