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This past week I heard two rational arguments on the fate of Twitter from two smart investors.
* Revolving door of CEOs. If one thing has characterized this wave of Web 2.0 and social media companies, it has been slavishly holding to the belief that founder CEOs should never be ousted. Twitter has ousted not one but two. That’s also led to a revolving door in senior management and a few waves of ousting and reconfiguring the board. People in the Valley like to believe that teams – not products – matter, or that it’s all about execution, not the idea. But Twitter is proving the opposite. The product has been compelling enough to survive three teams. It’s hard to come up with another example of a company that has not only survived that, but gone on to thrive.
* Almost no product innovation. At all. The Web version of Twitter has changed remarkably little since its inception. Most of the innovation has come from the developer ecosystem. Indeed most of the features like @s, #s, and the like came from the community, not Twitter. Most companies that survive on the strength of their product actually have product innovation from time to time or get passed by a competitor. Not the case with Twitter, so far.
* Twitter’s product visionary is the CEO…of another company. OK, Twitter apologists say, so there’s a revolving door at the CEO and board level. But Dorsey is still the chief product guy, and he was the founder. That’d be an important caveat in Twitter’s favor, were Dorsey not also running the hugely ambitious Square. Plenty of smart investors have passed up on investing in both Square and Twitter because of concerns about Dorsey splitting his time. But so far there seems very little outward evidence that this is the disaster that it should be. The only model for someone doing this effectively is Steve Jobs, who was running Pixar and Apple for a time. But his focus and heart was clearly with Apple. And, that was Steve Jobs. If your entire company is being bolstered by its product, and you are expecting your product guru to be Steve Jobs, well, good luck to you.
Either Dick Costolo has sold his soul to the devil, or he will be considered a turnaround god.