I guess when Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted this over the weekend, we should have known something was up.
Dorsey’s resignation is something of a surprise, considering that he had seemingly been fighting to hold onto his position amid rising pressure from an activist investor group that had previously called for his removal due to questions over his leadership.
Early last year, investment firm Elliott Management Corp acquired more than $1 billion in Twitter shares in a move designed to gain more power on the Twitter board, as part of a broader push to oust CEO Jack Dorsey, whom it saw as failing to capitalize on the app’s potential.
Elliott’s main point of contention was that Twitter would be better served if it had a CEO solely focused on improving the company’s performance, which has fluctuated over the last few years. Dorsey, who is also the CEO of rising payments provider Square, may not be able to provide the required focus, given his dual commitments, and with Dorsey also, at that stage (just before the COVID outbreak), planning a move to Africa, Elliott’s team had raised serious concerns over his suitability for the role, and his capacity to maximize the potential of the social app.
Since then, Twitter has significantly upped its innovation momentum, launching various revenue-focused tools, including Twitter Blue, Super Follows, on-profile tipping, ticketed Spaces, professional profiles, and an initial move into eCommerce via shopping tweets and sections.
The increased momentum is all part of Twitter’s ambitious growth plan, seemingly spurred by the Elliott Management push, which the company announced back in February.
The plan also sees Twitter doubling its revenue within the same period, and while it has been aggressive in accelerating innovation and new bets ever since, which has produced some early results, there have also been questions around its renewed momentum, with various new elements also failing to gain traction, and maybe not delivering what Twitter might have hoped, at least in the early going.
It had seemed like this was Dorsey trying to hold onto the top job, and with many of these new projects still in their early stages, it’s too early to say whether they’ll help the company reach these targets. But, for whatever reason, Dorsey has seen enough, with either the results falling short of expectations, or Dorsey simply deeming it time to move on to new projects.
Of which, Dorsey has a few. Aside from managing Square, Dorsey is also heavily involved in the crypto community as an avid supporter of Bitcoin, and in particular, the potential that Bitcoin holds for democratizing payments and financial options in underserved communities.
Which is part of Dorsey’s interest in Africa, where crypto payments could facilitate entirely new opportunities for connection among remote regions and those with limited access to financial services. More so than western economies, crypto projects hold significantly more immediate value in these emerging markets, and maybe, with freedom away from Twitter, Dorsey will now turn his attention to these projects, with a view to utilizing technology in a different way.
Dorsey has, in the past, lamented the role that Twitter has played in social discourse, and the negative impacts that social media has had more broadly.
Back in 2018, Dorsey noted that:
“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers. We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.”
That was part of an announcement of a new project to assess the health of online conversation, but clearly, such elements have weighed on Dorsey for some time, and as one of the founders of modern social media, it may simply be that Dorsey now wants to spend his time on alternative uses of tech, with a more beneficial and connective focus.
He’s certainly been open in his praise for the potential of Bitcoin, and crypto more broadly:
Maybe this is simply a logical shift for his own, personal ambitions, and not a reflection of Twitter’s performance – though you would assume that the pressure from these investors has played some part in Dorsey’s decision to step away entirely.
So what comes next for Twitter?
Incoming CEO Agrawal, who has been with Twitter for more than 10 years, after starting as a software engineer, will now have a chance to stamp his own mark, and potentially swing Twitter in a new direction. Dorsey notes that Agrawal has been involved in all of the platform’s major decisions of late, so you wouldn’t expect a significant change in direction, but even so, Agrawal will come with a different mindset, and focus, which could see Twitter abandon some projects and double-down on others, in line with its pre-established targets.
But it is the end of an era for the platform. @Jack, who tweeted the first ever tweet, will remain on the Twitter board till early in the new year, then he’ll be gone, meaning that all four of Twitter’s co-founders will have moved on from the company (Biz Stone remains an informal advisor).
That’s significant, in many ways, and it’ll be interesting to see how that impacts the future of the platform.