What’s wrong at Twitter? A better question might be, What’s right? The answer, unfortunately, is not much.
A year or two ago this site, which lets you blast out 140-character messages, was poised to become the Next Big Thing in tech, a threat to Facebook and even to Google. Now? Not so much. Twitter’s revenues lag far behind Facebook and other young Internet companies. The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly investigating Twitter for running roughshod over its smaller business partners. Most important, even three of the four guys who founded the company can’t be bothered to work there full time anymore.
The most recent departure was Biz Stone, a cofounder who announced his plans to leave in late June. He will join Twitter cofounder Evan Williams, who bailed out a few months ago for a company called Obvious, the company that spun off Twitter. The third cofounder, Jack Dorsey, works part time at Twitter while also serving as CEO of a startup called Square.
Dorsey was Twitter’s first CEO. He was replaced by Williams when Dorsey became chairman. Williams was replaced as CEO by Dick Costolo, who was hired from Google. Dorsey came back when Costolo took over, but then Williams left, though he remains on the board of directors. Shockingly, after all this turnover, Twitter still can’t get any traction as a business. Revenues may reach $150 million this year and $250 million in 2012, according to eMarketer, which tracks online ad spending. But that’s puny compared with this year’s sales at Facebook ($4 billion), Groupon ($3 billion), and Zynga ($1.8 billion). Add to that the FTC’s reported look into allegations that Twitter has engaged in anticompetitive behavior with companies that develop applications and services that run on top of its network.
Venture capitalists have pumped $360 million into Twitter, and recently the company was reported to be raising more money based on a stunning valuation of $7 billion, roughly double its valuation from only seven months ago. Should anyone be concerned that the cofounders can’t be bothered to stick around? A spokeswoman provides a canned statement claiming the three founders remain “deeply connected” to the company—Dorsey with his part-time role, Williams with a board seat, and Stone doing some fuzzy stuff about “social-good efforts.” The funny thing is that right now the market for tech IPOs is heating up so much that Twitter, despite its woes, could probably make a fortune by selling stock to the public. Twitter’s three cofounders may have the best-paying part-time jobs of all time.