Applause for Twitter CEO Transition to Co-Founder

I was reading the TechCrunch article about the Twitter founder Evan Williams who stepped down as CEO this week, moving former COO Dick Costolo into the role of CEO. Evan Williams, a member of the founding team, played the role of CEO from 20 employees to 300, and 1.25 million Tweets per day to 90 million per day. Both of those are approximately 10x multiples. Evan has been CEO for two years, since Oct 2008.

Growing a company from 20 people to 300 means you’ve grown through the milestone of 100-120 employees. As a founder, this is right around the time that you you start to see people in the halls, and wonder if they work there, or are just visiting. Before that point, you likely recognize pretty much everyone. It also means that if you averaged out the hiring, a new person has been joining the Twitter team every other workday throughout those two years. That’s fast!

As a coach, I’m most happy to see founders who find the right role for themselves within their company, regardless of how snazzy the title sounds or how much power it wields, as long as they pass the baton to someone who is a good match for the company. This was a well-planned transition: Dick was hired a year ago in the role of COO, and had a chance to work with the team and get to know the business before taking over the helm as CEO. It sounds like Evan is most passionate about the product vision, and Twitter is now moving into a phase where they are going to focus more on making money. Evan was quoted in a recent Huffington Post article as saying: “I have always been more of a product guy and we are entering a new phase of the company where we require a CEO who is more into operations, sales, finance and operations. And Dick is better at those things than I am.” Twitter has a history of moving co-founders into roles suited to their skills and interests: one of the co-founders, Biz Stone, who helped write the initial prototype in two weeks, has the title co-founder, and is the voice of the company and the brand, according to this TechCrunch article on Twitter company management.

Most people have a “sweet spot” in terms of the company size or group they are comfortable leading. The same people that build something from scratch are not usually the ones that run a larger company. The beginning is about building a team, culture, and product that the market loves. The next phase is handling the growing pains. Then you end up with a mature company that has to focus more on process, predictability, protecting existing assets, and increasing revenue. Chris Sacca said in a recent interview on Bloomberg that Dick Costolo was brought in to focus on “meetings and budgets”. Those are often things that early founders have trouble with, or at the very least, get more easily bored with. (Notable counterexamples who’ve bucked this trend successfully are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and more recently, Mark Zuckerberg.)

Kudos to Evan for stepping into a role that’s a better match for his skills and interests. One of the privileges of being a successful entrepreneur is crafting a dream job that uses all the best of your skills and talents. I love seeing when people do exactly that; it sets a great example for others as they move through the different stages of company growth to find what is most meaningful and the best match for their skills and interests. In a recent article in the NYTimes, Fred Wilson, a partner at Union Square Ventures who is on Twitter’s board, was quoted as saying “It’s a very smart and gutsy move for Ev to do so.” Wholeheartedly agreed.

Author: Marcy Swenson

Marcy Swenson is an executive coach who works with tech startup founders and leaders. She writes about about entrepreneurs, leadership, and startup culture on her blog at StartupHappiness.com. She is studying what factors contribute (or detract) to creating a happy startup culture. Prior to becoming a coach, Marcy was a co-founder with two successful exits; at CPTH (Nasdaq), she built the tech team that led to IPO. Forbes names CPTH the fastest-growing high-tech company in the world in 1999. CPTH grew to 3000 employees in 4 years; for comparison, Google grew to 3000 employees in 6 years.

4 thoughts on “Applause for Twitter CEO Transition to Co-Founder”

  1. t takes a great man to step forward and resign such a high position. He achieved a lot with Twitter and maybe it is time to let someone else handle the business. I got great respect for Evan Williams.

    1. Tamara, agreed. It’s super gutsy and shows exceptional maturity. When that’s modeled well, it makes it easier for others to make the same decision when the time is right.

Comments are closed.