I had the pleasure of watching USA Today's Kevin Maney interview Evan Williams, CEO and co-founder of Twitter at the Churchill Club last night.
Here are my notes:
- From March '07 until July '08 Twitter was locked into a Firefighting phase, dealing exclusively with tech problems that were stopping the company from scaling. The company is confident that they have nailed the problems (a tech team member flashed two thumbs up from the audience). Now the company can add functionality as it grows. To date they have removed more features than they have added. The company is "now in a groove" and he sees no end in sight to continued growth.
- The economic downturn changed a couple of important tactics. Twitter raised more money than it had planned to in its last venture round, because they knew going out for more financing in 2009 would be difficult, and they will move toward revenue sooner than planned--perhaps as early as Q1 09 (next month). Originally, Ev had hope to not worry about revenue until 2011.
- Advertising is possible, but not likely for Twitter revenue. They are more focused on corporate services--the same as partner Biz Stone told me in an interview last May.
- Ev learned during his tenure at Google that focus is the top priority. I share this observation. In my 25 years of consulting startups I saw more die from lack of focus than lack of financing or revenue. Companies die while considering all the things the can do rather than landing on the one thing they should do.
- Two big problems they will face soon: (1) Getting started is difficult on Twitter. People sign up and they don't know what to do next. (2) Silo activities. People want to have one conversation with coworkers and another with family. Twitter will make it easier to have multiple accounts.
- Ev personal is more excited about small business activities on Twitter. He's more excited about the independent coffee shop that posts specials once daily on Twitter than what Starbucks is doing.
- He doesn't see a big future for Twitter behind the firewall inside the enterprise.
- The company will hire at least three people with the word "business" in their titles in the next quarter.
- Twitters largest single moment came at 8:03 pm election night when CNN declared Obama the winner. Before that was the initial iPhone announcement. Now they get the same traffic every day that they got on election night.
- Events, particularly disasters, are good for for Twitter. "People turn to us in crises like fires and earthquakes." BUT, we are vulnerable to spreading misinformation."
Ev is sharp. He gives a balanced, calm, confident sense of the company, and he was--as I always find the Twitter guys--candid and understated.After I joked to Ev that in Twitterville, I will describe it as an exclusive interview by me witnessed by about 150 people.