10 Things Twitter's Stolen Docs Taught Us

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A malicious hacker broke into a Twitter employee’s Google Docs account and forwarded some 300 secret company documents to TechCrunch.

Unfortunately, that blog published the whole mess in a post that is so long it would take 25 pages to print out.

Who has time for that?

So here, in a more digestible format, are the 10 things we learned from Twitter’s stolen docs saga:

Twitter is very worried about Facebook. So worried that top execs held a meeting on the subject “How could Facebook kill us?” What they came up with: Facebook could build real-time search, public status messages, and make SMS status updates more available. The bad news for Twitter is Facebook has already announced it plans to do all those things. (See the doc)

Google wants to do a Twitter search deal very badly. Google SVP of product Marissa Mayer met with top Twitter execs so much that in notes from one meeting, they called her constant requests to hear how Twitter was growing a “huge distraction.” In a later meeting, Twitter execs discussed a potential search deal with Google at great length. The gist seems to be that Google would introduce a new “micro-blogs” search product on Google.com that would feature 90% Twitter content. “This is the biggest change to Google search in years,” read the notes. (See the docs)

Twitter does not want to be acquired. Meeting notes titled “What do we want to be when we grow up?” start with a the question: “Is our goal not to be acquired?” And while the notes do hit on a reminder that “there is obviously a price,” it feels like the execs want to answer “no.” The notes say that a proposed merger with Facebook “never felt right,” and that “the only type of acquisitions we are interested in are ones where we stay in charge.” The one factor that could change their minds? “We don’t know if we can match our ambition on our own.” (See the docs)

Twitter planned an IPO or sale of the company next year. According to notes from a meeting in which execs discuss bankers the startup could work with, Twitter execs plan to “engage” with one “for a year and a half” and “then use them for the transaction.” One banker described in the meeting, Paul Chamberlin, is described as the guy who “took Google public, DoubleClick to Google.” (See the docs).

Twitter doesn’t know how it’s going to make money. That’s not to say Twitter doesn’t have lots of revenue-making product ideas — one document lists verified accounts, search ads, sponsored tweets, AdSense widgets, and “payments,” — but in fact, having so many ideas only goes to show Twitter doesn’t know which one product to focus its resources around and finally make money. (See the docs)

Microsoft is an unlikely Twitter-buyer and partner. Twitter doesn’t think it could take the PR hit. Twitter balked at even doing an ad deal with Microsoft. In a meeting about a potential “sponsored tweets” deal with Microsoft, CEO Ev Williams worried about how Microsoft’s brand would effect Twitter’s. The note reads, “Ev: I don’t like what this does to our brand, and this cannot be measured.” Another asks, “Why did we start talking to Microsoft in the first place?” Notes from another meeting, however, suggest Twitter is working on a “secret xBox” product. (See the docs)

Twitter execs prefer Tweetie on the iPhone and prefer Photobucket’s TwitGoo over TwitPic. There are some 11,000 registered Twitter applications in production or development. The leaked docs make clear that Twitter execs have to spend a lot of time talking about them. For the record, Twitter likes Tweetie and prefers Photobucket’s TwitGoo over TwitPic, which it considered acquiring at one point. (See the docs)

Twitter is not content to become a small, profitable company. Some entrepreneurs prefer to bootstrap their startups and drive for profitability early — even if it means sacrificing some long term growth. Not the Twitter guys. One internal projection has them employing ~5,000 people, reaching 1 billion users, and clocking sales upward of $1.5 billion by 2013. These guys want to be huge. Will it burn them? (See the docs).

Twitter is shopping for other startups. Twitter execs believe the quickest and easiest way for the company to make money is through “verified accounts.” But rather than build that business, Twitter execs considered buying CoTweet, a startup that helps the companies that would be verified account holders join Twitter. Twitter followed this same “buy it” rather than “build it” strategy when it acquired Twitter search engine Summize in 2008. (See the docs)

Twitter execs fear the startup is understaffed. Twitter execs have big goals for the company, but the meeting notes make clear they don’t feel like the startup has the right people in place to “match our ambitions.”

Specifically, almost every time Twitter search comes up — as a product or a revenue generator — a note shortly follows suggesting that Twitter doesn’t have the engineering staff yet to make it work.

One note makes the worries clear: “User growth is explosive and we are having trouble growing to match the potential of the usage.”

The docs say Twitter is trying to hire 50 people a month. But good people will be hard to find — especially since Twitter is trying to go from being a company that does something ingenious, but relatively technologically simple (microblogging), to a company with engineers who can build sophisticated search and ad-targeting algorithms.

This challenge is probably the biggest reason Twitter, despite its founders’ reservations, will eventually get acquired — and probably by Google (See the docs)

Bonus take-aways:

  • Twitter expects to have 25 million weekly active users, or people who who have ” a conscious Twitter experience in a given week” by the end of 2009.
  • Yahoo, which we think would do well to acquire Twitter, isn’t mentioned in the documents at all. 

The documents:

  • TWITTER DOCS: Microsoft is the wrong partner for Twitter
  • TWITTER DOCS: Deal Talks With Google
  • TWITTER DOCS: “How Could Facebook Kill Us?”
  • TWITTER DOCS: Twitter does not want to be acquired
  • TWITTER DOCS: Twitter planned an IPO or sale of the company next year
  • TWITTER DOCS: Revenue Plans
  • TWITTER DOCS: Twitter likes Tweetie, TwitGoo
  • TWITTER DOCS: Twitter wants to be huge
  • TWITTER DOCS: Twitter is shopping for startups
  • TWITTER DOCS: Twitter is understaffed

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