A week ago, people in the technology industry had their eyes glued to the Twitter account of PayPal executive Rakesh “Rocky” Agrawal.
Agrawal, long an outspoken figure in the mobile payments space, had what appeared to be a melt down on Twitter.
Starting early on a Saturday morning, Agarwal began firing off incoherent tweets, some of which were denigrating to his PayPal colleagues. His tweets continued for days, and got increasingly odd.
His tweets turned into the technology industry’s version of a car crash. People couldn’t look away. Secret, an app used for anonymous gossip about the technology industry, lit up with posts on Agrawal. At first, the posts were negative, bashing him. By the end, people were concerned for his health.
After days of trying to reach Agrawal, we finally talked to him this weekend.
Before he went into a tail spin on Twitter, he had submitted his resignation letter to PayPal, but anyone who saw his initial tweets didn’t know that at the time. He had only been with PayPal for two months before leaving.
“I could no longer be at PayPal because it was clear to me that I couldn’t have the impact that I wanted to have there,” Agrawal says. “So I’m going to start my own company and see what kind of impact I can have when I’m not constrained by bureaucracy.”
Agrawal’s tweets suggest that he had concocted the idea for a new startup before his resignation and subsequent Twitter eruption. On Friday, May 2, he posted, “I came up with a great product idea the other night that could literally save lives.”
At the time of his Twitter outburst, he was in New Orleans for a jazz festival. That evening, he sent his letter of resignation to PayPal’s CEO David Marcus and vice president of growth Stan Chudnovsky.
He eventually tweeted out a copy of that letter:
After sending the resignation letter, he started drinking with the two friends who had been with him when he sent it. He says that he also recieved an email from Stan Chudnovsky, PayPal’s vice president of growth, that said that they would discuss the resignation the following Monday.
At about 1 a.m., he became active on Twitter, sending out a series of partially incoherent tweets, some of which insulted PayPal co-workers.
Later that day, after he awoke, he apologized to Marcus and Chudnovsky and deleted his drunken tweets. He said that they were meant to be private messages and that he had made the mistake because he was using a new Samsung Galaxy S5 Android phones instead of his standard iPhone. Later that afternoon, PayPal responded to the situation by sending out the following statement from its official Twitter account:
Agrawal told Business Insider he was not happy with how PayPal worded its tweet. Although he had already resigned before his late-night Twitter spree began, he says that the company made it sound like he was fired. He believes PayPal’s tweet hurt his reputation.
“I wasn’t forced to resign,” he told Business Insider. He says that he left the company because he didn’t believe in its products. “There were times I was asked to promote products that I thought were bulls–t.”
He says he’s known for speaking his mind. Blunt honesty is part of his brand. Two years before coming to PayPal he wrote a blog post calling its point-of-sale system a “piece of s–t.”
He declined to say what products at PayPal he didn’t support, but said that although the company is working on some interesting things, it’s stuck in slow-moving “rush hour traffic” that prevents it from getting things done.
“I definitely spoke out a little too much that weekend and I apologized for that,” Agrawal says. But he didn’t want to work somewhere where he couldn’t honestly promote the mission to everyone he knew. “To work for a company where I can’t pitch a story that I believe in to my contacts is not true to me. That’s why I left.”
The next day, on Sunday, May 4, he started hinting about a new startup that he was working on, calling it a “different kind of company” on Twitter. He also tweeted about an email that he had sent out to potential investors earlier that morning, and solicited other potential contributors as well.
“Accredited investors only. $US5,000 to $US25,000. Open to people who recieved the email plus anyone else I want to add,” he wrote. He also posted, “We are doing this round blind folks. I don’t need the money. Do you believe in rakeshlobster?”
Agrawal told Business Insider that both of the men that he had drinks with Friday night chose to invest, even though he refused to tell them anything about his new venture.
He continued his frenetic tweeting all day and into the night.
“Sometimes I think Twitter doesn’t fix dm issue because it serves as marketing,” he posted at around 1 a.m on Monday, May 5. “Huge UX failure that is a marketing goldmine.”
Although he posted on Twitter that he knew he should get some sleep, he continued to post until nearly 3:15 in the morning.
Later Monday morning, he took an 8:30 a.m. flight to Newark, New Jersey, and took NJ public transit to get to New York City. He continued to tweet often, occasionally giving hints about his whereabouts and asking people to find him, and for someone to bring him an iPhone 5s. He invited media outlets to follow him around for the day. He also continued to make references to former PayPal co-workers David Marcus, the company’s CEO, and Stan Chudnovsky, its vice president of growth, calling them both brilliant. Eventually, he decided to take a nap:
When we talked to him, he tried to explain that his actions were a series of tests. He claims that he was essentially doing research on different use cases for his next product.
“You have to use products in real world conditions. You can’t just say, we have this usability lab, or we have this focus testing group, or we have all these people using it in Silicon Valley. You don’t build the best products that way,” he said. “You have to, in my mind, be very very in the customer’s skin. And I try to do that a lot when I do my research. Unfortunately, I did a lot of that in rapid succession this week, Monday through Wednesday. I tested myself when I was not quite sober, I tested myself when I was sleep deprived , I tested myself in all sorts of circumstances, and if you don’t know what I’m doing… That’s my biggest mistake this weekend, not saying, ok: ‘Now I’m going to test what products look like in sleep deprived conditions.’ ‘OK, that test complete.’ So I did fifteen or twenty of these things in rapid, rapid, rapid succession.”
He admits that he upset some people who were close to him, who were confused and alarmed at his behaviour. He says that he apologized to those people, and realises that his actions must have seemed strange. He regrets the way that his narrative unfolded on Twitter.
“If you were to actually slice up those tweets — however many of them there were, I don’t even remember — you could say from this block to this block Rocky was actually doing X, but you wouldn’t know that unless you were inside my head. And so I will say that this is all my fault. I didn’t say, ‘From this point to this point, I’m doing X.'”
That night, he met with journalist Rob Pegoraro, and continued to tweet throughout their dinner together, leaving clues about their location and continuing to suggest that people try to come and discover them. He hired a marketing lead for his new company on the spot, because she was able to find where he and Pegoraro had dinner.
After 10 p.m. that Monday night, PayPal released its second response, an open letter from CEO David Marcus. Marcus said that he would not tolerate Agrawal’s “mad rants” any longer. He also suggested that close friends of Rocky’s should get to him “sooner rather than later, as his behaviour is extremely worrisome.”
Agrawal says that this response from PayPal was also frustrating, and that it unfairly suggested that he was suffering from a mental health issue. A former co-worker from AOL, Farhan Memon, wrote a blog post about Agrawal’s weekend and Marcus’ response, saying that Marcus was being insensitive to what was clearly a mental problem. Although Agrawal says that understands why people were concerned, he doesn’t think either response was warranted.
“I think mental health is an important problem in this country. And I think it should be treated with much more respect than it has been this week,” Agrawal says. “For people with no medical training to make a diagnosis on someone they haven’t even talked to, I think that’s reckless and irresponsible. And it put a negative face on people who actually have mental health issues. And, being perfectly honest, there have been times that I’ve been depressed and talked to a psychiatrist. But this is not one of those times.”
He added the following in an email after our conversation: “If PayPal is that concerned about my mental health, why haven’t they offered to pay for counseling? I have friends who are in mental health practices offering free advice. Others are just throwing rocks to protect their corporate agenda.”
He also sounded off about Marcus’ message on Twitter later that night and the next day.
Here’s a selection of his tweets on the subject:
“David and Stan just remember I have your texts.” “Stop bad mouthing me when I have texts that are much much worse.” “Seriously David, I have emails and IMs and timelines. Whoever is giving you this advice is terrible at their job.”
Agrawal never posted any emails or texts from either Marcus or Chudnovsky.
Tuesday morning, around 10 a.m., he decided to slow-down his Twitter spree:
He says he’s extremely excited about his new project. He regrets the way his Twitter narrative developed, as well as some of the specific tweets that he sent, but he’s ready to move on.
“That’s not to say that all of this was a failure, by any means. I had some huge successes this week,” he says. “I found an investor, one of the top investors in Silicon Valley. Without knowing anything other than who I am, what I’ve done in the past, he gave me $US25,000.
“That’s a whole new way of fundraising. $US25K seed round from somebody who’s one of the top stars in the valley.”
He wouldn’t give many details about what he’s working on, but said that he’s excited for the next couple of week and months.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, because we don’t have the obstacles that most startups do,” he says. “I think that this is going to be a company that’s really big, and really impacts a lot of different spaces.”
Business Insider reached out to PayPal for further comment and we will update if we hear back.
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