How Twitter Got Desperate Enough To Hire Two Part-Timers To Lead Product

dick costolo

Photo: Flickr/David Berkowitz

Twitter’s new executive chairman and product leader, Jack Dorsey, is also the fulltime CEO of another startup, Square.Twitter’s new director of product management, Satya Patel, will also be splitting his professional time with another concern – Battery Ventures, where he’ll continue working as an advisor to portfolio companies.

Is Twitter really in such desperate shape that it’s willing to hire product leaders who want to maintain other jobs?

In a word: Yes.

Here’s an anecdote to illustrate how badly things are messed up over there right now.

Remember that whole “#Dickbar” controversy, where Twitter updated its iPhone app so that a “QuickBar” showing Twitter trends and ads would show up in every users Twitter stream?

People hated it.

They hated it for two reasons – one less fair than the other.

The unfair reason: the QuickBar put ads in the Twitter stream. That’s unfair because you had to know ads were coming.

The fair reason: the QuickBar put Twitter’s useless, crass, and irrelevant “trends” in every user’s face. 

Instapaper creator and UI genius Marco Arment hit this complaint hard, writing, “It’s a news ticker limited to one-word items, lacking any context, broadcasting mostly topics that I don’t understand, recognise, or care about. It’s nonsensical. At worst, it can offend. At best, it will confuse.”

Anyway, the #DickBar was not good. But that’s not the point. Even companies with good product teams launch sucky products sometimes.

The fact that indicates Twitter’s whole product process is in bad shape is this: A source briefed on the ordeal tells us that the QuickBar was launched, essentially out of the blue, by a junior product manager – without any review from the company’s senior leadership. Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO and #DickBar namesake, is said to have been livid after the ensuing controversy.


How did #DickBar happen?

Apparently, Twitter has a very horizontal org-structure. The reason Twitter has such a structure, say observers, is because “that’s the way Facebook does it.”

Of course, what Facebook has and Twitter does not, is Mark Zuckerberg – a senior executive and product visionary who is comfortable getting elbow deep in product development. In fact, after Ev Williams stepped down as Twitter CEO last fall – and his top product lieutenant, Jason Goldman, followed suit – Twitter had almost zero product leadership at all.

The good news is that, in Jack Dorsey and Satya Patel, Twitter now has that kind of leadership.

The bad news is that it has it on a part-time basis.

Update: Twitter communications boss Sean Garrett tweets, “Satya Patel will be full-time at Twitter.” But then, Patel also tweeted, “Thrilled to @jointheflock @twitter to build awesome products w/ friends & former colleagues. Will still be working w/ @batteryventures cos.”

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