Twitter is facing difficult times and desperately needs a breakthrough. Its recent leader is not as it could be expected: Anthony Noto is an ex soccer player, ranger and banker. Why he was entrusted to rescue the IT-company and why some staff members worship and some hate him?
Twitter: running into iceberg
In far 2006 three programmers and IT entrepreneurs has turn an internal SMS service into a new company. Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey have really created something special. In front of long communication in the forums and social networks of the beginning of 2000-ties the idea of Twitter was revolutionary. Whether you want or not but you have to comply with 140 symbols for one twitt. The first twitt was sent by Jack Dorsey.
The founders of the service have installed plasma panels in crowded places during the media festival South by Southwest in March 2007. Festival visitors saw them and liked the idea of streaming posts on Twitter. So the company woke up famous next morning. It had 7 happy years of constant growth and development ahead, the title of the fastest growing company in 2009, 400 million of registered users in 2011 and the record speed up to 3085 twitts per second during the popular games or the most high-profile events. It became almost obligatory for TV or sport stars as well as for the chief executives to have a Twitter account. In Twitter you can read revelation could not be published on media or elsewhere – revelations of the Pope @PONTIFEX, of the Queen of Jordan Rania @QUEENRANIA, Russian Prime Minister Dmity Medvedev @medvedevrussia and the US President Donald Trump @realDonaldTrump.
But something went wrong. The inflow of new users decreased in 2014, company’s stock price has fallen twice. The users tend to behave more aggressively on the web than in real life, has shown their worst sides in short twitts. The communication on Twitter almost became a shorthand for a holy war. In the meantime Instagram became very popular, where you don’t even have to write anything, you only post pictures. And you can also sell there with an easy ad placement as well as buttons “Buy now” and “Install now”.
Investors were asking for changes, users actively resisted any changes with a simple response #RIPTwitter. In 2015 Jack Dorsey the company founder came back to lead the company as its general manager but he is included only partially in Twitter’s business because he also manages his another company called Square.
Outsider of Silicon Valley
Anthony Noto is 49 years old. He had a military training. After graduation he applied to West Point Military Academy, where he is still remembered for his soccer achievements. Then he made a 61-days course of the military leadership at the Ranger school of US Army and has served in 24th Infantry Division of US Army.
After demobilization he studied at the business school of Chicago University and in 1999 got his MBA and started as analyst with Goldman Sachs, a big financial company. Successful media promotion of company interests brought him the chair of the managing director in 2003 and the status of a partner in 2004.
In 2008 he temporarily exchanged Goldman Sachs for National Football League. During three years he stayed on the position of the financial director of NFL. After his comeback to Goldman Sachs NFL has faced the biggest financial defeat in a long time during the lockout-2011: 50 million dollars for annual player check-ups and almost a billion dollars for retired.
Anthony Noto deserved his fame of a strong analyst and a successful strategist. And his fame became even louder after he secured the main technological prize for Goldman Sachs which is the priority right of Twitter IPO. Anthony Noto was the major financial consultant of Twitter in Goldman Sachs and therefore there is no wonder he was offered a place of its financial director in 2014. There is another surprising issue: the company was under Noto’s management at the moment it started to experience difficulties and he offered his own unique strategy of crisis management.
It is possible, it is a unique case in the history of the Silicon Valley. Ex soccer player and ranger and today’s banker broke in the world managed by the code creators to dictate his will. But there was no one to compete with this IT outsider.
«No one will save us»
The atmosphere in Twitter head office was gloomy and depressing in fall 2016. Last year company management was changed several times. There were two waves of staff reduction. Shares prices are falling. Company owners were trying to sell the company but either there were no buyers or they disappeared barely appeared. The last appeared potential buyer, the Salesforce company not only refused the deal but also addressed the media with big criticism of Twitter status. From the management meeting everybody was expecting something like “Save yourself, we are going down”.
Despite this the financial manager came out at the meeting. “No one can save us” and as it might seem there was nothing inspiring. But for Noto and his listeners it meant that they have to save themselves. The company’s wellbeing and the impulses for its new breakthrough were depending on every staff member and his work.
That became an inspiring call to action. It could not work out but it worked out, because the financial director had a plan. Anthony Noto decided to change company’s strategy. According to his plan, Twitter should become a platform for live videos of all directions – from sport games and flash mobes to financial meetings and political debates.
No one knew what will come out. Ex soccer player and banker did not have a high credit of trust in the sphere ruled by engineers and developers. But at least he has a plan. At least someone understood, what to do. And Noto received something like a new position – status of commander-in-chief in an emergency.
Twitter general manager Jack Dorsey and chief operation officer Anthony Noto taking a speech at shareholders meeting in spring 2017
«No one will stop us but ourselves»
First success in the strategy realization was the deal Noto conducted with NFL in 2016: 10 million dollars for exclusive rights for evening broadcasting soccer games. Several companies were fighting for this jackpot, with Facebook and Amazon among them. Twitter not only received a great content but also has proven his ability to attract millions of users to online translation.
Next year Amazon took a revenge by paying for the same rights five times more (50 million dollars). Noto was upset but not for a long time. He signed a new contract with NFL for a longtime partnership with an access to the major materials.
The strategy started to prove itself. And the company made agreements with another twelve partners on production of entertainment shows and programs dedicated to sport and business. 24 hours of online video do not look unmanageable task anymore. It looks like Twitter is growing just upon our eyes into a great media company based on social network. And Anthony Noto is leading these changes without any doubt. He announces his decisions in a thought soldier manner not being scared of an open confrontation. And there were alway enough people ready to go on confrontation.
A premium package Anthony Noto received during his first year at Twitter did not add him a popularity among the old staff. They see 73 million dollars as an astronomic sum.
Management style of the new financial director seems to be too tough from the first days. And when Noto came to the company management his methods were called dictatorial.
«He is so confident about his superiority that he is not able to see the right of the others and to learn».
«To the most efficient ideas he prefers his own even if they don’t work».
«If he is approached with new idea it will be toughly criticized ».
True, there are some who sees a sense in such a crush test of any idea, in necessity of setting high requirements and severity typical for Noto, the commander-in-chief, who believes in the success of the leader of Twitter. There are not only his working team mangers among them, but also partners, investor and analytics from Wall-Street.
John Steiberg, founder and the chief executive director of the finance news network Cheddars sees Twitter as the most important social platform. “I put substantial funds in it and I am ready to invest more. This is lucrative. Maybe investors and Silicon Valley are doubting Twitter but in media business everyone wants to work with it”.
But Wall-Street brokers are still looking at numbers very wary, the number of new users is not growing. No one knows the number of daily visitors, Noto is refusing to disclose it. Although Marc Makhoney the analyst from RBC Capital Market is confident that Number if users will grow and the best days of or Twitter are yet to come”
Dick Costolo remains the main advocate for Anthony Noto who offered him the position of the financial director. He is still confident Noto is more than others positioned to address the company in its hard times with the words: “I plan to stay with you and we will handle it… No one can stop us but ourselves”. “People out of the company will hardly understand how inspiring is Anthony’s leadership”.
While ones are arguing whether the number of users and the share price will growth, the others are waiting for the moment when Noto’s plan will come true and he will take the position of the general manager and let Jack Dorsey work on his new project..
But independently from whether it will happen or not, time of Noto will be a part of the history of Silicon Valley as a unique example of a case when will and believe in success of one man could change a course of a giant and almost submerged ship.