Think it’s challenging running one startup? Try leading two. And not just any, but two of the most influential firms in Silicon Valley.
Such is the Herculean workload shouldered by Jack Dorsey, who this year returned to Twitter, the social media platform he co-founded in 2006, as interim CEO following the resignation of longtime chief Dick Costolo. Dorsey spent the summer juggling Twitter alongside his duties as CEO of digital payments provider Square. Despite the reservations of Twitter board members who said they would consider only replacements “who are in a position to make a full-time commitment to Twitter,” he was awarded the top job on a permanent basis on Oct. 5 and allowed to retain the Square gig as well.
“Twitter is the most powerful communications tool of our time,” Dorsey tweeted (of course) following his appointment. “Our work forward is to make Twitter easy to understand by anyone in the world, and give more utility to the people who love to use it daily!”
It won’t be easy. Though Twitter boasts 316 million monthly active users generating 500 million tweets each day, the platform has struggled to extend beyond its niche user base of journalists, celebrities and other “influencers” to penetrate the mass market. The new Moments feature, launched two days after the Dorsey hire, aims to simplify the Twitter experience by curating the most relevant content from major events.
Square, meanwhile, continues to evolve, and on Oct. 14 filed to go public in a bid to raise $275 million. The company revealed that revenue rose 54 percent last year to $850.2 million, but losses widened from $104.5 million to $154.1 million. With its core retail-transaction business threatened by competition from Amazon, PayPal, Stripe and others, Square is targeting new segments like business lending, payroll services and even food delivery. Analysts have expressed concern about a lack of focus, and doubling Dorsey’s workload won’t help. “[Twitter] may at times adversely affect his ability to devote time, attention and effort to Square,” the firm said in its securities filing.
Still, potential synergies could make the risks worth it. In September, Twitter announced that users would be able to donate to political campaigns directly from the app via Square technology. And there have been timeshare CEOs before: Dorsey’s hero, Steve Jobs, did double duty as chief of Apple and Pixar, masterminding projects including the iPod, iTunes and Finding Nemo. If Dorsey can come anywhere near those heights, maybe Aaron Sorkin will write a movie about him, too.