To listen to Wall Street tell the story, Twitter is an abject failure. The stock is down more than 50 percent since co-founder Jack Dorsey took over as CEO last year. User growth and revenue prospects have stagnated, and investors see little chance of a major turnaround.
Yet only in the twisted logic of the startup economy could a company with around $500 million of revenue per quarter—and more, most recently—be called a failure. That’s half a billion dollars for a tiny application that simply lets people send out 140 characters to each other. The economic activity it has generated is nothing short of miraculous.
But that’s not enough for investors who expect to recoup 100 or even 1,000 times their original investment in the company. To do that, Twitter must grow. Somehow, it must turn itself from a simple, popular, and profitable way for more than 300 million people to broadcast messages into something still bigger—even if it has to risk killing what people love about Twitter in order to do so.
This is why I couldn’t help but grimace that morning I saw Twitter’s founders smiling on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as the company celebrated its IPO and each of them became billionaires. Among them, these guys had upended journalism with Blogger, and credit with Paypal and Square. Here they were throwing in with the biggest industry of them all. When you get to ring the opening bell on the exchange and bask in the applause of the traders on the floor, it’s not because you have “disrupted” something. It’s because you have confirmed that—at least for a few—the game is still working. As the dealer is sure to cry out at the casino for all to hear, “We have a winner!”