Dear Mr. Costolo,
You are in a tough spot, and it's not really your fault that you've found yourself here. Having stepped into a young company that you didn't found, it can be difficult to find exactly the right tone to set.
That being said, you've done a masterful job at growing Twitter's (NYSE:TWTR) revenue, and making it more relevant. Additions to improve the Twitter experience -- Highlights, Recap, Periscope, Vine, etc. -- are making a big difference.
But I'm writing this letter because I cringe when I hear how your team describes your company's goals and by what means you're going to accomplish them. It sounds like you are using Silicon Valley speak to grasp for something you're not quite sure of -- and it comes of as complicated, incoherent and scattered.
I want to address that with you. In doing so, I want to talk about the three documents that are core to any company's success:
- The mission statement (your reason for being)
- The vision statement (the desired future position of your company)
- The strategy (or in your case--the strategy statement)
I used to be a writing teacher, and I often told my students that, "unclear writing is about more than semantics. It is a symptom of unclear thinking." I worry with where these three documents are right now, there's evidence of a lot of murky thinking.
A solid mission
I actually have no problem with your mission statement: "To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers." As shareholder and frequent user of Twitter -- I can get behind that.
Plus, it's under 140 characters!
Here's where we start to run into problems. Back in late 2014, you released a "strategy statement" that was awkward, clunky and--in the end--had absolutely nothing to do with strategy:
Reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue generating Internet companies in the world.
Goals for audience and revenue size are not part of a strategy, they are by-products of your vision and mission.
But even correcting for this, I have huge problems with this idea. It doesn't speak to the larger goal that Twitter can address. Why limit your vision to the number of people that use your service or how much money you collect?
Let's make this more holistic! In the end, that'll attract users (something lots of investors are hoping for), and make your business far more sustainable.
If it were up to me, I would focus on the role that Twitter can play in our world: "Our vision is to create a town square for the world--a public space for all people to gather electronically."
Every year, my family and I spend our winters in a tiny Costa Rica town. Life there revolves around the town square. Here's a picture of it:
Old people go there to meet their friends. Young people congregate after school. Any exchange of gossip, ideas, community issues, neighborhood plans for festivals -- it all goes down, publicly, here. It is where breaking news is spread, and follow-up conversations occur. Some people are active participants, others like to sit back and observe, but everyone wants to spend time there.
This is what Twitter can -- and should -- be.
While massive strides have been made to improve the user experience, I suspect that one of the reasons user growth has slowed is because too many people don't understand what Twitter is and what it hopes to be. Wouldn't aiming to make it "the world's town square" solve that problem?
Don't worry so much about audience size or revenue. You're putting the chicken before the egg. Focus on making Twitter the town square for the world and you'll have no trouble generating the most traffic--or selling ad space.
A coherent strategy
Also back in late 2014, you said you had three main objectives:
"strengthening the core...reduce barriers to consumption to help build the largest total audience in the world...[and] building new applications and services"
Now that is your actual strategy. Keep it as it is if you like. But if you'd like to couch it in even plainer language that aligns with my suggested vision, I'd change it to:
- Making Twitter (the town square) stickier.
- Making Twitter (the town square) easier to enter.
- Making Twitter (the town square) even more valuable to users with new apps and services.
Same ideas, different words, clearer vision and strategy.
So, Mr. Costolo, what do you say? You've done a helluva job at Twitter so far. And -- according to Glassdoor -- creating a place where people want to work. How about putting the cherry on top by taking a moment to describe redefine your company's vision and strategy?