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Twitter Inc. Is Just Misunderstood, Says Key Shareholder. Is He Right?

By Tim Brugger – Jun 24, 2015 at 6:00PM

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The tweet master’s many problems remain, leading to a CEO change and an "explanation" from a key stakeholder.

Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) shareholders have been subjected to significant uncertainty in the last few months, and that was before CEO Dick Costolo announced his resignation on June 11. In retrospect, Costolo's departure was a necessary step as Twitter tries to right the ship. The Street, industry pundits, and investors -- both individual and institutional -- seem to have lost patience and confidence in the tweet master, so something had to be done.

The problems are well documented: stagnant user growth, new direct response ad solutions that aren't living up to expectations, a cumbersome process to sign up new users, and a less-than-intuitive interface, among others. In an effort to addess some of the concerns, institutional investor and shareholder Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital wrote a couple relatively lengthy blog posts making his case for why Twitter should be on a short list of investment alternatives. However, his views on Twitter didn't exactly come off as glowing; nor should they have.

That's not what I said
A major problem with Twitter, per Sacca, is the disconnect between "what Twitter says, and what investors hear." He cited a couple instances from a recent conference call hosted by outgoing CEO Costolo and Twitter's interim chief, Jack Dorsey, following news of the change.

In response to a question about Costolo's role going forward, the Twitter principals said he would stay on as a board member to help the company. "What Wall Street hears," according to Sacca, is that the board will now consist of a bunch of ex-Twitter leaders who are responsible for Twitter's current predicament.

"What I believe Twitter was trying to say," Sacca stated, is that, in a nutshell, Costolo oversaw what has become a revenue growth machine -- sales are up "20x" since he joined Twitter as COO -- the hiring process is now smooth and successful, and Costolo is responsible for bringing on "the right leadership team for the company," among other accomplishments.

Perhaps a bigger problem isn't miscommunication between Twitter and investors, it's the lack of internal oversight that has left the impression that Twitter's left hand doesn't seem to know what the right hand is doing, or saying. As an example, Sacca said Twitter's mishandling of Costolo's resignation announcement "crushed investor hopes and turned what could have been a very positive event for the company into a debilitating mess."

And there's more
It might not be fair, but Facebook's (META -1.19%) success certainly doesn't help Twitter's cause. As Facebook continues to grow its monthly average users, or MAUs, -- it boasted 1.44 billion as of last quarter -- revenue, mobile results, video, and virtually every other important metric an investor would like to see, Twitter is left further behind. Even Facebook properties Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram have more MAUs than Twitter, reinforcing the latter's user growth concerns.

It could get worse for Twitter now that Facebook has taken the wraps off Instagram and will (finally) begin monetizing what most pundits agree will be a revenue boon. It wasn't long ago that Instagram announced it had over 300 million MAUs, a fact that immediately brought comparisons to Twitter and its lackluster user growth. It was Instagram's rapid MAU rise that instigated yet another example of Twitter's lack of communication -- internally and externally.

Twitter board member Evan Williams responded to Instagram's MAU growth by saying it didn't matter because "Twitter makes a hell of a lot more money than Instagram." The problem with that, and other statements by Williams regarding the MAU disparity, is it blatantly disregarded investors' concerns, and directly contradicted statements made just a few months later by Costolo.

Much of Costolo's first-quarter conference call was spent assuring investors that Twitter has a laser-like focus on introducing a new, and easier, way to sign up for the service to address slow MAU growth. But, according to Costolo's own board member, MAUs don't really matter.

Sacca is right in suggesting there is a disconnect between what Twitter says and what it means, but it goes beyond what investors hear. This shouldn't be swept under the rug with a few explanations; instead, it should raise a big red flag for investors.


Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and Twitter. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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