When I read last week that Twitter is throwing cash and additional stock at employees in an effort to keep them from quitting, my first reaction was what any red-blooded manufacturer of tangible goods would probably think: Ha! That's what happens when you build a business largely on hype. The chickens have come home to roost. Or if not chickens, the mountain bluebird--or whatever damn bird that Twitter logo is supposed to represent. (Actually, I love birds.)
Twitter's plummeting market value has sparked lots of hand-wringing and consultation among "specialists." What's wrong with the patient? It's not adding users! It's failing to thrive! Twitter founder Jack Dorsey was called back in as CEO, and he's vowed to make the company well again, because as he said, "The world needs a strong Twitter."
Disregarding for a minute the questionable nature of that statement, is it possible that the world could ever have a strong Twitter? To quote the Magic 8 Ball, "My sources say no." Not the way it's carrying on.
Who are my real sources in this case? Anyone who's ever built a solid business from the ground up, making products that provide sustainable returns. And anyone who's established long-term goals beyond simply making money or riding the hype wave until it hits the shore.
Normally when you start a business you have a niche you're trying to fill. With Twitter it seemed to start out like a fling, an experiment to see how far it all would go. But when it ended up going far--because the social media world was exploding--the venture capitalists got involved, then the game changed. In fact, the game ended, because VCs and now stockholders have certain expectations, and they don't care a whit about the company's viability or role in society. They only care about a decent ROI.
The company's laser-like focus on greenbacks is even more obvious now as they throw cash at employees to keep them from quitting. It's the only thing that VCs know--money, money, money. The problem is Twitter doesn't make any.
Sure, it generates revenue, but it's lost more than a half-billion dollars each of the past three years. The company's stock has fallen a quarter in value since the beginning of the year, and now it's being diluted even more as the company doles out bonuses to employees as their shares declined. It's the start of a feedback loop: Now they have to pay employees more because the stock value has fallen, which is going to make them lose even more. Then they'll have to pay more--if any employees are still around by then. It turns into just one big talent flight down the drain.
This is the consequence of short-term decision making. Private equity wants quick returns, so VC-backed companies like Twitter make kneejerk decisions to keep the hype machine rolling. Meanwhile, the employees who are sticking around aren't doing it because they have faith in the company's future. The long-term solution is to develop a sustainable business model and get employees to buy into the company's mission rather than a quick payout. At Big Ass Fans, we know we have to make money to stay in business, but we're not in business to make money. There has to be more to a business.
I'll admit, at first I wasn't sympathetic to Twitter's predicament. It's an infection they gave themselves, I thought. But then I saw something about how Steve Ballmer, Microsoft mega billionaire and Los Angeles Clippers owner, was lamenting his 4 percent stake in Twitter, and I started to see things in a different light.
Ballmer has lost perhaps hundreds of millions--a drop in his bucket--and says he learned a valuable lesson about investing. Meanwhile, young Twitter employees gain hundreds of thousands of dollars--in the short term, anyway--while having learned that sometimes a dollar of stock is really only worth a dime. Talk about redistribution of wealth.
Well, it's a start anyway.