One of Twitter's co-founders has come back to help the troubled social-networking company. Seen as part artist, part visionary, the question facing Dorsey now is whether he can turn the company around.
Terry CollinsStaff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was appointed CEO of the social network on September 30, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing released Monday. The move ends three months of confusion at the socially influential but slow-growing company. It also marks a round trip for Dorsey, who was fired from Twitter's top job seven years ago but was handed the reins as interim CEO following the resignation in June of then-CEO Dick Costolo.
Dorsey, who is 38, will not receive a salary as CEO, according to the filing. He will still serve on the board but no longer as chairman. Dorsey has been a board member since 2007 and became chairman the following year.
Costolo resigned from the board last week, Twitter said. Twitter's stock climbed 7 percent on the news about Dorsey as permanent CEO.
Watch this: Jack is back as Twitter CEO
The San Francisco-based company also named Adam Bain as chief operating officer. Bain, 42, had reportedly been one of the lead candidates for the top job. But Dorsey won the job convincingly, Twitter board member Peter Currie said during a conference call Monday morning.
"Over time it became clear to us that Jack was not only meeting, but surpassing our expectations of him as interim CEO while running Square," said Currie, who was on the CEO search committee.
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, who was also on the search committee, agreed.
"Jack has already demonstrated the ability to inspire the team and think boldly about the next phase of Twitter. His connection to its roots informs a depth of vision and authenticity of voice, which I've been excited to hear," Williams said in a blog post Monday.
Costolo tweeted Monday he was delighted Dorsey was selected CEO. As for stepping down from the Twitter board, he tweeted: "Those banging pots and pans outside Twitter know the least about what's going on inside Twitter," and "@Twitter, there is only one narrative that matters and it's the one you'll create for the world."
Dorsey isn't a typical big-company executive. A one-time masseur who wrote computer code as a hobby, he has cultivated the image of a genius-hipster-artist. He's now seen as a visionary and innovative thinker, similar to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk.
That eclectic background may be just what Twitter needs as it looks for new ways to attract users.
For nearly a decade Dorsey has been at the center of two big Internet trends: social networking and mobile payments. Twitter has become one of the world's largest social-networking companies. Square, a company Dorsey co-founded, is a star of the mobile payments industry.
"My focus is to build teams that move fast, and learn faster," Dorsey said in a tweet Monday. "In the past 3 months we have increased our speed and urgency at both companies."
Manning the helm of Twitter will make Dorsey one of Silicon Valley's busiest executives. In addition to running Twitter, he will remain CEO of Square, which reportedly has filed for an initial public offering. Perhaps the biggest question now is how he will split his time. Twitter needs a strategy for expanding its adoption and profits, while Square will have to navigate life as a newly public company. Dorsey also sits on the board of the media giant Walt Disney.
Dorsey told investors during Monday's conference call that he is up to the challenge.
"My ability to manage Twitter and Square is being made possible by teams at both companies," he said. "Having been in this position of running two companies for the last three months, I can say from daily experience that both have world-class leaders dedicated to each company's mission."
But Elon Musk, CEO of both electric car maker Tesla and space transportation company SpaceX, on Tuesday warned Dorsey shouldn't take on dual roles.
"I wouldn't recommend running two companies. It decreases your freedom quite a lot," said Musk during a panel discussion at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco. Musk said he spends about 70 percent of his time on engineering and design, and about 2 to 3 percent on press events and speaking engagements. Musk wants to cut the latter time down to about 1 percent.
Meanwhile, Bain told Twitter investors Monday he is looking forward to his new responsibilities because Dorsey has already had a profound effect on Twitter in his 13 weeks leading the company.
"He's got the senior staff working better together than at any point in our history," Bain said. "There's more cohesion and more collaboration amongst the team now. The team is moving with a level of boldness I haven't seen before."
Twitter rose to fame on a simple concept: 140-character messages, almost like digital bumper stickers, sent from laptops or cell phones. The service gave a voice to people who might otherwise be silent. It has played a pivotal role in global movements, including the Arab Spring five years ago and the protests that followed a police shooting last year in Ferguson, Missouri.
Despite its political and cultural influence, Twitter still hasn't approached the popularity or profitability of social-media peer Facebook. Twitter's share price is stuck near its 2013 IPO, and the site is not attracting enough new users. Dorsey himself called Twitter's anemic 3 percent user growth rate "unacceptable" during a conference call in July.
The company has 316 million people who log in at least once a month, compared with Facebook's nearly 1.5 billion. It spent the summer releasing updates such as longer direct messages and e-commerce integration with Stripe, Shopify and others. Dorsey said he's excited about the fall release of Project Lightning to highlight trending events with photos and videos. He also mentioned a robust product road map for 2016 but did not offer specifics.
"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!" Dorsey tweeted Monday.
From college dropout
Dorsey's rise to the top of two high-profile tech companies comes from inauspicious beginnings. The eldest of three boys, Dorsey grew up in St. Louis where his father worked in a factory that made scientific equipment, according to an October 2013 profile in The New Yorker. Dorsey became interested in programming after his father gave him his first computer, an IBM PC Jr, when he was 8 years old. He received a Macintosh three years later.
In 1995, Dorsey enrolled in the University of Missouri-Rolla (now called the Missouri University of Science and Technology) to study computer science and math.
While a junior, he hacked into the computer system of Dispatch Management Services, a New York bicycle messenger service. Dorsey dropped out of college after the company offered him a job developing software, the magazine profile said. He later enrolled in New York University, but dropped out again, just one semester short of graduating.
For a while, Dorsey bounced around. He moved to San Francisco to start his own dispatch company but was later fired by the company's directors. He was also a massage therapist and a babysitter.
Harboring ambitions of designing clothes, he took fashion classes. Even today, his hair and beard styles are constantly changing, from crew cut to lumberjack.
Dorsey met Williams in 2005 and began working for his podcast company, Odeo. A year later, the pair, along with Biz Stone and Noah Glass, formed Twitter.
Dorsey sent the company's first official tweet on March 21, 2006: "just setting up my twttr."
In May 2007, Dorsey became Twitter's first CEO, but was fired 16 months later for a string of site outages and poor management, according to the book "Hatching Twitter." Dorsey told Vanity Fair his removal was "like being punched in the stomach."
In 2009 Dorsey co-founded Square, the San Francisco company that makes it easy for mom-and-pop businesses to accept credit card payments through mobile phones. Since then, Dorsey has overseen the financial services business, which also offers point-of-sale software, money transfers via email and business financing.
When Dorsey became Twitter's interim CEO in July, analysts described him as more confident and mature than he was seven years ago, in large part because of his experience at Square. Now it's up to Dorsey to show if his success at one company can help him produce a much-needed turnaround at another.
"Twitter has its work cut out for it for the remainder of this year and beyond," said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with eMarketer. "Jack must work quickly to restore confidence in the company. The question is: Can Twitter soar again?"
Updates: This story was updated throughout the morning of October 5 with information from Twitter's conference call and other sources, and again on October 6 with comments from Elon Musk.