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Twitter CEO: New board choice had to fill many gaps

In an on-stage interview, Dick Costolo says Twitter's pick of Marjorie Scardino wasn't just because she was a woman, but also because of her international and operational experience.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
4 min read

SAN FRANCISCO -- For months, Twitter has been fending off criticism that its board was an all-male club. But the company's as a new board member had as much to do with her ability to fill other gaps as her gender.

That was what Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told a PandoMonthly audience here Thursday night.

"We have a number of gaps on the board," Costolo said. "The board [was] all men...The board is also all US executives, and all these things. So we were absolutely looking for a person who filled a number of what we felt were aspects or areas of expertise we felt we were deficient in. That includes international experience, and operational experience."

Added Costolo, "Marjorie brings so many of the areas we felt like [we needed]: International, global operating expertise, media. All of those things are reasons we love having her involved."

Essentially, he concluded, Twitter was searching for a "whole person" for the new board slot, not just that "we have to go check that [gender] box."

Given that the interview took place on the day Twitter announced its selection of Scardino to the board, it was natural that Costolo would be asked -- and have to address -- the question of gender diversity on the company's board. But during his two hours on stage, Costolo talked about a wide range of other issues related to the global social network.

One was his assessment of the popularity of Snapchat. And while he parried questions about whether Twitter had been interested in purchasing the photo-sharing app, Costolo did say that one of the things he appreciated most about Snapchat was that its developers had masterfully managed to make its technology blend into the background while focusing on making the user experience as simple as possible.

Costolo said he's very well aware that as popular as Twitter is, the service is often seen as "opaque" to new users. That's in large part because of many of the conventions that underlie the service -- tools like hashtags, @ symbols, and others. And the Twitter CEO said he knows that the company has to do a much better job of hiding the "complexity and scaffolding" that holds the service together if it wants to win over new users.

Another issue Costolo took on was the value it offers its users. Interviewer Sarah Lacy asked him if he was more interested in maximizing the revenue it makes per user, like LinkedIn, or if it was simply more important to get to a billion users. Costolo didn't hesitate before answering, "We have a core value inside the company to reach every person on the planet."

He added that one of the reasons that's such a crucial goal at Twitter is because "every person inside the company can give you a dozen examples of why Twitter would be valuable" to any person they know.

When ready to IPO?
To anyone paying attention to Twitter's history, of course, its biggest recent move was its November IPO. Lacy asked how the company knew it was ready to go public. Costolo said that the answer was that when the executives and the board had the sense that Twitter finally had some "predictability about cadence," they knew they were ready.

By that, he said he meant that Twitter was able to reliably predict how things were going to go inside the company each quarter and then see that their predictions had been right within about 5 percent or less. "Once we did those kinds of things with some regularity," he said, "and we had some predictability, [we knew we were ready] to be a public company."

Another recent issue surrounding Twitter was the publication of Nick Bilton's "Hatching Twitter," in which the New York Times columnist revealed much of the company's long and chaotic history, especially the power struggles for the CEO chair between founders Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams.

But while Costolo wasn't interested in talking about what Lacy termed the "s--t show" that Twitter had been for years, he did talk about how founders Williams, Dorsey, and Biz Stone had been "these really creative, disruptive forces that think differently about technology...Anytime you get a group like that together, you're going to have tension. That stuff happens in any environment where you have multitudes of people contributing."

He also acknowledged that there is a real difference between being a CEO and a founder. While a founder will always have that designation, regardless of how much power they have within a company -- and should always be respected because of having been involved in its creation -- being CEO is quite different. "The CEO title is only as long as the board decides to put that next to my name," he said.