Twitter COO Ali Rowghani on the company's IPO, new opportunities and sports media

PHOTO BY MARC BRYAN-BROWN
Rowghani: "We feel that the pressure of being a public company will make us better."
When its IPO was launched, there was something noticeably different about Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. “We had basically the entire workforce — about 1,000 employees — all showing up at 6 in the morning,” said Twitter COO Ali Rowghani during Wednesday morning’s second featured interview at the 2013 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference. “Our engineers often come in after 10 a.m. That was the only thing that felt different. Otherwise, internally at Twitter, you would be surprised at how it was business as usual.”

Rowghani said there was a reason for that. “It sort of speaks to the ideology of the company,” he said of the staff-wide reaction. “We see the IPO not as an end, but as a means to an end.” Rowghani insisted that the IPO, with the mandate of quarterly reporting, is a positive for the creative output of Twitter. “There’s no place to hide,” he said. “We feel that the pressure of being a public company will make us better. It’s a quarter-to-quarter challenge for management to keep its eye on the long term. It comes down to our discipline as a management team, how we manage for the long term and not get too caught up in a short-term vision.”

Quick hits:
On what Twitter can do better: “I think that we can make Twitter easier. It’s amazing to me that the hashtag is essentially a mainstream notion. The hashtag was invented by a Twitter user to help make sense of it all. Now you can't watch 'SportsCenter' without the anchor saying the word 'hashtag' multiple times. It's like 'www' 20 years ago. Having said that, there's a jargon and syntax that makes Twitter difficult and too inaccessible for a mainstream audience. We want to make that easier.”

On one of Twitter’s new developments: “We announced a set of rules to allow any publisher to pick the best tweets of any given subject, from the best cat jokes on Twitter to the best content about the typhoon in the Philippines — from something mundane and trivial to something very important. You can put the best content in a custom timeline and put that timeline anywhere you want — on a website, on a mobile app, wherever. One of the challenges of Twitter is that it’s just a torrent of content. This is a more curated, more organized experience. Twitter doesn’t want to be in the business of curating content. Our role is not an editorial one. We want to create tools that help people curate their content.”

Why Twitter stands out in social media: “The space has gotten very competitive, and I’m sure it will continue to. We are the only platform that’s the combination of being live, public, conversational and publicly distributed. No one else has those four things. You have to make that differentiation valuable to your consumers.”


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