Lowercase Capital

By btails     08/08/2020
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And for that reason… I’m in!

Posted on May 10, 2016

Over the past few months I have appeared on Shark Tank four times and invested in four outstanding companies: HatchBabyRent-Like-A-ChampionBeeFree Honee, andBrightwheel. As you read here last year, a strange and winding path put me on the show in the first place. Filming was great and I had fantastic chemistry with the other Sharks. The producers loved the fit and thus my original agreement to tape one or two episodes was extended to tape four.

The ratings for my episodes were strong, especially considering that they kept scheduling me against the World Series and the NBA playoffs to make sure they didn’t lose audience share. But more important to me was the feedback on Twitter and other social media. I guess I expected a whole new universe of haters to emerge. Yet, I’ve been blown away by how many people wrote to say they appreciated my candor on the show and my willingness to have fun squaring off with Cuban and the others.

It’s strange knowing that on a particular day, when that first episode airs, the relative anonymity of your life is going to evaporate. Sure, for a few years there has been a subculture in San Francisco and New York that have recognized me on the street. But being on a show that is viewed by millions and millions of people and constantly re-runs has changed that dynamic. Pretty much everywhere I go now involves at least one selfie. Yet, what I adore is how every single one of those people has something nice to say to me. They are true fans of the show and they have embraced me as a part of it. That feels good.

The best are the kids who come up to say hi. I always wonder which of them are going to carry this passion for entrepreneurship and obsession with the show through to their future careers. The Shark Tank kids charge me up and always leave me optimistic.

I believe that Shark Tank’s success is not an accident. It is hands down the most authentic show on television. There are no scripts. No one tells us what to say or not say. There are no rules about how many deals we have to do. The Sharks are all betting our own money on the companies we back. The competition between us for deals is real and happens without any prompting.

The only thing that is different on the screen than from what you see when we tape the show is that the pitches tend to be an hour long. That gives us ample time to ask in depth questions about finances and supply chains, etc. That stuff can be a little boring, but it’s all vital information to put us in a great spot to make an informed decision about investing. (I have suggested to the team behind the show that they maybe post online one full, unedited pitch just so fans can see the process end-to-end.) Sacca on Shark set

This is a long way of saying, I’m proud to be on Shark Tank. I get a fair number of TV show offers despite the shirts. One major network this year even approached me to be a “Donald Trump-like character.” (Not exactly the best angle to land me.) With Shark Tank, I get to be me, the pitches are the pitches, the action is the action, and the audience can feel the authenticity.

So, I’m writing to tell you all that I have agreed to be back on Shark Tank next season as a recurring special guest Shark. ABC, Sony, MGM, Mark Burnett, and I were all mutually excited about the chance to work together again. While I am not allowed to say exactly how many episodes yet, let’s just say it will be “a bunch more” than I did this current season.

We start taping in June. I can’t wait. Be sure to follow along with me on Twitter (@sacca), Periscope (@sacca), Facebook Live (coming soon), and Snapchat (@csacca) where I promise to make all the show executives nervous about my excessive use of social media on a closed set. I’ll be sure to highlight Robert’s dance moves between takes, Daymond’s fashion advice,Lori’s apologies for walking all over me in deals, Barbara’s heartfelt advice right before she outbids me, the smoke coming from Cuban’s ears after I call bullshit and drop the gloves, and, of course, the extensive, hours long process behind getting Mr. Wonderful’s hair just right.

Meantime, I am grateful for all the love from you. This was a big risk for me and the good vibes have meant everything. See you on a Friday night again soon!

Thanks.

You Have A Deal.

Posted on July 20, 2015

The punchline: I am going to be a Guest Shark on Shark Tank this season.

The setup: Many of you have asked me over the years whether I would ever consider being a Shark on Shark Tank. My answer was always clear: No.

Why? It struck me as a dime-store version of my current job. A circus of kitchen gadgets and stocking stuffers optimized for infomercials. A few years ago, my buddy Daymond Johninvited me to come by the set and watch a taping. I arrived just in time to see “Cowboy Ryan”pitch his Cowboy Abs fitness program. I didn’t understand then that it would go on to be considered to be one of the worst Shark Tank pitches ever. However, it solidified my impression that Shark Tank was far afield from what I do for a living.

Last Fall, I caught an old Shark Tank episode on repeat. By coincidence, it happened to feature another of the show’s worst pitches of all time: The Carsik Bib. The minute I saw the entrepreneur pour pea soup and corn onto the floor of the studio, I started teasing my pals Daymond and Mark Cuban on Twitter. I posted this:

Chris Tweet to Damon and Mark

Daymond quickly retorted:

Damon Tweet to Chris

Mark and Daymond retweeted me to their followers and triggered a torrent of passionate replies from their respective tribes. The ferocity was evident. Their fans insisted that Shark Tank was inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and even questioned what I had ever done with my life. Cuban and I kept jabbing each other in reply messages. But, all the while, it became clear to me that I had underestimated the impact of the show.

That night, Mark and I direct messaged about his experience as a Shark. He told me how much the show’s success had actually caught him off-guard. Even when he originally got involved, he wasn’t fully convinced of its promise. Now he realizes that it is beyond a mere timeslot. Shark Tank is a movement.

He is right. For starters, the audience is huge. Seven to eight million people watch each episode. It is Friday night’s biggest show with the 18-49 demographic. Among households with income over $100k, it’s is in the top 25 of all programs on TV on any network (broadcast or cable) on any night of the week. Plus, Shark Tank reruns are syndicated to CNBC where they draw another 500-600k viewers in their primetime slot. Episodes of the show are essentially evergreen and can be replayed many times over and still be captivating for viewers particularly when update segments are taped. Shark Tank itself is an incredible business.

Yet, even with those numbers in mind, it was only after talking to people around me that I grasped the reach of the show’s platform. What I had thought was a carnivalesque send-up of the world of venture capital is actually wildly popular among my investing peers. I had no idea. My investors? They love it. The Wall Street guys I work with? Many of them never miss an episode.

The best part? All of these people watch the show with their whole families. Kids are huge fans of Shark Tank and love playing along at home. My own niece and nephew stay up to watch it with their parents and debate which deals are worth doing. Yes, that’s the same nephew who successfully pitched me to invest $35 in his smoothie business, no doubt inspired by the show.

The more I asked friends and neighbors, the more emphatic support I heard for Shark Tank. People lit up when reminded of specific episodes. They said they love the drama of the pitches and proudly buy the products featured. More importantly, I heard more than a dozen times that folks were working on projects they hoped to bring on the show one day. Young viewers noted that Shark Tank showed them the value of knowing how to code and understanding the engineering and design principles behind innovative product creation.

I came to see that Shark Tank embodies the American dream. It is crispest illustration of how ingenuity, determination, storytelling, and a dash of luck can lead to spectacular success. As viewers, we stand right there alongside the entrepreneurs and nervously sweat out what may be the single most important moment in the history of their business, and their life. Shark Tank restores our faith in hustle and reminds us that optimism wins.

I had been so wrong about the show.

How serendipitous then that on Halloween night in Los Angeles, while my family and I weredressed as bottles of sriracha, I bumped into a ninja who was chasing his kid around near mine. In the midst of small talk, he mentioned he was the executive producer of Shark Tank,Clay Newbill. Clay asked me if I would ever come on the show and I let him know right away that I wasn’t interested. So he broke out some ju-jitsu…

If you ever want to get an entrepreneur or investor involved in your project, right off the bat, ask us what we would do to make it better. We can’t help ourselves. We can’t stay quiet. We have too many opinions and derive too much pleasure from building and fixing things. We stick our noses into things as a profession. We know we should be spending our time on some other project in which we are invested. But, if you ask us for our opinion on virtually anything at all, we can’t refuse.

Thus, Clay asked me to come visit his office and talk through some ideas I had for the show. From there, we dropped in to see some honchos at SONY so I could share a couple of recommendations. I went home from that meeting energized and started binge watching all the episodes I could find. In another get together, Clay had me pitching some of my suggestions to execs at ABC. I also found myself at Mark Burnett’s house engrossed in a conversation that ranged from Shark Tank improvements to charity:water to the viability ofsea mist condensation systems for fresh water production. (He is a fascinating dude.)

Shortly thereafter, when Mark and Clay called with the offer to be on the show, I looked back and realized all those meetings had been recruiting sessions. They had reeled me in using the sound of my own voice and my inability to shut the hell up when given the chance to toss in my two cents. By that point, I had come to deeply enjoy hanging around with these guys and felt personally invested in seeing Shark Tank realize its potential. So, I accepted their offer on one take-it-or-leave-it condition: I would get to choose my own wardrobe. :)

I agreed to be on Shark Tank because watching the show reminds me of the early days of my investing career. Today, at Lowercase, we manage more money than we ever imagined. That certainly has its upside, but it also comes with a ton of politics, conflict, complication, distraction, and ugliness. Shark Tank takes me back to the times when I was sitting around a table at Brickhouse Cafe in San Francisco with just two or three founders, excitedly chewing on what could be the next big thing. There was never any talk of board director dynamics, accounting idiosyncrasies, nor earnings call scripts. Instead it was all about the product itself and musing about how to make it awesome. I have missed that simplicity, focus, and purity so much.

Plus, Shark Tank has introduced me to entrepreneurs that I would never otherwise meet inside the tech bubble. As you have likely read or experienced firsthand, Silicon Valley startup founders tend to be male, and many ethnicities are very underrepresented in our industry. Yet, Shark Tank has already given me the chance to mix it up with brave women and men from across the country and from staggeringly diverse backgrounds. It has been so refreshing.

From this point on, I have to be stingy with details because this upcoming season’s episodes are still being shot and who am I to spoil damn good television? I will say this much:

1) I have already taped a couple of fantastic episodes worth of Shark Tank pitches.
2) The quality of the entrepreneurs and companies is higher than ever.
3) I have done a couple of deals in the Tank so far. Good deals I am proud of and that I know are going to be big.
4) I lost a deal in some very heated bidding that included a fair amount of trash-talking with a fellow Shark. I have no doubt you’ll all bust my chops when when that one airs.

All told, this has been quite an adventure. I have been dying to tell you for months. To experience all of this without being able to Tweet? Consider me, sitting on the Shark Tank set, teasing the hell out of Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban and not even getting the chance to Periscope it. But as of today, ABC is taking the covers off and I am free to share this journey with you. By the way, my good friends Ashton Kutcher and Troy Carter have taped Guest Shark episodes too. Keep your eyes peeled for those two.

So, stay tuned. Much more to come in the months ahead. We will do a Periscope Q&A about it soon and I will definitely broadcast the next time I am on set. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Chris

What Twitter Says, and What Investors Hear.

Posted on June 18, 2015

Disclaimers: 1) My funds and I own a lot of Twitter stock. 2) I am not your financial advisor. Don’t trade based on what I write. 3) I don’t work for Twitter, nor speak on behalf of Twitter, nor do I have any inside information about Twitter.

The last few days have been some of Twitter’s most tumultuous in the nine years since I started advising and investing in the company.

I have hesitated to comment on Twitter’s management changes because of the complexity, the sensitivity, and the political nature of the jockeying around who might fill that role. (To answer a question I have heard from many of you, I don’t want to be CEO, nor do I want to be on Twitter’s board.) I also don’t think there is only one right answer as to who should be CEO.

However, any observer will agree that the CEO transition announcements were sloppy and confusing. Investors were left trying to interpret seemingly conflicting accounts and trying to read the tea leaves about where the company was going. Along the way, specific statements about Twitter’s future crushed investor hopes and turned what could have been a very positive event for the company into a debilitating mess.

Yesterday I spoke to an audience of 100 institutional investors about Twitter and fielded their questions for close to an hour and a half. That combined with conversations with analysts and reporters has highlighted for me there there is a major disconnect in what Twitter is saying, what investors are hearing, and what Twitter thinks it is saying. As a person who translates between Silicon Valley and Wall Street for a living, here is what I see.

What Dick and Jack said:

We don’t anticipate any change in that strategy or the product direction.

Dick Costolo and Jack Dorsey held a conference call following the announcement of Dick’s resignation. The next morning, they also went on CNBC to do a live interview. During both of those conversations they made statements to the effect of “We are not changing our product strategy.” These were not well-received.

What Wall Street heard:

Despite slowing user growth and missed revenue projections last quarter we are not admitting there is anything wrong with our business and thus we are not making any changes in the approach to fixing our struggling business.

As a result, the stock got hammered. Investors assumed the leadership team was in denial about reality. Ever since, the stock has continued to lag the overall market and investor sentiment has remained exasperated.

What I believe Dick and Jack were trying to say:

We are nearly ready to launch the products that we are confident will re-accelerate our user growth. We have been working on this stuff for months, ever since Kevin Weil took the product helm. You have seen that our current team has been launching new products at a dramatically faster pace than ever before. These releases, and those to come very shortly, are all part of a comprehensive strategy that we know will attract and retain hundreds of millions of new users. Why would we change that strategy now?

The Twitter team has the benefit of seeing what the rest of us outside the company don’t get to see: the long list of forthcoming products. A strong example of that was today’s announcement of Lightning, a major overhaul of the Twitter experience that will undoubtedly make Twitter more appealing for casual users and enrich the logged-out experience making it much easier to capture and monetize that massive audience. Any of us seeing that product would probably be equally confident about Twitter’s future.

Let’s consider another example of the breakdown in communication between Twitter and investors.

What Twitter says:

Dick is staying on the board of directors and will continue to help the company.

What Wall Street hears:

We are going to have a board that is 1/3 guys who have run this company at some point and that is going to be a distraction for the new team. We need new ideas, not stale ones. How is Twitter supposed to radically change direction if all the old CEOs are still lurking around?

What I believe Twitter is trying to say:

From the time Dick Costolo joined as COO until today, the company’s value has grown by 20x. He oversaw the creation, from scratch, of an ad business currently achieving a +$2 billion run rate and growing 74% year over year. He grew the company by thousands of employees, maintained a very high rating for culture and leadership on Glassdoor, and, following some missteps, finally nailed hiring and promoting the right leadership team for the company. The seeds for the product renaissance that is coming were planted on Dick’s watch.

Product Launches as a Lagging Indicator.

If you have spent time building products in tech, you know that user and revenue growth are preceded by two separate and multi-month phases. First, you have to get the right team in place. Twitter obviously tripped all over itself in this regard for years. Since the era of Jason Goldman, who did an incredible job shepherding Twitter from a simple text-based service to a rich web and mobile platform, the head of product role has been a revolving door.

However, in October of 2014, Kevin Weil was promoted from his then-current role of managing the revenue products, to overall product head of the company. In parallel, his engineering counterpart, Alex Roetter, was promoted to head engineering for the company. Once those two assumed their new positions, it took time to realign their organizations, get status updates on current projects, centralize efforts, and let go any dead weight.

With that foundation in place, they could work with Dick, Adam, Anthony, Katie, Nathan, and others including some board members like Ev and Jack, to re-prioritize the product roadmap to address the challenges facing the company. With new priorities in place, the improved products could be designed, framed, fleshed out, tested, launched internally, etc. But those steps take months and months. It is hard work, particularly for an org that is tackling so much at once on both the consumer and the revenue side of the house. As an outsider, it is now clear though that such work is paying off. They have been making substantial progress advancing the product, and their efforts are now being released to the public.

Now we see the right products hitting the market. The NBA Live timeline was a hit and a giant step forward in making Twitter accessible and indispensable for users new and old. Interactive ads and click-driven pre-populated Tweets are also obvious ways to drive higher engagement and both are now out there. We have also seen Twitter experimenting on Android with using hearts in place of stars. Most important is the news today that Twitter is on the verge of launching their Lightning product, a bold rethinking of the entire product.

User and Revenue Results as a Lagging Indicator.

Will all of these exciting launches impact the company’s results in Q2? Nope. That’s why I assume the company simply reaffirmed their guidance for the quarter. Results will likely be bleak and could, as some analysts have written, show a shrinking user base. That is already priced into the stock and reflected in the general apathy about owning it. The Twitter that users saw for most of the past three months suffered from the lack of improvement that has continually drawn the frustration of users and investors alike.

Will the new stuff impact results in Q3 and Q4? If the company is able to get all of this launched broadly soon, I have no doubt we will start to see the user count and the revenue picture improve. (*Personal opinion, I am not your stock broker, nor your doctor, lawyer, etc.) This is why I remain very bullish on the stock and hope that the company remains independent.

Telling the Story.

Alas, I continue to believe that Twitter’s primary challenge isn’t on the product side of the house as much as that might have been the case in years past. Frankly, there is no shortage of ideas at Twitter about how to improve Twitter. There is no lack of product vision at Twitter.

What has changed is that Kevin Weil and Alex Roetter have been given the reins and they excel at getting shit done. They and their teams appear to now have in place the ideas and the execution to power the future of Twitter. Again, this happened on Dick’s watch and that is why the company’s internal confidence in him as a board member remains high.

Instead, there is an absence of storytelling at Twitter. The issue is that we outside the company have had to do to much work to see and understand all of this. Twitter often still acts like a private company. As a startup in Silicon Valley, you learn to shake off external criticism and continue to work in secret on your new products knowing that you’ll eventually prove your doubters wrong. Yet, as a public company, particularly one with damaged credibility in the market, communication outside the company becomes more critical than ever.

Is this all fixable? Yes. I am optimistic that Twitter will double down on its efforts to reach out to investors and actively listen to their concerns. I was pleased to even see some PR on the Lightning launch today. It has been forever since Twitter promoted a product launch.

While I don’t think Wall Street should be steering the ship, their feedback is immensely valuable. Every time an analyst asks a question, Twitter executives should be asking themselves, “Which cell on her Excel spreadsheet does she have in mind and how can I help her empirically understand the promise of Twitter?” To date, Wall Street has considered Twitter management to be tone-deaf to their questions. So this can easily get better.

In turn, going forward, it will be vital for the Twitter team to pause and consider how their messages land on the ears of investors. They need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of outsiders and very carefully consider how their messages will be heard.

There is so much to be proud of at Twitter right now. All indications are that this company is headed in the right direction. Let’s see if they can get better showing us how all of their moves fit into a cohesive strategy and how Twitter’s best days are ahead. Thoughtful communications will unlock so much value at Twitter and in the price of the company’s stock.

My money says they will get it right.

What Twitter Can Be.

Posted on June 3, 2015

Disclaimers: 1) This is a very long read. Thinking about a company and using its product obsessively for nine years straight will do that to you. 2) My funds and I own a lot of Twitter stock. 3) I do not speak for Twitter. 4) I have no inside information about Twitter. The company could already be building all the stuff below. I sincerely hope they are.

Summary For Executives And Non-Executives Alike:

I believe in Twitter. The company itself is improving, not worsening. The stock market doesn’t get that because Twitter has failed to tell its own story to investors and users. Here is how I think that story could unfold:

Hundreds of millions of new users will join and stay active on Twitter, hundreds of millions of inactive users will return to Twitter, and hundreds of millions more will use Twitter from the outside if Twitter can:

  1. Make Tweets effortless to enjoy,
  2. Make it easier for all to participate, and
  3. Make each of us on Twitter feel heard and valuable.

Accomplishing this isn’t hard and there are obvious, concrete steps to fix it all. Done right, countless users new and old will find Twitter indispensable, use Twitter more, see great ads, buy lots of stuff, and make the company much more money along the way.

The Opposite Of A Summary:

As I wrote last week, I invested in and have been thinking about Twitter since its earliest days. It is a huge part of my life and my business. I am very bullish on Twitter’s future and I can’t imagine life without it. The way I put it, “I Bleed Aqua.

First, I want to apologize to those of you working in the sensationalist clickbait mines, but this post is not a hit piece. I never said it would be. I am not here to slam the company nor the team. I am not an activist investor.

I am a proud Twitter shareholder and Twitter user. I want this company to succeed. I want the people who work at Twitter to win. I want this stock to be worth more. I own more of it than virtually anyone working at the company. So with that kind of skin in the game, I wrote:

“I am going to post a few things that I personally hope the Twitter team will accomplish.”

If at any point I do sound critical or impatient, it is because I believe Twitter can be so much more than it is today. I assume each one of you who owns Twitter shares, and every single one of you who works at the company would agree. Candidly, I have no doubt that Twitter users have 302 million monthly active opinions as to how the product could be better.

Trying to pin blame on anyone for why Twitter hasn’t made these moves sooner is unproductive. I want Twitter to press forward. I am glad to say there are positive signs that Twitter is once again becoming an organization that can and will ship innovation.

Despite that, my biggest concern is the abundance of public doubt and misunderstanding when it comes to Twitter’s vision and the near future for the service. It’s hard to blame Wall Street or the press. Twitter has failed to tell its own story.

As a private company, Twitter never really had to account for its business to anyone outside the company. Information was tightly guarded and few stakeholders were given the keys. At the same time, investment capital was easy to come by for such a fast growing company, so the company never had to put much effort into pitching itself to raise funding.

The transition to being public has been rough. The company has disappointed Wall Street more often than not. Twitter’s earnings calls are mostly dedicated to playing defense while discussing incremental improvements to sign-up flows and tweaks to the service. Plus, new product launches are soft and rarely get the attention from investors or users that Twitter’s peers drum up. If the company has a bold vision for the future, it doesn’t come across in their communication with us on the outside, and that may very well be a function of pre-IPO legacy.

Over the last few years, my funds put more money into Twitter shares than any other investor in the world, becoming the company’s largest shareholder by the time of the IPO. Raising all that money required me to convince some of the industry’s most skeptical institutional investors of Twitter’s promise. I rose to the challenge, and those investors have enjoyed billions of dollars in profit as a result.

Nevertheless, when I am asked about Twitter’s future on business television, I usually have 90 seconds to answer before they say goodbye and cut to an ad for a Medicare-sponsored scooter. So, let me take this commercial-free chance to tell what I believe should be the focus of Twitter’s story.

What follows is mostly drawn from memos, notes, and presentations I have written over the years through the present day for Twitter management, the company’s board, institutional investors, analysts, power users, and key recruits.

What Is Going Well At Twitter?

  1. The pace of product development has accelerated dramatically.
  2. Twitter has shown a willingness to take more risk in making changes to the core product.
  3. Revenue is growing at 74% year over year. (There is no public company of that scale growing anywhere near as fast.)
  4. The management team has stopped selling their stock.
  5. The Google deal is a big win.
  6. Periscope and TellApart are strong acquisitions. (Periscope may prove to be the most important deal Twitter has ever done.)

Though you wouldn’t know it by looking at the stock price or by reading the headlines, Twitter is owed recognition for ramping up their product development, experimenting with much-needed new initiatives, continuing to grow revenue at astounding rates, and executing well in some marquee M&A and partnership situations. To boot, the executive team has stopped selling the stock and the CFO, Anthony Noto, actually bought a few shares recently. These are all hallmarks of the type of company I want to own.

What’s Not Going Well At Twitter?

  1. New user growth has stalled.
  2. Almost one billion users have tried Twitter and not stuck around.
  3. Direct response advertising has fallen short of hopes.
  4. Wall Street’s confidence in the management team has diminished.
  5. Twitter has been unable to convince investors of its potential upside.

It’s worth noting that Wall Street is the only place in the world where 300 million people using a service and an additional 500 million people visiting a site each month lead to charges that it isn’t “big” or “mainstream.”

That said, Twitter has failed to meet its own stated user growth expectations and has not been able to take advantage of the massive number of users who have signed up for accounts and then not come back. Shortcomings in the direct response advertising category have resulted in the company coming in below the financial community’s quarterly estimates. In the wake of this, Twitter’s efforts to convince the investing community of the opportunity ahead fell flat. Consequently, the stock is trading near a 6-month low, well below its IPO closing day price, and the company is suffering through a seemingly endless negative press cycle.

So Where Can Twitter Go From Here?

Twitter can be indispensable, engaging, and fun for everyone on the planet, and make even more money in the process. So why isn’t that happening?

  1. For most people, Twitter is too hard to use.
  2. For most people, Tweeting is scary.
  3. For most people, Twitter feels lonely.

None of this is a surprise, as Twitter was mostly built by and for its power users. The odds are high that if you are reading this, you are one of those Twitterers who has built lists and muted accounts. You quote Tweets and tag photos with ease, you have multiple group DM threads, and for anything remotely real-time, you turn to Twitter search before Google.

People like you bring incredible value to Twitter and your product experience should never be worsened. Your feedback to the Twitter team has quite literally shaped the product and your passionate opinions remind all of us that there is something really special here. Long live the raw feed and all of its serendipitous glory. Unfortunately, most of the features listed above are complications that chase normal users right back out the door they came in.

The good news is this is all fixable. However, an incremental and iterative approach to improving Twitter will not work. Instead, Twitter will need to take huge risks, deeply question its key assumptions, and launch materially new stuff early and often.

Twitter does have boldness in its bones. It took unreasonable ambition to go from a company where pundits asked “How will you ever make money?” to building a business that will rack up $2 billion in annualized revenue this year. In parallel, it has been no small feat to guide the company from being a wholly text-based service to one teeming with rich media and a growing video monetization business. Even buying Periscope shows the company has the capacity and appetite for taking risk.

But Twitter needs to be bolder still. It needs to place more bets with potentially oversized payoffs. It needs to question aspects of Twitter it has taken for granted. It needs to operate with smaller teams that require less permission to make change happen. Twitter can afford to build the wrong things. However, Twitter cannot afford to build the right things too slowly.

Ultimately, while there is no one Twitter that fits all, there is nothing stopping Twitter from fitting most. There is a Twitter that hundreds of millions more people will embrace and use daily. This is what it might look like…

Using Twitter Could Be So Much Easier.

The world’s very best content is already inside of Twitter. All of the news, sports, entertainment, human interest, music, branding, social justice, humor, politics, celebrities, technology, and beyond. Twitter not only has it all, Twitter has it in real-time, before any other platform in the world.

Yet, for most people, using Twitter to see that great stuff is too hard. Why? Twitter doesn’t work like our minds do. Our brains prefer signal over noise. Yet, on Twitter:

  1. Timelines are oriented in strict reverse chronological order.
  2. Twitter’s core timeline building block is an account follow.

Though immediacy does underpin the value of some Tweets, many other great Tweets have long shelf lives and are just as compelling hours or days later. Plus, a timeline rigidly restricted to specific accounts presumes we won’t value anything Tweeted by accounts we don’t follow. As a result of these two constraints, Twitter timelines are spontaneous, but scattered and of inconsistent relevance.

On any given day, 500 million Tweets are sent. Some of them are wonderfully insightful, funny, provocative, inspiring, heartfelt, or even historic. Yet hundreds of millions of those Tweets are noisy distractions. For any sample of accounts, the odds are extremely high that the most recent Tweets are not the best Tweets.

This is where so many new users get hung up. Hardcore Twitterers have the savvy and patience to continuously tune the array of accounts they follow. They even train the nuances of their visual attention to notice only what they care about when scrolling rapidly. However, new users usually get lost in the rough before they have a chance to find any diamonds.

The next few hundred million Twitter users will want to know that they are always seeing the most interesting and most important Tweets. Sometimes that will mean seeing the freshest Tweets posted. However, in many other cases, users won’t care if those Tweets are ten seconds or one hour or two days old. In parallel, they won’t care if the Tweets were posted by someone they follow or not. They just want the best stuff.

So it is time to ditch the assumptions that:

  1. Recent Tweets are always the best Tweets.
  2. Only the people we follow post the best Tweets.

Twitter Is Making Real Progress.

I am encouraged by some of Twitter’s recent moves in this direction such as Instant Timelines, While You Were Away, and Highlights for Android.

Twitter’s new “Instant Timelines” have definitely taken some work out of the signup flow. Users frequently give up during the new account step where they select whom to follow. Instant Timelines help focus new users’ timelines around meaningful themes of interest and ensure that their timelines are full from day one.

“While You Were Away” is a very positive step toward recognizing that, while real-time Twitter can be astounding, there are countless Tweets that do age well. This is a big, positive shift away from some lingering religion at the company. It shows Twitter is beginning to recognize that recency may not always equal value.

With “Highlights for Android” Twitter casts off restraints around both timing and whom we follow. Instead, Highlights works to show us what it thinks we will agree were the best Tweets of the day regardless of when they were sent and who sent them.

While it is still very early, the quality of the Twitter experience for users touched by these three efforts is dramatically improved. After years of discussing products like these, the fact that Twitter has launched them into the wild leaves me cautiously optimistic that the progress will continue. Going forward, Twitter should boldly push the envelope of these new explorations and try evolving the core product in three directions: Live, Channels, and a Save Button.

Live Is The Biggest Opportunity Yet.

No one else can do live like Twitter and Periscope. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even YouTube can’t hold a hashtag to Twitter’s live content. Facebook has certainly tried more than once to pinch Twitter’s game, to no avail.

Everything that is happening is happening on Twitter. Every game, every show, every debate, every war, every storm, every ceremony, every tragedy, every election.

Live events tug at the very threads of our being. We all crave shared experiences. Jokes are funnier when we have someone to laugh with. Victories are more exhilarating when we have someone to high five. Catharsis goes deeper when we can cry on the shoulder of another.

In a world of pre-fabricated and polished appearances, live events are raw, authentic, and vulnerable. They bring us together and reveal our commonality.

Yet, experiencing live events on Twitter today can be extremely hit or miss. Why?

  1. We may not know they are happening at all.
  2. We may know they are happening but don’t follow all of the right accounts to get the most immersive coverage.
  3. We are distracted by the rest of our scattered timelines while trying to experience an event.
  4. Even if we are all watching the same event, we have very distinct timelines among us.

Again, this is all fixable. The company can build a high-quality, captivating immersion experience for major live events. The necessary elements are:

  1. A separate tab in Twitter (or app).
  2. Thoughtfully curated follows to build the initial stream.
  3. Human editors.
  4. Scheduling and promotion to build traffic.
  5. No permanent commitment nor login required.

Live Twitter can be built right into the main Twitter app, but it should certainly have its own tab so we can concentrate on the live experience free of distraction. Once we click on that tab, we should see a stream of Tweets prioritized not just for immediacy but for relevance as well.

The event stream will be anchored in following a group of accounts that are directly relevant. For television shows, it might be the actors themselves, the show’s official account, some parody accounts, hobbyist commentators, and celebrities who are known to be big fans of the show. Twitter could also tap comedians and critics to live-Tweet along with the show. As described up to this point, the experience doesn’t seem like more than a well-organized Twitter list. That’s where the human editors come in.

During each event, the company should have an editor or two reviewing the Tweets in stream in real-time and culling them for relevancy, importance, humor, and value. Anything that is noisy will get cut from the stream seconds after it has been published. In parallel, the editors will watch all of Twitter for event-themed Tweets that are earning a lot of hearts and retweets. Anything particularly resonant will be inserted quickly and artfully into the event stream.

To ensure the broadest participation in live events, Twitter will promote them in the main stream and encourage us to subscribe to our favorites, essentially building a calendar of anticipation. The rollout will start with the biggest award shows, the most pivotal sporting events, key political events, and a couple of influencer-heavy shows like Game of Thrones and Shark Tank. This programming will ensure that the most interested audiences won’t ever miss a live feed and it will bring us all back to the service again and again as the range of covered events expands. Done right, live Twitter will have sports scores and TV listings front and center and will be the place everyone visits first to see how the game is going or when the show starts.

Soon after the live events are over these dedicated streams will go away and be replaced by suggestions for other events. No long-term commitment needed. No obligation to stay tuned to accounts of reporters in Egypt after the protests are over. No need to keep the golf commentator in our main feed after the Masters. Our core timelines remain untouched.

Notice also that nothing about this live Twitter format would require any of us to log in. Site visitors to Twitter would be just as engaged and very easy to monetize due to their easily identifiable interests, any search intent that brought them, location and time awareness, plus potential bonus targeting due to prior cookies.

Users will be delighted by the ease of these live events on Twitter. Event tabs will require no effort whatsoever from us. Plus, we will all be watching the same stream together as we enjoy the same show or game or debate, etc. Those shared moments will be intimate and unforgettable. Soon, everyday people will find Twitter to be indispensable during live events.

The best part? Twitter already built a tool that makes a feed like this possible: Curator. Currently, Curator is aimed at traditional media broadcasters who want to cull the best Tweets from the firehose and make them visible to their viewers. Twitter itself would likely need a stronger tool to accomplish this at scale. But once again, it is encouraging to see Twitter building more in the direction of live events.

The other best part? Periscope. I talk more about it in a separate section below. But the only thing more live than Periscope is being there in person. That acquisition was genius and it reinforces that live events are Twitter’s most obvious place to win.

All told, nailing live events will give new and existing users a compelling reason to regularly use Twitter and will be a strong impetus to bring back inactive users who signed up long ago.

Channels Will Make Twitter Easy, Easy, Easy.

Almost all media in our lives comes to us through some sorting and categorization. We have come to rely upon filters to help us focus our attention topically. Most of us have a few preferred websites for news and entertainment, we reach for a particular section of the newspaper, we have a handful of magazines we like best, and we know which are our favorite channels on television.

This makes the diversity and meandering of a typical Twitter stream feel dizzying to a normal person. While there is some value in the serendipity of discovering the unexpected, the energy expended to parse a busy stream is overwhelming for too many.

Twitter has shown that they understand at least part of this. As discussed above, their Instant Timelines launch takes a big step forward in orienting a new user’s stream around themes of interest. The result is a good start, but ultimately the user experience is muddied by multiple interests and subject matter all being forced into a single stream.

This can be done better and in a way that is immediately intuitive to most people with the introduction of channels that are oriented by:

  1. Topics
  2. Location
  3. Popularity

When it comes to media, people like programming. We like focus. We like doing the same thing at the same time and being told where to go next. For instance, in the realm of TV, with only a few exceptions, DVR audiences don’t compare to the size of live audiences, even for re-runs. We want to watch it together in the moment. Ever notice that whatever long forgotten movie TBS is playing on Saturday afternoons almost always trends on Twitter? We are sharing that moment.

To be successful, Twitter channels would require:

    1. A separate tab (or app).
    2. Consistent, focused content.
    3. Human editorial enhancement.

Topics Bring Focus And Consistency To Streams.

A natural extension of the Instant Timeline approach would be to launch simple subject matter Twitter streams on separate tabs or in separate apps. This would not be a major departure from Instant Timelines except that these channels would be concentrated on a single topic and would not just be algorithmically generated, relying also on human editorial contributions.

Topical channels would be less about immediacy and rather more closely resemble the Techmeme model of making sure that the most important content ultimately makes it into the stream. Plus, all of us watching a feed would see the same Tweets at the same time.

The most obvious channels to kick off would be news, politics, sports, entertainment/gossip, comedy, gaming, and a “Best of Twitter” highlighting the most popular content on the service overall. Never underestimate each of our desires to tend toward the mean and feel at home within a big group. Too much personalization can be exhausting. Overall, I can’t imagine there would be much objection within Twitter to this approach yet, it would immediately make so much sense to everyday people.

Location Is An Intuitive Yet Enriching Way To Stream Tweets.

In the early days of Twitter, there used to be views into Tweets that were oriented by the location from which those Tweets were sent. You could literally watch Tweets appear on a map.

So much relevancy and value can be inferred by the sender’s location. A Tweet about a protest would take on increased importance if you could see that it was sent from Baltimore or Ferguson. Tweets about the Super Bowl are that much more thrilling when we know they come from inside the stadium. In the midst of earthquakes and storms, Tweets have so much more value to us if they are written by others nearby.

For years, location has been neglected within Twitter. Despite a fantastic deal that Twitter signed with Foursquare for place data, and a fair amount of location tagging on Tweets, there is today no mainstream location-oriented view of Tweets. Yet, even Twitter’s newest users would immediately understand and enjoy that kind of interface.

Popular Content Wins Every Time.

A third way to organize content from Twitter is to highlighting what the Tweets are linking to. If you’ve used Nuzzel (disclosure: one of our portfolio companies) you know exactly what I mean and how simple yet magical that experience can be. If you haven’t used it, try it. Nuzzel makes Twitter better.

Want to know what are the most popular articles linked to on Twitter? That should be a channel. What are the most popular sites linked among the people we follow or people that our friends follow? Great channel. Which books are people Tweeting about? Channel. Which videos are garnering the most attention? Channel. Any particular .gifs blowing up? Channel.

In each case, Twitter already has all the information it could want.  There is often a temptation to overthink this and try to build more science around it than necessary. Basic link counts work pretty damn well. Twitter just needs to surface this lens. Once again, everyday users would immediately wrap their heads around this and come back again and again.

Twitter Can, And Should, Live In Separate Apps.

The channels described above and live Twitter itself could very well thrive in standalone apps. If Twitter acquired Nuzzel, it could become Twitter News tomorrow. The day’s most important news as determined by who we each follow? Obvious and easy to use. Not logged in? Doesn’t matter. Twitter still knows exactly which news was most popular and engaging across the network.

The company could also launch experiences with the governing bodies for each major professional sport. Instead of having a Twitter tab buried within a sport network’s app, Twitter could build apps that look and feel just like Twitter but with strong subject matter concentration, scores, and highlights.

For example, Twitter NBA could build off of the company’s fantastic relationship with the league and include a focused and live-driven stream full of the very best Tweets and the instant-replay video content under the company’s existing Amplify deal. NBA fans would be thrilled to use that app while the game is on and the ease of advertising in that app would generate plenty of money to share back with the content partners. The same approach would work for the biggest global soccer and cricket leagues as well as the WNBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. Twitter should consider integrating a fantasy partner like Draft Kings as well to make it a must-open app. While there are a number of fantastic mobile experiences for hardcore fans, no one has built the perfect live-action companion app for casual sports viewers. Twitter has the best shot at it.

Twitter gave a standalone music app a shot a couple years ago. It didn’t pan out, but that had more to do with its limited functionality than anything else. My hope is that Twitter sees the Twitter Music experience as proof that radical experimentation is relatively painless in the end and worth revisiting again and again.

Additionally, new apps would give Twitter a fresh shot at mobile notifications. This was a primary driver of Facebook’s move to break out Messenger as a separate app. So many users had turned off Faceboook mobile notifications that Messenger had no chance at immediacy within the main Facebook app. More notifications equals more use and attention, so a renewed notification setting would be great for Twitter.

Overall, the focus and simplicity that would come with standalone Twitter apps would be irresistible to hundreds of millions of new users and would substantially improve the experience of countless existing users all while being exceedingly easy to monetize.

Twitter’s Save Button Would Let You Keep All The Good Stuff.

So much of the time, Twitter moves too fast. If we follow a couple hundred active accounts or more, the Tweets often come in faster than we can read them. As a result, we feel pressured to keep refreshing rather than dive in meaningfully and take our time to explore the stuff that interests us. At the same time, really intriguing Tweets and links go by and we don’t have a way to save them for later. Poof, they’re gone.

In parallel, fast streams are incredibly hard to monetize with commerce and direct response ads. We are living in the age of sales conversion, and Mary Meeker’s recent presentation highlighted that the next big trend in apps is indeed the inclusion of “buy buttons.” Twitter’s TellApart acquisition was very smart and will dramatically improve the intelligence behind the company’s direct response offering. However, if Twitter genuinely wants users to buy things at scale, they have to give us a chance to consider the offers and make a decision in a matter of minutes/hours/days, not just seconds.

Building the right conditions to bring commerce forward and more deeply integrated into Twitter should be a priority. Twitter has the former CEO of Ticketmaster heading up commerce. Very few people in the world know how to sell things online better than he can. It’s time to take advantage, and here is one idea how.

We have a wonderful company in our portfolio called Rex. It’s in a closed beta, but for anyone reading this they have offered a peek. Go install the app: Rex.is/here and use the signup code: SACCA.

Right away you’ll see Rex is a feed of interesting things posted by users in a follow model. It’s a place to showcase anything we love. Books, movies, restaurants, albums, gadgets, apps, etc. One feature that distinguishes Rex, is something we have been talking about around Twitter for years: the concept of a “Vault.”

See anything in the Rex app you want to remember or come back to later? One click and it is stored in your Vault. Later that week when you are thinking about which movie to watch? Check your Vault and see which you stashed there. Wondering where to go eat? Look at the new restaurants you saved to your Vault. Saw a cool drone in your Rex feed earlier and now have the time to read the reviews and decide on pulling the trigger? Good thing it is saved in your Vault. In fact, everything in your Vault is beautifully organized by the category of item it is. It’s a truly delightful experience.

Twitter should buy the folks at Rex and have them come on board to build what we have often called a “Save Button” for Twitter. (For what it’s worth, we have also have referred to it as a “Keep Button” or a “Twitter Keeper.”)

Imagine if every single thing we saw on Twitter could be saved/stored indefinitely. Not just every article or link like with Pocket, but every Tweet, every photo, every video. We could keep every product we saw mentioned, every book that looked interesting, every destination we wanted to visit someday, every concert we wanted to go see, and every ad that piqued our curiosity. All of this could be saved to a Vault within Twitter with just one button in line with the RT and Fav buttons in each Tweet.

That Vault would also be where brands could present offers to users. Using the same tech that targets those promoted Tweets very well today, Twitter could show us direct response and buy button offers but in a much slower-moving, and conducive environment.

Want to take time to consider Virgin America’s ticket sale? No worries, it will be waiting for you here in the Vault. Twitter knows you are a big Golden State Warriors fan? The Vault will be the perfect place for the team to make you an offer on tickets and merchandise.

The Vault will also be the ideal location in Twitter for iBeacons and real-time, location-aware offers. Walking into a store that has a great deal coming your way? If they put that into the main stream it will be lost. Instead, notify us the users, and let the offer remain in the Vault where we can read the fine print, discuss it with our partners, do some comparison searching online, and consult reviews sites.

Twitter can accomplish all this just by building a slower place in the app. A safe place where we can keep anything we want for as long as we want, cementing Twitter’s permanence in our lives. A place where everything we save is neatly categorized for us. A place where buy buttons and deals can linger long enough to let us all consider and act thoughtfully upon them. A place where we don’t feel rushed.

In all, live Twitter, channels, and Twitter’s Vault will evolve Twitter to feel more familiar and approachable to hundreds of millions of new users. By prioritizing events, Twitter can capture the excitement and intimacy that come with shared experiences. For new and existing users alike, channels will take so much of the work out of extracting good, predictable value from Twitter. The Vault will ensure that the best things we ever see, experience, and are tempted to buy on Twitter stay with us.

Enjoying Twitter can be so much easier for so many more people.

Tweeting Shouldn’t Be So Scary.

Since the earliest days of Twitter, we have known that a huge obstacle to people joining or frequently using Twitter is some version of:

“I wouldn’t know what to Tweet. I don’t really have anything to say.”

Feeling obligated to post to Twitter creates so much anxiety that it actually keeps hundreds of millions of people from sticking around. The company hears it all the time, and I have no doubt that you have heard it from friends as well.

However, we all know that you don’t need to Tweet to derive value from Twitter. The company has said that as much as 40% of the active user base only ever reads Tweets. In principle, that’s just fine. However, since Twitter is a company that gets paid based on engagement ads and not display ads, they can do better.

Every one of us wants to feel heard. It is a universal human desire. Twitter could be the perfect platform to make us all feel like our self-expression registered somewhere. Let’s run through some examples of how we might all contribute to Twitter without having to stare down the menacing white space of that Tweet compose box. These are in order from most user effort required to the least:

Nudges – Questions from an ever-evolving list would prompt free-form but focused responses from users. Example: “Who influenced you the most growing up?” “What is the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?” Everyone has an answer to