Bruce Daisley, who spent eight years at Twitter and was head of its European division, says Dorsey “tended to act as a guide and a philosopher. He would often be the most quiet person in the room, he doesn’t dominate conversation.”
Defenders argue he had a hands-off leadership style that delegated to lieutenants, preferring to deal with big picture issues. But this style didn’t always work at a social media company fighting fires on multiple fronts including a crackdown from regulators.
“I suspect there are a few people in the organisation over time who wished he was more of a chair than a chief executive. There are times where they wanted a more direct impact”, Daisley adds.
Very much a “hacker” rather than a manager, Dorsey frustrated his co-founders by clocking off at 6pm for hot yoga classes or fashion school. Despite being forced out in 2008, Dorsey engineered a return as executive chairman in 2011 ahead of Twitter’s float in two years later. In 2015, after a later share price slump, was hoisted into the chief executive role once again.
Still Dorsey, a passionate advocate of Bitcoin, insisted on dividing his time between Square and Twitter. An in-joke among staff at both companies was that each side complained Dorsey spent too much time at the other, according to tech website the Verge.
This perception was not helped by Dorsey’s personal schedule of eclectic interests such as a 10-day silent meditation retreat and plans to spend six months in Africa.
By February 2020, hedge funds Elliott and Silverlake had taken note. Elliott, notorious for its hardball activist strategies, snapped up a $1bn stake – around 4pc at the time.
It demanded Dorsey be replaced at the helm and Twitter set a series of aggressive growth targets. Eventually, a ceasefire was reached: the hedge funds grabbed board seats and secured a $2bn buyback, while Twitter agreed to try and grow daily users by 20pc, along with revenues and market share.
Brian Wieser, an advertising analyst at GroupM, says that while Twitter has improved its results, the company remains a relative minnow against trillion-dollar rivals.
“Twitter has done reasonably well all things considered, people forget it is a niche platform,” he says. “There are far too many in the investment community who assume because it is a social network that it has the capacity to be a Youtube or a Facebook”.
The social network has grown its “monetisable daily users” from 166m people in 2020 to 211m. However it reported a $537m loss in its most recent quarter on the back of a court settlement with shareholders, while rivals have been quicker at seizing market share.
Shares surged 11pc on the news Dorsey was stepping down, before the appointment of an insider left them 2pc down by close.
Ben Thompson, a technology analyst, says this is because the market fears more of the same. He argues Twitter should explore alternative business models, such as subscriptions, to boost revenues.