You Can't Go Back

Once, a GM I worked for mused why our development team couldn't be more like a startup. I think Twitter will put that to rest forever

You Can't Go Back
Photo by ZACHARY STAINES on Unsplash

Circa 2011, I worked for a company that built communication solutions for enterprises. It was a good gig, in a reasonably sized market, and we were on version 10 of our main product.

In a word, we were a mature player, in a mature market, with considerable market share, profitable business, and a long horizon. You know, a boring position.

And it did not suck. As the product manager, I had a list of dream features, things that would really move the needle, a great development team that all believed in our products, and a fantastic partner and VAR ecosystem that was really good at what they were doing.

Then one day, my boss, the VP/GM in my 1:1 with him wondered (seriously) why we couldn't get the development team to just work 12 hours a day, to do more, and do it faster.

Turns out he was serious. He harkened back to the halcyon days of their scrappy startup in the mid 1990’s, where they were doing big releases practically monthly, driven by pizza and caffeine fueled late nights in the office, cranking out code and pushing it out the door, frequently growing the segments of the market they could address.

Rumor has it that one particular weekend they were able to build the entire first integration with Lotus Notes (if you know what that means, I salute you).

He was wondering why that couldn’t happen again.

Of course, I explained that we were part of a larger company (having been acquired a few years earlier), and that there was no equity for the team, no potential pay off for an exit. In fact there would be no more exits.

He wasn’t sure, but when he mentioned the same thing to the director of Engineering, he got the same answer and the topic died.

I thought of this while watching the shit-show of Elon Musk’s handling of his acquisition of Twitter.

The Twitter Connection

As the hour tipped from midnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning, Elon sent an email to the entire remaining staff at Twitter issuing a challenge. He wanted to build Twitter 2.0, it was going to be hardcore, he only wanted people who would be all-in, committed to working early, working late, working weekends, he wants it to be engineering heavy, with as little non-engineering staff as necessary, and he wanted all employees to commit to it in a little over 36 hours by clicking ‘yes’ on a Google form. Click ‘no’, and you are effectively quitting with a generous 3-month severance.

At about noon on the next day, with huge swaths of the organization deciding to take the package, it is reported that a video conference with about 300 people who were identified as essential to keeping the lights on was held, trying to convince them to stay, but apparently, as Elon was talking, people were logging out, mashing the “No” button, and effectively quitting.

It is believed that over 1,200 of the remaining 3,000+ employees opted for the package. One infrastructure engineering team reportedly went from 75 engineers to just three who are staying.  It also seems that the entire Payroll department took the package.

Oops. How are people going to get paid? Also, it appears that the Tax compliance department was decimated. And that gets you into a lot of trouble around the various tax jurisdictions. Really bad stuff.

And can you blame the people who left? Who opted out of the new “Hard Core” Twitter? One person said that the past three weeks had been pretty hard-core, how much more could people tolerate?

Thinking about those who remain. Those who believe in the mission, what is the upside for them?

What drives startups is the potential for a big payout. The founders and the early employees live on a shoestring, pouring everything into the business with the hope of hitting it big, or being bought out. But Twitter isn’t like that. 100% of the equity is already allocated, and it is extremely unlikely that the current shareholders would dilute or donate 10% to divvy up to the employees.

Nope, even if Twitter is relisted, the employees will not benefit from that.

So, what’s the point of staying, putting in 80-hour weeks, wondering how they are going to get paid with ad revenue being slaughtered, and heck, no payroll department remaining?

You can never go back. And if you could, why would you?