Every quarter since Twitter’s 2013 IPO, chief executive Dick Costolo has had to face the wolves—the Wall Street investors that believed that the social media company was the next Facebook.
Most quarters, he has disappointed. Well, the company has, anyway—its first public quarters ended in despair after the company failed to meet the very high growth expectations that investors projected onto it. In its latest quarter, Twitter reported $436 million in quarterly revenue, an increase of 74% from the same period a year ago. That’s good news for a company (TWTR) that is working mightily to prove that it can indeed make money. The problem? It had told investors that it expected to make more. It did not.
There’s a lot weighing on Costolo’s shoulders. He’s trying to maintain momentum after a succession of key departures threatened it; he’s trying to change the way advertisers think about which users can be monetized; he’s trying to improve an addictive (but compared to Facebook, small) product without driving away his existing customer base. He’s working with what he’s got—a platform that hasn’t proved as easily monetizable as that of Facebook (FB). We saw during his interview with Fortune‘s Christopher Tkaczyk earlier this month that he’s a smart manager with a good head on his shoulders who appears to know what it takes to motivate people.
Except investors, that is. Because every quarter, his head is back on the chopping block.
How long can Costolo last? It’s a question worth asking not to fear-monger but to speculate how much time (or room to maneuver, or rope) investors are willing to give Twitter to meet their lofty expectations, which have been in place since the company went public. It’s still unclear.
In 2012, Twitter made $317 million in revenue. In 2013, Twitter made $665 million. In 2015, it now expects to make at least $2.17 billion, with at least $470 million in the second quarter alone. The company is still posting losses, but they are not outpacing revenue.
— Jack (@jack) January 29, 2015
Still, appearances matter. Twitter’s missteps this quarter—the early leak of its numbers; the lowered guidance—overshadowed any financial successes that it made. And bigger questions remain: Whether it can sustain almost doubling revenue every quarter; whether it can improve engagement even as it keeps experimenting; and ultimately, whether Costolo can tell Wall Street a good story as it’s being written.