ASPEN, Colo. — Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is getting increasingly creative in his efforts to sidestep questions on when the social media company may go public.
“We think of revenue like oxygen,” he said. “It’s necessary for life, it’s vital to the health and success of the business, but it’s not the purpose of life. You don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘I’ve got to get enough oxygen.'”
Twitter is widely rumored to be planning a public offering in 2014. But Costolo has steadilyrefused to tip his hand on when such an IPO might happen. In the process, he’s come up with a variety of explanations for why he’s not talking about it.
In May, he used a sports metaphor, comparing himself to a football player focused on catching a pass, only to have someone screaming from the sidelines, “Hey what are you doing after the game?” During multiple appearances in 2012, he emphasized that Twitter had “plenty of money in the bank” and didn’t need the extra capital.
When asked Saturday whether Facebook’s IPO last year colored his plans, he said he tried not to focus on competitors, or the stock market. “Companies and individuals can become obsessed with what the rest of the market is talking about,” he said.
Costolo was far more willing to talk about other aspects of Twitter’s business, like its 6-second video service, Vine, and the future of the company. Snippets from the conversation:
- No pressure to monetize Vine — for now. Twitter’s looping video service has 13 million users. But it’s up against tough competition from Facebook’s Instagram, which has ten times the users and new video capabilities of its own. Costolo brushed aside concerns, saying he couldn’t run the business by “looking in the rearview mirror.” He has urged the Vine team to forget about monetization and to focus on building the product. “I’m letting them run with this amazing thing they’ve developed, and I think we’ll leave it alone for quite some time,” he said.
- Don’t expect tweets to ever grow beyond 140 characters. When Twitter started in 2006, the limitations of mobile phone and text messaging technology required that tweets be capped at 140 characters. Now that the technology is better, would Twitter ever consider allowing, say, 160 characters? Don’t count on it. “It’s fair to say that 140 characters is probably sacrosanct.” Costolo said.
- Blocking is broken. Couric mentioned that she blocks a “lot of people” on Twitter, hiding them from her feed. When she does that, though, those people see that they’ve been blocked. Costolo acknowledged that the feature is broken, and said the company is working to give users more tools to filter out “noise.”
- The pope isn’t a cool band. Costolo recounted some of his favorite moments during his time at Twitter. One came last year. When a Twitter employee initially told him that the pope planned to start tweeting, Costolo thought it was a “a cool band I hadn’t heard of.” The Twitter employee clarified. “She said, ‘No, the pope.'” Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI sent his first tweet in December.
- Where do you want to be in five years? Don’t ask. Costolo never knew how to answer that question in job interviews, and he doesn’t now. His aim is to make Twitter the “global town square.” What that will look like in five or ten years is unclear.”Something magical will surface as we march down that path, and it will probably alter our course a bit, and that’s great,” he said.