Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, a University alum and speaker at the 2013 Spring Commencement, spoke Friday at the Ross School of Business in an event sponsored by Business fraternity Phi Chi Theta.
In Blau Auditorium, Business senior Max Yoas, the vice president of Phi Chi Theta, and Costolo sat across from each other in armchairs on stage, creating an interview-esque setting. Yoas asked questions for the first half hour, followed by a question and answer session with the audience.
Costolo discussed the growing potential of e-commerce and ad units, his management style and his previous career in improvisation comedy and run-ins with actor Steve Carell. Although scattered, each topic drew from ideas related to risk-taking and pursuing passions.
After graduating from the University in 1985 with a degree in Computer Science and Communications, Costolo said he moved to Chicago to pursue a career in improvisational comedy. Looking back at his days spent in the classroom, he recalled being the “last person in my computer science classes to become CEO one day.”
Costolo, originally from Royal Oak, Mich., said he used to worry that people would judge him for not entering a traditional career following graduation.
“If you live your life trying to do what is expected of you you’ll be frozen on the stage of your own life,” Costolo said. “If you do what you’re excited about doing and care about doing things will be fine — you won’t be scared when things go wrong.”
Later during the Q&A, a student asked whether Costolo felt as though he’s “made it.” Costolo responded that, as an entrepreneur, it is never certain whether one is changing his or her world – or how they will change it.
“I assure you their (entrepreneurs’) emotional state fluctuates between euphoria and terror on a regular basis,” Costolo said. “The reality is making your mark is the result and left in the wake of doing what you’re passionate about doing.”
For example, Costolo never imagined that his online creation would make a mark in the political ad. When he was first told that the Pope had entered the Twitter community, he believed it was a joke.
Costolo highlighted that one shouldn’t set out to change the world, but should rather do what they are most passionate about.
Business sophomore Nikhil Dungarani, who also saw Costolo speak at the 2013 Commencement speech, said this message of following one’s passion stuck out most to him.
“If there’s one thing I took away from today it’s that you should follow your dreams and do what you really want to do with your life,” Dungarani said.
Aside from life lessons, Costolo also discussed Twitter’s business model. When an audience member inquired whether Twitter’s signature 140-character tweet limit would ever change, Costolo declined to give a yes-or-no answer.
As business grows, he said, people involved become fearful of changing the popular product and hurting its success. But Costolo said he wants to avoid stasis.
“We’re much more free-thinking about not having a religion about the constraints,” Costolo said. “People start to put barriers in their own way to being creative and having new ideas.”
Costolo also addressed the growth in using social media to sell products. As opposed to displaying ads in a sidebar, Twitter displays ads as tweets, similar to how Facebook displays ads as posts on the newsfeed.
If ads travel alongside the tweets, people are more likely to follow links.
The conversation also touched on Twitter’s stock shares, which had jumped in value that morning.
“We have to start to realize that going forward, the external narrative is going to be based on what’s happening on the stock price,” Costolo said. “You just have to build this mindset of mental toughness and we decided we’re going to do this despite the noise.”
Yoas said PCT decided to bring Costolo to the University both because he is an alum and because of “connections within the fraternity that know him pretty well.”
“I really hope that people understood the impact and the power that social media has, both in everyday life and in businesses,” Yoas said. “I think it’s a really useful tool for businesses.”
Yoas and other PCT administrators of the event declined to comment on the specific subject matter of the talk with Costolo, because the fraternity decided to label the public event as “off the record.”
Although Costolo did not determine the “off the record” status of the event, he took no action to challenge PCT’s decision, according to Petainen.
Though PCT advertised the event as open to the public, the business fraternity asked journalists not take notes or snap photographs. A member of PCT asked the journalist from The Michigan Daily to see her notes. Members of PCT tweeted updates and photos of the event.
Most problematic, Petainen wrote, was that PCT wanted to withhold potentially vital information about Twitter from shareholders.
“The greatest error in this event was in how the CEO’s comments were to be kept secret,” Petainen wrote in Forbes. “Twitter was a public stock, this was a public event, this was held at a public university and this was in front of a packed auditorium with hundreds of students.”
Editor’s Note:While the event organizers asked that this event be held “off the record,” because the discussion was held in a University of Michigan building, advertised as open to the general public, and members of the fraternity tweeted live updates and photographs from the event, the Daily has decided that it is in the public interest to publish this story in line with our normal reporting procedures. PCT was not given the opportunity to review this story or change its content before publication.