Twitter wants to be “the world in your pocket,” according to CEO Dick Costolo — but more than anything, it wants to be the engine of mobile and real-time commerce in your pocket, judging by his comments at the Fortune BrainstormTech conference in Colorado on Tuesday. In addition to downplaying the departure of the company’s two co-founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone, and complaining about the “distraction” that private trading of its shares causes, Twitter’s chief executive said the company sees a future in “removing friction” from e-commerce and allowing companies to target their users directly in real time, something he said “has never existed before.”
In his talk with Fortune writer Adam Lashinsky (video embedded below), Costolo noted that while Twitter took three years to get to one billion tweets, it now sees that many messages posted to the network every five days. He also said that there are more than 200 million registered users of the service (defining “active users” is difficult, if not impossible, he argued) and that third-party analytics show that the Twitter.com website gets more than 400 million unique visitors a month. Costolo added that Twitter is seeing 40-percent growth every quarter in terms of mobile users.
While many media outlets have focused on the recent departures of co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, the Twitter CEO said that the company has been busy building up its senior management team, and that working alongside co-founder Jack Dorsey (who is also CEO of mobile-payment company Square) has been good because he “speaks with the fluency of the inventor of the product.” He said that the private trading of Twitter shares, which has valued the company at close to $7 billion, is a distraction in part because “I worry about people who might be buying through those markets [and] who’s going to get in trouble at the end of the day if it doesn’t work out.”
But Costolo also spent much of his time talking about where Twitter sees future revenue and profit opportunities — in addition to the ongoing rollout of advertising through “promoted tweets” and “promoted trends,” as well as a forthcoming self-serve ad product (how users respond to these efforts remains to be seen). The Twitter CEO said that the company sees a number of opportunities when it comes to enabling — and taking a share of the revenue from — direct e-commerce with users via the service, because “we already see a tremendous amount of commerce taking place on the platform.”
As an example, Costolo talked about how Google tweeted a promotion code that people could use for tickets to its recent IO conference, and about 100 tickets sold in a little over 10 minutes. “That’s $55,000 with one tweet in 13 minutes,” said the Twitter CEO. In another example, the San Diego Chargers tweeted about tickets that were left for a game, and in a little over half an hour they were gone. The upshot of all of that, he said, is that “there’s a commerce opportunity there for us to take advantage of if we want.” Although he didn’t give any specifics, the Twitter CEO said that the company is asking “how can we remove friction from [that] process?”
And what about Google+? Costolo said that while he believes Google “will leverage their tremendous reach to pull people into this experience,” he isn’t focused on competing with the service, but instead sees Twitter as “offering simplicity in a world of complexity.” The Twitter CEO also confirmed that the company will likely raise money soon to provide funds that it can put into building up its infrastructure (there have been rumors that it is raising a new round of venture financing that will value the company at $8 billion) but he wouldn’t say whether it will be a public offering or a private financing.
Can Twitter manage to make the transformation from being a real-time information network to being a platform for real-time commerce? Costolo seems to be betting the company’s future — and his own — that it can.