Residents of Anushakti Nagar, a township of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai, had a moment of pride when Parag Agrawal, the son of their former colleague, RG Agrawal, was named the CEO of global social-media giant Twitter.
The colony’s groups and pages on Facebook and Instagram started circulating old images of the boy who grew up with them and studied in the township’s Atomic Energy Central School before moving to IIT-Bombay and Standford University to complete his doctorate in Computer Science.
Singer Shreya Ghoshal, a former resident and a classmate of Agrawal, took to Twitter to applaud her old friend. Meanwhile, Agrawal, a rather low-profile techie who served as the chief technology officer of Twitter until then, was thrown into limelight overnight as media and Twitterati closely tracked him on the microblogging site. His followers went quickly went up from a humble 37,000 plus to over 260,000 in less than 24 hours.
The product guy
Before joining Twitter a decade ago in 2011 as a software engineer, Agrawal had stints at Microsoft Research, AT&T Labs and Yahoo! Research.
At Twitter, he rose to become the first Distinguished Engineer through his performance across revenue and consumer engineering verticals, including his impact on the acceleration of audience growth in 2016 and 2017.
In 2017, he took over as the CTO of Twitter, following which he was tasked to lead Project Bluesky in December 2019. He was heading an independent team of open source architects, engineers and designers to develop an open and decentralised standard for social media that would help better control abusive and misleading information on its platform.
“I’ve decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders. My trust in Parag as Twitter’s CEO is deep. His work over the past 10 years has been transformational. I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart, and soul. It’s his time to lead,” Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter on quitting said while stepping down from his role.
“The industry trend now is that the people who have been the closest to the product are being right fully chosen to lead the business. Look at other Indian CEOs like Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai or Arvind Krishna, they come from engineering backgrounds.
“They understand the product and the company strategy well, but most importantly, they know the future roadmap of the products,” Sanchit Vir Gogia, Chief Analyst and CEO of Greyhound Research, told BusinessLine
He added: “When a founder steps down and professional management comes into place, it is good for the company. Sometimes certain problems require professional treatment while the founder will have an emotional attachment to it. In a way it is good that there’s a professional CEO stepping in.
“Twitter has also changed the structure of management of the board, which will allow a healthy mix of professional management.”
Thirty seven-year-old Agrawal said in a statement: “I want to thank the board for their confidence in my leadership and Jack for his continued mentorship, support, and partnership.
“I look forward to building on everything we have accomplished under Jack’s leadership, and I am incredibly energised by the opportunities ahead. By continuing to improve our execution, we will deliver tremendous value for our customers and shareholders as we reshape the future of public conversation.” What’s interesting about the appointment of Indian-origin Agrawal is the timing.
Twitter, like other social-media platforms, has been in the public eye, both globally and in India, for allowing dissemination of fake news and hate speech.
‘A major challenge’
Faisal Kawoosa, Founder and Chief Analyst, techARC, told BusinessLine: “The biggest challenge, first and foremost, will be the focus of the company to generate revenue here. We have seen huge user engagement on Twitter, but we still haven’t seen how Twitter will become a platform of revenue.
“Second, how will they control and restrict fake and inappropriate content because the very nature of Twitter as a platform is that it is very spontaneous compared to other social-media platforms. Twitter has become a battleground for users of different opinions.”
“Twitter itself has been alleged to allow a particular narrative of conversation or opinions. And how they control that and ensure a neutrality will be critical,” he said.
Gogia added: “The users are demanding a very transparent system and new features. The only special thing about being an India-origin CEO is that India is one of the key markets of all social media companies. And Agrawal being from India will help him in understanding the complexities of doing business here. Twitter didn’t even have an India-focussed pricing and that’s the level of unpreparedness for the market it is facing. Whereas, the propensity of more users come from India though as much revenue in dollars.”
“India requires different handling in terms of cultural nuances that needs to be built in to the product at some stage. The politics and stand of the product in the US and India won’t be same. These nuances are often missed. I am hoping that an India-origin CEO would be able to understand these cultural issues better,” said Gogia.
“He has been a hardcore product person. We know him as a successful techie, now we will see how he performs as a business leader,” Kawoosa added.