Along with its acquisition of the social data company Gnip, Twitter announced yesterday that it had hired ex-Google executive Daniel Graf to take over as vice president of product, a move which might be just as important. Investors certainly liked the direction that the social media and microblogging company is taking: Twitter’s stock jumped 11% yesterday afternoon, boosting the company’s market capitalization by over $2 billion—more than any other time since its IPO.
Graf is most famous for his success running Google Maps. He started out at Google directing its mobile apps lab in 2011, then became director of Google’s maps division in 2012. In particular, Graf was responsible for bringing a big win with bringing a new Google Maps app back onto the iPhone.
Apple shocked Google in 2012 when it announced that it would replace Google Maps, previously a built-in feature on iPhones, with a service of its own as part of the new version of its operating system. The release of Apple Maps had much-discussed issues, and when the new standalone Google Maps iPhone app was quickly started from scratch and released in December, it was a hit.
Graf fills a hole left after Michael Sippey resigned as Twitter’s head of product earlier this year, and he has a demonstrated ability to take a widely popular consumer product and significantly and rapidly change and grow it, even under market pressure. His mobile expertise certainly won’t hurt, and he has years of media experience as well.
Before Google, Graf, a Swiss electrical and computer engineer, worked at Phillips Electronics, building early internet-connected audio and video technologies. After that he was the CEO and co-founder of Kyte in 2005, an online and mobile video platform. It was acquired by KIT digital in 2011.
Google Maps for iOS is an extremely high-profile example of the experience Graf brings. It was a rapid and successful re-imagining of something that already worked very well.
“It has been an interesting project, because we got the opportunity to start from scratch,” Graf told Engadget last year ” [The Android version] is actually seven years of history, seven years of product, [...] seven years of user experience. On iOS, we didn’t have those seven years so that gave us a chance to take a step back and say. ‘Hey, what would be the next-generation mobile mapping experience?’”
Making significant changes to Twitter’s product and having a consistent vision of where it was going have been something of a weakness for the company, something that Graf will likely be tasked with improving. The company has a long list of problems to look at if it wants to continue to grow its user base.