Now trending on Twitter India: A desperate need for leadership

Pulling Twitter out of its nosedive.
Pulling Twitter out of its nosedive.
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic
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After several years of expansion in a market that will soon be its second biggest after the US, Twitter is now left without a country head for India.

On Oct. 27, the microblogging website said it would cut its global headcount by 9% amid slowing revenue growth. Within days, its India head, Rishi Jaitly, announced that he was quitting after a four-year stint.

Two days later, there was another big exit as Parminder Singh, managing director for Southeast Asia, Middle East, and India, announced his resignation.

Singh’s responsibilities will for now be managed by Maya Hari, senior director, product strategy and sales for the Asia Pacific, Latin America, Middle East, and Africa regions.

Twitter has an employee base of around 3,900 across its 35 offices around the world, of which 79% are outside the US. The company does not share its India headcount separately.

Twitter and India

India, the country with the world’s second-largest number of internet users at over 400 million netizens, is a market that global internet businesses cannot ignore. With the numbers estimated to grow 75% by 2020, Asia’s third-largest economy has seen big bets being placed by tech giants.

San Francisco-based Twitter is no different.

In January 2015, it became one of the first American tech giants to acquire an Indian startup, buying Bengaluru-based “missed call” marketing firm ZipDial for an estimated $30 million.

A month later, it opened a research and development (R&D) centre in Bengaluru, its first such facility outside the US. The team at this office would build new products for emerging markets and not just be a back office for its US operations, company officials said at the time.

However, the company’s efforts have not really paid off so far.

In early 2015, market research firm eMarketer had estimated Twitter to have around 22 million users in India by the end of that year, while Facebook would finish the year with 100-million odd users. Twitter, with its current base of 20 million users, is yet to meet that estimate despite India being such a huge market for the company. Facebook, however, overshot the projection and now has over 142 million users.

The first signs of trouble in Twitter’s India business appeared last month. On Sept. 20, it said it was halting all engineering work at its Bengaluru facility and laying off some employees. Between 20 and 100 employees, including some from the ZipDial team, were asked to leave, according to media reports.

Not giving up

“Twitter is here to stay,” a top India executive of the company told Quartz, requesting anonymity. “The old guard is changing and a new one is coming because Twitter is planning to do new things in India, which requires new leaders.”

The recent management rejig is part of a “bigger story” as the company focuses on higher revenue with a leaner team in India, an unnamed Twitter executive told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

The company did not respond to an email questionnaire from Quartz.

Twitter is unlikely to give up on India as the country is fueling its growth. In September, its average user base grew 35% month-on-month in India, compared to just 4% in the US, according to San Francisco-based app intelligence firm App Annie.

“Above-average growth in India will bring that country to the second place (on the basis of Twitter users) in 2019, tied with Brazil—which it will outrun the following year when India will account for 9.6% of the world’s Twitter users,” eMarketer said in July. Brazil currently has the second-largest Twitter population with 27.7 million users.

But to cash in on all those users in India, Twitter perhaps first needs to hire a leader to run its team.