Are strain, stress at Twitter driving out top execs?

Twitter's COO, CTO and a product VP are all heading out the door

With Twitter struggling to fuel its user and financial growth, the strain may be showing as several top executives head out the door.

Twitter Chief Operating Officer Adam Bain left the company last month, and on Tuesday,  Adam Messinger, the company's chief technology officer, and Josh McFarland, vice president of product, announced that they too are leaving the social network.

Messinger, who joined Twitter five years ago, tweeted on Tuesday, "After 5 years I've decided to leave Twitter and take some time off. Grateful to @jack for the opportunity and to my team for shipping."

adam messinger twitter cto Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

Twitter CTO Adam Messinger announced he was leaving after five years with the company.

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey responded to Messinger's news with his own tweet, writing, "Thank you for everything you've done for Twitter Adam! I have learned so much from you, and appreciate everything you stand for."

In his own multi-tweet announcement on Tuesday, McFarland wrote, "The last 18 mos. at @twitter have been deeply rewarding & I have loved working w this company & team #lovetwitter."

McFarland also tweeted that after considering venture capital for years, he will be working as a general partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners.

Greylock partner James Slavet wrote in a blog post on Tuesday that the firm had been trying to recruit McFarland for the past eight years, starting when he was working at Google in 2008.

McFarland is expected to leave Twitter late in the first quarter of 2017, according to Slavet's post.

That's three top executives announcing their departure from Twitter in less than two months. It's not the first time, even in the past year, that Twitter has had to deal with vacancies in high level jobs.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

In January, the company lost four members of its leadership team -- a product head, head of engineering, head of media and a vice president of human resources.

Shortly after the exodus, reports surfaced that the company was handing out six-figure bonuses and additional stock to keep others from leaving.

This latest turmoil comes despite the social network's emergence as a key tool during the U.S. presidential campaign. President-elect Donald Trump frequently bypassed the traditional media and used Twitter to communicate directly with his supporters.

And Twitter continues to be a fast source for users in sending out information or commenting on political unrest, natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

The problem is that Twitter hasn't harnessed that influence to fuel its business so it's not surprising that there's inner turmoil, according to industry analysts.

Twitter had 317 million monthly active users as of the third quarter of this year, a drop from 320 million in the third quarter of 2015. In October, Twitter reported a net loss of $103 million, and said it would cut its workforce by about 9 percent. At the time, Twitter also announced it was closing Vine, its mobile video app.

A sale of Twitter was explored earlier this year, but several companies reportedly interested in in buying it, including Salesforce, Disney and Google parent Alphabet, all backed out.

"Over the last two years, Twitter has seen an incredible amount of executive turnover, beyond normal, said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "This has been driven by Twitter's lack of user and financial growth. Employees are working very hard and aren't willing to do that any more if they can't see confidence in a bright future. Jack is back, too, and any time a new CEO comes in, there will be turnover."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, added that there has to be a lot of pressure on Twitter executives from investors pushing the company for growth despite its lagging posture.

"That, in turn, drives a very unpleasant environment for everyone there, but especially management, and especially management who either don't need jobs or can find ones that are more fun," Gottheil said, noting that Messinger is leaving without having a job to go to and McFarland decided to leave for a company that has been chasing him for years.

"They wanted out," Gottheil said.

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said the Twitter news this week is disturbing, but not shocking.

"I don't think this means there is any dire news at Twitter," he said. "This is just a personal choice. Some people like the battle of turning around a struggling company and others prefer to work at a current winner… It may be just that simple."

However, Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, finds the executive departures at Twitter troubling.

"These people are the ones in charge of driving Twitter's change, and their departure would indicate that they simply don't believe Twitter can be saved," Enderle said. That's "not a surprise given that Twitter's core problem is that the service doesn't lend itself well to advertising even though it has massive reach. Problems like bullying and fake news have started to erode trust in the service, suggesting it is trending in the wrong way, and execs appear to be leaving because they don't want to go down with the ship."

Regardless of what the departures suggest, losing top executives, who know the business, its strategy and its employees, has to be a blow to the company.

"This is like brain cancer," Enderle said. "You can't cut out a major portion of the brain suddenly, while already mortally ill, and think anything but that your survival chances just got a lot worse."

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