Twitter Canada’s new boss has “very large shoes” to fill

Twitter Canada Rory Capern

Last week, we got the opportunity to visit the offices of Twitter Canada to meet Rory Capern, the outpost’s new managing director. Despite it being Capern’s second day on the job (his first day involved hosting Canada’s new Prime Minister), he did his best to answer the questions we had for him. The almost forty minute long interview saw us asking Capern about the future of Twitter, the company’s plans for making its platform safer and why he left Google to join the company. Capern knows Twitter has a lot of work to do to make it investors, partners and, most importantly, users happy, but he’s also optimistic that the best is yet to come.

Can you talk a bit about your decision to join Twitter? You left what was for a short moment the most valuable company in the world to join, if we’re going to be a honest here, a company that is failing to grow its user base.

What drove this decision for me were a few things. One, I was very involved with media partnerships [at Google Canada] over the last five years. It became increasingly clear to me how important Twitter is to the overall media dynamic — both for users, media partners and I would say loftily the world at large. The power of this tool resonated very deeply with me.

I also see a company that’s still answering important strategic questions. We’re still authoring our future. I’m a builder by nature and that was something that was very attractive to me.

The other factor was where we are in Canada right now. I’m the 37th person through the door here at Twitter Canada. We’re still small, and over the course of the last three to four years this team has been curated with some great people.

And we still have a lot of runway from a growth perspective. This was a chance for me to get back to a smaller environment. I think I was the 34 employee in at the Google Canada office in Toronto. Those were amazing days, and even though we’re almost 10 years in here, I’m now back in a very similar situation. We have the chance to build the story of Twitter as a whole and take it in a completely new direction.

Can you speak to how Canada factors into Twitter’s larger strategy? After your predecessor’s promotion, the position you hold now was left vacant for a significant amount of time, and, as an outsider looking in, it seems to be taking Twitter a long time to launch products like Twitter Moments in this market.

I would actually answer the question in a different way, which is that it was very clear to me through the interview process that Twitter was looking for fit. It was a very important cultural decision for them about who would take on the role from Kirstine (Stewart, Twitter’s current VP of media).

Let me take a second to say that Kirstine is incredible person. She did amazing work here at Twitter Canada, and continues to do an incredible job as the head of North America media partnerships. ƒI’m happy to be filling some very large shoes.

I’ll also tell you that Canada is a top ten market for Twitter, and that the company sees tremendous growth potential here. So I think the opposite is true: because Twitter Canada is so important to Twitter, they were very deliberate about filling the role.

I think the time gap is a testament to the team that’s already here. The team has had significant success, even without a managing director.

What kind of mark are you going to leave on this company?

It’s my second day, so that’s a hard question to answer.

I would say, however, at the moment I’m focused on building my team’s dynamic. Canada has come along way since Kirstine’s exit. There’s been some significant talent dropped in at different parts of the business, and now there’s an opportunity to galvanize all these great people towards a common goal. That’s one of my objectives.

The other is to establish a really strong relationship with headquarters. This is not my first time in a role where I’m in the Canadian office of a large multi-national company.

If I’m going to talk about the impact that I’m going to have, it’s a commitment to the growth of Twitter Canada as a business, as well as a partner. I think we can continue to be a really strong partner and we can continue to strengthen both the scope of the partnerships we have and the scale of them in this market in a way that is hopefully unique and different.

How many Twitter users are there in Canada?

We connect with about 40 percent of online Canadians on a monthly basis, which translates to about 10- to 12-million users. Those are users who log in at least once a month. Also, 70 percent of our users are engaging us through a mobile device.

How do grow that number?

I think fundamentally a big part of it is letting people to know the capabilities of the platform. I think Twitter users today, particularly people who have been on the platform for a number of years, know where to go if they want to find what’s going on right now. That’s a story we need to tell to the rest of the market that doesn’t understand.

In your opinion, what is about Twitter that makes it inherently difficult for new users to understand?

There’s been no lack of vocal folks giving me all sorts of feedback on how to improve the platform.

I’ve bucketed the feedback into two main areas.

One, there’s a nomenclature to Twitter that’s just not intuitive. If you haven’t been on Twitter before how do you know what a hashtag is or what a handle is? It’s really not as obvious as it is to all of us who have been on the service since 2007. I have to remove myself from all the knowledge I’ve gained about the platform through my work.

The other part of it is this idea of exploring. When I sign up for Twitter, I have to ask all these fundamental questions to myself about myself. What am I interested in? What do I want to follow?

We have to become great at providing cues and methods for helping people understand what they want to know in the world. It sounds silly, but it’s really true. You’re faced with this almost existential question when first signing in where the question becomes, okay, so now what do I do? And the answer is pretty much you can be connected with almost anyone and everyone in the world.

Beyond the safety council you announced recently, what is Twitter doing to make the platform safer for everyone, and in particular women? (Note: this interview was conducted just prior to when BuzzFeed Canada writer Scaachi Koul was harassed off the platform).

The first point I would raise in advance of the council is our policies. We have a very well-articulated set of rules about what’s allow and not allowed on the platform. It’s enforcing those rules that is the challenge. However, it’s not as though Twitter is a Wild West where you can do whatever you want.

The council itself is a really interesting entity insofar as we’re getting great advice from experts all around the world. They’re giving us advice not just on product, but on process, policy, strategy and philosophy. That’s not something to be diminished. It’s starting from a place of trying to understand the entire corpus of this issue, and making sure that we’re not running blindly into the fire.

I can’t speak specifically to product feature changes that are coming, but I can tell you that we’ve been very vocal — Jack’s been very vocal — about how important this and the type of investments we’re going to make. There are large teams and a lot of heat and light in San Francisco focused on improving the platform on a feature level and a strategic level that are going to help with this issue.

There are going to be some announcements in this area coming in the next few months.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

This article was originally published on MobileSyrup.

Igor Bonifacic

Igor Bonifacic

Igor Bonifacic is a Toronto-based writer interested in exploring the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, and life.