Twitter India in turmoil as executives depart, ZipDial bet unravels

Six executives, including India chief Rishi Jaitly and MD Parminder Singh, have quit the firm even as the ZipDial acquisition was junked by CEO Jack Dorsey


Last week, Twitter said it would cut 9% of its global workforce or about 350 employees, in order to cut its costs. Photo: AFP
Last week, Twitter said it would cut 9% of its global workforce or about 350 employees, in order to cut its costs. Photo: AFP

Bengaluru: The India business of Twitter Inc. is in disarray after the abrupt departures of six senior executives and the failure of ZipDial, the $35 million acquisition that was meant to drive the social network’s growth in the country, but was junked by chief executive Jack Dorsey, three people familiar with the matter said.

Apart from Rishi Jaitly and Parminder Singh, whose exits were confirmed by Twitter this week, four other senior executives at Twitter India have left: ZipDial co-founders Valerie Wagoner and Amiya Pathak; Gaurav Agrawal (head of growth operations); and Nandu Madhava (director of growth). Agrawal and Madhava also joined Twitter when it bought ZipDial, a marketing platform, in January 2015. Jaitly was vice-president of media for Twitter’s Asia-Pacific, Middle East and North Africa markets while Singh was managing director for India, South-East Asia, Middle East and North Africa.

Maya Hari will now take over as managing director of India and South-East Asia as part of a bigger restructuring of Twitter’s Asia business.

These exits and the diminished importance of India as a market for Twitter are by-products of its troubles in its home market, the US, and the increasing investor pressure to cut costs.

Twitter, which tried to sell itself but had to end that process last month after it couldn’t find a buyer, has now put its Asia business on the back-burner, according to the three people cited above. Twitter wants to first fix its business in the US, these people said.

The microblogging platform is popular with many of its 317 million users across the world but it is struggling to increase its user base and attract advertisers as many young people prefer spending time on rival platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat.

A Twitter India spokesperson didn’t address specific queries from Mint but said in an emailed statement, “We are strengthened now by the leadership of Aliza Knox, our new vice-president of Asia Pacific and Maya Hari, our new MD of South East Asia and India and Taranjeet Singh continues to remain as the business head for India and our key client contact for Indian customers.”

Dorsey co-founded Twitter along with three others in 2006. He was thrown out as CEO in 2008 but returned to lead the company in July last year after Twitter lost its way under then CEO Dick Costolo.

Costolo’s exit and Dorsey’s return led to a major shift in Twitter India’s (Twitter Communications India Pvt. Ltd) strategy. Costolo’s team had backed the acquisition of ZipDial as one of the primary means for Twitter to attract new users.

ZipDial gives information about businesses to users when they place a missed call. Twitter wanted to tap ZipDial’s tens of millions of users to increase its presence in India and a few other markets.

In the first few months after the deal, Twitter seemed to be on track to doing this, adding hundreds of thousands of users using ZipDial’s product, the people cited above said.

ALSO READ | Twitter India head Rishi Jaitly quits amid slowdown, job cut worries

However, ZipDial ran into issues with some of its brand partners over who owned user data and who could access the users, the people said. That, and a combination of Dorsey’s focus on trying to fix the so-called core product from San Francisco and lack of new successful launches from ZipDial’s team, led to Twitter swinging the axe on the Indian start-up. Twitter said in September it cut less than 20 jobs in India; the engineers fired were all in the ZipDial team.

ZipDial’s failure at Twitter mars one of the few successful exits in the Indian start-up business. Facebook has bought Little Eye Labs while Naspers has purchased Redbus and Citrus Pay. The handful of other large deals have mostly happened among Indian start-ups.

Nandita Mathur in New Delhi and Deepti Govind in Bengaluru contributed to this story.

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