Startup Advice from Twitter's Cam Walker

February 6, 2014 Christine Sommers

Don't miss 48hrs alumni Christine Sommers, CEO of Vancouver-based ePact, interview C100 Charter Member Cam Walker. Stay tuned for more insightful interviews with C100 charter members and alumni.






Cam Walker, Twitter                                                   Christine Sommers, ePact                                                                       

This January, we hit ePACT's two year anniversary. So often as a start-up, you feel you're never moving fast enough or meeting goals you set day to day or week to week. It's not until you stop and look up that you can celebrate you're a) still breathing, b) paying your staff every two weeks, let alone hiring more people and c) actually hitting milestones you rarely acknowledge, but just check off and move to the next!

 So as we sent out our year-end report to shareholders, our team also celebrated: successfully moving into operational mode from closed beta, expanding customer service and sales as we gained traction in key markets, and seeing family users virally spread our system. It felt great to take time and recognize everyone's hard work and successes...but of course didn't stop the desire to do more, faster and plot where we still need to take ePACT going forward...typical start-up demand for growth.

 Around this time, I also got the opportunity to talk with Cam Walker, who oversees International Emerging Markets at Twitter. It felt like incredibly weird timing - and another example of start-up're celebrating your wins, while measuring yourself against a massive success story like Twitter that you strive to become!  Cam was not only a pleasure to talk with, offering insights that translate for any start-up, but for us, validated some of our beliefs for where we want ePACT to go. The following captures some of our chat:

 Can you describe your role with Twitter so I don't ask something stupid/outside your responsibilities?

Cam: I work on a Media Partnerships team focused on bringing better content to Twitter, while working to build broader reach through key partnerships. It's a small team focused on international opportunities in key areas such as the Middle East, Russia and Spanish Latin America - concentrated areas where we see great opportunity for strategic growth.

 You have an enviable resume working with amazing brands like Disney, Pixar and Twitter. Can you tell me what each company did well and what you enjoyed most about your time with them?

Cam: For sure, each one has some really outstanding and distinct qualities. With Pixar, it is really one of the most creative companies in the world, where they pump out hit after hit. So to be there, you get to see that it's not created instantaneously.  Behind it are not just great minds, but also great process to create that level of creativity and success. I really learned that things can be magical, but you also need something behind that to support it - great philosophy, structure and process to ensure you can make it happen. It really made me appreciate the creative process and how to think about and leverage it no matter where you are. So whether you're working with finance or with engineers - there are steps you can - and have to - take to help people get the most out of their role, be creative in their own way and be successful. 

As well, looking at the culture at Pixar, hearing how Ed Catmull talked about its importance, seeing this great campus, with everyone eating delicious food and participating in all these activities - I remember thinking, 'What's the point of this - swimming or playing soccer at work?' And you quickly realize that to some, it can seem superficial, but they have real benefits to the company. Because when you're on a soccer pitch playing with 20 other people you normally would never interact with, you're opening yourself and the company up to new opportunities to exchange ideas, build friendships and networks that may not typically happen. So there's a lot to be said for a culture where you can create informal interactions that help from a business standpoint. That was really interesting to me and one that I try and use with my teams whenever possible.

For Disney, it was very similar. If you look at the box office since the Lion King, you can see part of their evolution and how creative success could have been seen to drop for a while there. So to work with the management team to try and figure out how we can shift things back, and reignite a studio to recreate the success and culture of what was once the most famous studio for animation, was really interesting. You had this unbelievably iconic brand known for creativity, but experienced a drop, so they ended up looking at themselves in the mirror and also understanding what Pixar was doing and bringing that together to rejuvenate the studio. 

Disney is a massive organization - it takes a lot of people, roles and teams to make a movie. Part of what Disney does well is ensure those who are creative can thrive and focus on being creative, sheltered from the distractions of what it takes to get a movie on the screen. Now, you're seeing the results of a lot of years rebuilding their culture and it's showing as results with movies like Frozen. So a big learning is change -steering the ship back, changing a culture and a company - takes time, but it can be done successfully.

Then with Twitter, it's a brand that grew and was established so quickly around the world and was still somewhat of a start-up when that growth started to happen. We’re playing a bit of catch up to our brand as we built out our culture and structure, as opposed to Pixar and Disney that have so much established internally. In the past, people were often surprised to hear how few staff we had managing this global brand. We're just incredibly lucky to have people who believe so strongly in the company, so our momentum and passion really drives our growth and success. Because here, you have the opportunity to make 25 decisions a day, versus fewer in a more established, structured world, you just have to be comfortable with that and taking risks because mistakes can happen when you're moving so quickly. As a leader, you have to accept that and be patient.

With ePACT, we're building a product that will be international (we're in 54 countries, but are focused on North America), so I'm really interested in your work at Twitter, building international partnerships and strategies. What's the hardest part about that work and what has been the easiest?

Cam: The thing with my role at Twitter now is that we're in more of a consultative role than selling when we go into new geographic areas, because they (countries and partners) are generally either seeing a huge penetration of use already, or are looking at the wave coming. So many partners we work with are often simply asking how do we do a better job using Twitter?  which means we can work more as consultants and figure out complementary strategies rather than selling. What we really are working to balance is managing the various opportunities we have on where we could be and managing that against the mind-space and resources we have to dedicate to each area. So just ensuring we have the right focus for now, and utilizing those 10 or so hours you have each day to make the greatest difference.

 How important have partnerships been in helping Twitter's growth and strategies?

Cam: There are many ways to grow usage. One is to have a fantastic product, which Twitter has. Another is through partnerships. We have this unique situation where, as a technology solution hosting other people's content - whether that be broadcasters, governments, sports entities, general users, etc. - we really see ourselves as a support to others' success. For us, partnerships are really about growing organically with them, and that's incredibly true as we grow globally. From an international perspective, we're always looking at partnerships as a critical element in our strategies and plans as we expand into new territories, and that's the key focus on my team today.

Cameron Walker, International Strategy and Media Partnerships, Emerging Markets at Twitter, is a C100 Charter Member. Follow Cam on twitter: @findingcam

Christine Sommers is the co-founder and CEO of ePact. Follow Christine on twitter: @cgsommers


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