Ex-Twitter & YouTube exec on the next big business disruptor
Bruce Daisley is a business leader and top digital disruption speaker, whose work with Twitter and YouTube transformed the social platforms. In this interview, Bruce reflects on the growth of Twitter and how YouTube has transformed the entertainment industry. He also revealed his predictions for the future of work, following rapid digitisation in recent years.
Having worked with Twitter for eight years, how did the company grow during your time as UK Managing Director and VP EMEA?
When I first joined Twitter, there were about 100 people working at the company globally, and it was a tiny little endeavour. In fact, people routinely used to ask, ‘how will this ever make money?’ It felt more like a college project! So, in the course of that time, it massively changed.
When I first joined Twitter, it was famous really for Steven Fry and Jonathan Ross, and little else in the UK. Obviously, over the course of time, it started wrestling with issues that none of us had ever imagined, including societal impact or impact on politics and the discourse of society.
So, it fundamentally changed. I think the critical thing about that was constant reappraisal. What you often find in tech companies - I'm always cautioned to caveat that tech companies aren't as different as other companies even though they try and pretend to be - but one thing you'll find in tech companies is that there's a real celebration of quarters.
It tends to be like, what can you accomplish in the next 13 weeks? And then you start again. So, I worked for eight years at Twitter, and one way to think about that is 32 quarters rather than eight years because it was constant state of reinvention and renewal.
You saw YouTube gain popularity between 2008 and 2013; how has the platform affected the entertainment industry?
It's worth saying when I first started working at YouTube, there was a real feeling that it would never make money. In fact, it became famous for a couple of things. It became famous for being so expensive to run that only Google could even afford to own it, and secondly, the content was known for ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ and dogs on skateboards. As a consequence, a lot of people said, ‘this will never go anywhere’.
Now, I was just drawn to the fact that anything you wanted to find, you could find there. And so, whether it was archived footage of old music performances or tutorials by people, there was an increasing amount of content. There wasn't such a thing as a YouTuber at the time, there wasn't this whole ecosystem. But I was just convinced, ‘wow, look at this extraordinary explosion of creativity’.
In fact, Beyoncé released a new song, and the dancing was really celebrated in her video, and she was asked about it in an interview. She was asked about it, and she said, ‘oh, yeah, we just found some dancers on YouTube, and so we just copied that.’ It was just really interesting how the platform had become this connective tissue between elements of culture.
We have seen rapid digitisation in recent years, what do you predict will be the next big thing to disrupt businesses?
I think the big debate that’s going to happen over the next two years is a discussion about hybrid working. No one's going to want to admit that hybrid working isn't really effective for a long while, because we want to make some concession to the way things are working.
Gradually, we are going to be sitting in rooms where some people are going to be on video calls and some people are going to be on the screen, and there's going to be a dawning realisation that this just isn't working.
At that point, firms are going to be presented with a choice, do they demand that people come back to the office four days a week and try and make this work? Or do they say, let's start with basic principles. Let's try and work out how we can get the job done productively.
There’s a very famous Stanford Professor, a guy called Clayton Christensen, who talks a lot about innovation theory. The way he talks about innovation theory is he says that no one owned a drill to own a drill. You don't just buy a drill, you buy a drill because you want a hole in the wall, and you want a hole in the wall because you want to put a shelf up.
I think the closer we start to that, then we can start saying, ‘okay, so we want a productive workforce... well, if our team are burned out or if they're demotivated, maybe we believe they're skiving off?’ Let's start with, how do we make sure they're working? How do we make sure they're motivated?
How do we make sure they're inspired rather than, how do we make sure they're travelling for two hours a day to come and sit in an office? That's not what we need, that's just what we learned.