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Making Twitter fly

Alumnus helping users make live connections to culture

by Marcia Steyaert, BA'96 (King's)

rory capern

Between his first and second year at Western, Rory Capern, HBA’00, MBA’04, witnessed the “power of the web” for the first time.

“I saw this magical place erupting,” he said of his Silicon Valley consulting stint in 1998. “I knew right away I wanted to be involved. I was absolutely smitten by the web really early on.”

Since those days, Capern has often found himself on the ground floor. In 2011, he joined Google Canada – during “a time of meteoric growth” – as its head of partnerships. He was the company’s 34th employee. They now have well over 300.

Two years later, Twitter Canada opened its offices in Toronto, and with his appointment as managing director earlier this year, Capern became just its 37th employee.

A builder by nature, and lover of small-team environments, Capern felt the Google-to-Twitter jump was the right move at the right time for him and, by “happy coincidence,” for Twitter, as well.

As part of the global executive, Capern keeps a constant bridge between Canada and head offices in 36 cities on six continents, and communicates daily with senior management in the company’s San Francisco, Calif., headquarters. He refers to Canada as an important innovation market for Twitter globally – both in terms of revenue generation and strategy.

“Canada is widely understood as an extremely fast-adopting market with a partner ecosystem for innovation and risk. We’re willing to try things first – and faster – to get an edge. It’s likely we’re never going be bigger than the United States in the context of revenue. So, the question becomes, how do we gain significance for the Canadian operation in the context of a global company headquartered out of the United States? We can be faster. And we have a more nimble market. We have a higher appetite to try new things. And we’re all looking to build incremental value to our global organizations out of this country beyond revenue.”

Capern steps into the lead role at Twitter Canada at an interesting time in terms of the future utility of the service. “It’s a mature company, but one with tremendous upside to it still – it’s really exciting.” But it’s also a challenging time for the iconic social media brand. Its user base – 320 million worldwide – isn’t growing at the expected pace.

“We have this massive base of users who are extremely connected to the platform. They are very vocal. What we need to do now is define what Twitter is to a broader cross-section of the world to make it a bit more approachable and easier to understand for a first-time user or for those returning to it after a long time away,” Capern said. “When someone walks into Twitter, it’s not always clear to them what they should do next.”

Capern likens that experience, half-jokingly, to an existential crisis.

“What am I really interested in? Who do I want to follow? Those are sometimes hard questions. Our focus is on trying to make sure users are aware of the vast array of people and the nature of topics out there they can follow and the richness they can get. It’s really about trying to articulate the power of Twitter as a public network.”

Capern’s passion for the platform shows when talking about users who have been able to, as he says, “unlock the power of Twitter.”

“I’m speaking to more and more users who describe their own use of Twitter in ways that are incredibly inspiring – community groups who are mobilizing, teachers who speak to their students’ parents exclusively using Twitter, all kinds of different, fascinating use cases about public good. I don’t think that’s totally clear to everyone out there. Part of our job is just to describe and position this amazing platform to users. It’s a live connection to culture.”

With fellow Western grad Jordan Banks, BA’90, at the helm of Facebook Canada as Managing Director, is the rivalry real between the two platforms? Capern thinks of Twitter as an interest network and Facebook as a social one, and doesn’t see it as a rivalry at all, but rather as “coopetition.”

“There’s a lot of positive momentum right now and we’re all trying to make the Canadian web better. We have a much more collaborative environment and culture than what exists in many other countries. When the tide rises, all boats float.”

As a third generation alumnus – his grandfather, mother, uncle and a cousin are all grads, as is wife Amy - Western has a deep resonance with Capern and his family, which includes his kids Max, 8, and Lauren, 9. And that’s not to mention his network of friends.

“I’m still hanging out with dozens of people I met at Western. About 80 per cent of my social time is spent with Western friends, both through Ivey and Huron. We take annual golf trips, and meet up in Toronto for lunch quite often. Western represents a very special time in my life. I deepened myself as an individual and had a blast on a social level at the same time.”

Capern fondly recalls Ivey Business School professor Ann Frost, who taught him Organizational Behaviour.

“I thought it was going to be the fluffiest course ever, but it wasn’t. In fact, it was probably one of the most formative courses of all the ones I took there. Ann and I did a research paper together when I went back to do my MBA and her perspective on managing teams and how organizations are formed has become the bedrock for how I built my own career.”

As an Entrepreneur-in- Residence at Ivey, Capern finds it reinvigorating and inspiring to connect with current Western students. “Every time I drive back down the 401, I’m reminded the economy is in good hands. We have a good batch of thinkers that are coming out of Ivey and Western who can carry it all.”


The tweet spot

According to Twitter Canada Managing Director Rory Capern, HBA’00, MBA’04, these Twitter users are getting it right:

“When I’m not able to watch the tour, I’m getting these amazing video clips at the exactly the right time. They’re doing an excellent job of connecting people live.”

“As a Torontonian, I’m getting really important information from him and his account on key things that are happening in the city. For example, I didn’t know it was Toronto’s birthday until John Tory told me on Twitter! I’m connected live to our mayor and I’m getting important information I might not get otherwise.”

“He’s very vocal on Twitter, and always creates interesting conversations around him. Almost every week there’s something interesting happening with him. It’s not necessarily always positive, but it’s an exceptional use of the platform to communicate thoughts and ideas with millions of people at a time.”

This article appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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