One look at 37-year old Parag Agrawal's Twitter photo might suggest he is a low-profile person but now, as chief executive officer of one of the world's most popular social media sites, it will be hard for him to avoid the limelight.
The new CEO of Twitter has been with the social media company for a decade and, since 2017, has been the chief technology officer. He has also been an integral part of the company's leadership team.
As he takes the baton from Jack Dorsey, Agrawal has a huge task ahead.
When he joined in 2011, there were fewer than 1,000 employees. As of the end of September 2021, it has more than 7,100 employees worldwide, up 33 per cent year over year.
At Twitter's first investor’s day presentation this year, the company said it expected annual revenue to grow more than twofold from $3.7 billion in 2020 to at least $7.5 billion in 2023, riding on new products and subscription services.
Twitter also projected a minimum of 315 million monetisable daily active users in Q4 of 2023, which would mean a compound annual growth rate of 20 per cent from 152 million daily active users reported in Q4 2019.
The new CEO will have to toe the line or innovate to deliver as per this projection.
“He’s been my choice for some time, given how deeply he understands the company and its needs," Dorsey stated in a memo to Twitter staff.
"Parag has been behind every critical decision that helped turn this company around. He’s curious, probing, rational, creative, demanding, self-aware and humble."
Agrawal’s engineering work has been lauded by Twitter in addition to his contributions towards growing revenue and audience.
Little known facts about the elusive Parag Agrawal
Agrawal's father was a senior official in the Indian Department of Atomic Energy and his mother is a retired school teacher.
He is the alumni of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay where he obtained a B.Tech. degree in Computer Science and Engineering in 2005. He then moved to the United States to pursue a PhD in computer science from Stanford University.
His wife, Vineeta Agrawal, is a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm. The couple have one son.
Agrawal joined Twitter in October 2011 as a distinguished software engineer, prior to which he had held leadership positions at Microsoft and Yahoo.
His biography on the Twitter leadership page says he is responsible for, "Twitter's technical strategy and overseeing machine learning and AI across the consumer, revenue, and science teams".
Previously, he's been in charge of Project Bluesky, an independent team of open source architects, engineers and designers, which developed an open and decentralised standard for social media that would help better control abusive and misleading information on its platform.
In November 2020, in an interview with MIT Technology Review he was asked pertinent questions about the rise of misinformation on the social media platform and some of the measures Twitter had taken to fight back.
Agrawal responded: "Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation."
Following his appointment, an old tweet by the new CEO has gone viral with conservatives already expressing their anger over the new development.
Agrawal had tweeted in 2010, quoting comedian Asif Mandvi mocking racism and Islamophobia in America. However, at the time, he had put the statement in quotes without attributing it to the comedian.
"If they are not gonna make a distinction between muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists."
— Parag Agrawal (@paraga) October 26, 2010
The quote is said to be from an episode of The Daily Show with John Stewart, in which there was a segment reacting to the firing of NPR correspondent Juan Williams.
The correspondent had made a controversial statement on Muslims on Fox News saying, “I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous", according to BBC News.
Agrawal posted: “If they are not gonna make a distinction between muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists."
Users across the platform interpreted the 11-year-old tweet in their own ways with some calling him a "racist" and others calling him an "extremist".
But Agrawal soon shut the conservative voices trying to paint him in bad light, by responding to a tweet and said that: “I was quoting Asif Mandvi from The Daily Show.”
In another tweet, he added: “I am amused by people that pass judgement on people for passing judgement. I was attempting to do the same to amuse myself.”
The way forward for Agrawal
Following Dorsey's announcement, Agrawal said in an email to employees: “The world is watching us right now, even more than they have before.
"Lots of people are going to have lots of different opinions about today’s news. It is because they care about Twitter and our future, and it’s a signal that the work we do here matters.”
There's no debating that the world does care about Twitter and its expectations of the popular social media site just shot up with the appointment of Parag Agrawal.
It remains to be seen if he can take the fortunes of the company to newer heights.