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Greenberg: Is Twitter a Victim of Wall Street?

By: Herb Greenberg | 04/30/14 - 10:35 AM EDT

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- Well before Twitter (TWTR) went public with a market value of $14 billion, I remember going on CNBC with others shaking our heads at what at the time was believed to be a ridiculously high $10 billion valuation.

The value was extrapolated from the trading of its private shares on the secondary market and the reported dollar amounts of latest rounds of venture financing.

At the time, there was chatter whether Twitter could or should be acquired. Early on, Google  (GOOG) was always pegged as a likely choice -- until it started Google Plus. Then Apple's name would surface, as would every cash-rich company out there.

Then came Twitter's IPO last November at $26, or $14 billion, with the stock getting bid as high as $73, or a ridiculous $40 billion.

It's now around $21 billion, likely on its way much lower.

In the end, I blame this not on Twitter but on Wall Street. Twitter's mistake, I would argue, was going public. At that point it became fodder for the Wall Street overhype machine, which has a history of taking good names and products and somehow making them appear as damaged goods.

Through it all, for those of us who use Twitter, it has remained a great product that is only likely to get better. Trouble is, it's working out its kinks, as a profitless company, in the public eye that reacts to every move and metric, which can be skewed at the whim of the overall market psychology.

As a public company Twitter no doubt -- and for better or worse -- is being forced to make changes faster than it otherwise might have.

But as a public company, it can't get from here to there without the type of scrutiny -- pegged to a stock price -- that could demoralize executives and employees who are suddenly put on the defense when all they are trying to do is create and improve something they believe is great.

Reality: I speak from experience. I was at TheStreet (TST) when it went public in 1999. I had a good slug of founder's stock and options. We had a great product, an enthusiastic staff and, on paper, we all were richer than the day before.

Then reality struck: We weren't as good a business as Wall Street led us to believe we were, and the stock, which peaked around $70, collapsed to $1.

Yes, Twitter and TheStreet (circa dot-com era) are different animals. But back then online publishing was just as snazzy and sexy and disruptive.

It's hard to say how this will all shake out at Twitter, whose CEO Dick Costolo appears to be keenly focused on improving the product and brand.

Still, Wall Street is Wall Street, which means Twitter is only as good as what it did yesterday and what it's realistically perceived to be capable of doing tomorrow. Each quarter of underperformance, relative to expectations -- on whatever metric you want to watch -- sets the company up for bigger drops and (if all goes well) bigger pops. And bigger comparisons with Facebook (FB).

Twitter wasn't created by Wall Street, but Wall Street now drives part of its public image. And right now that image is in need of some polish.

P.S.: My suggestion to Twitter employees -- keep your eye on the business, not the ball; it's totally out of your control.

Herb Greenberg, editor of Herb Greenberg's Reality Check, is a contributor to CNBC. He does not own shares, short or trade shares in an individual corporate security. He can be reached at herbonthestreet@thestreet.com.

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