Ev Williams calls it quits as CEO of Medium

Another CEO is stepping back from the company he launched. This time, it’s famed serial entrepreneur Ev Williams, who said today that he is relinquishing his full-time role with Medium, an online platform that hoped to transform publishing on the internet by giving anyone with an interest in writing a space to do it in far longer form than is possible on Twitter. “A beautiful space for reading and writing — and little else,” Williams called Medium when it debuted in 2012. “The words are central.”

The company, founded in 2011, has never taken off in the way that Williams imagined, even while other newer publishing platforms like Substack began to gain traction in recent years. Williams nevertheless writes in a post about his transition to chairman of the board that outsiders shouldn’t interpret the move as a negative signal.

“To be clear,” he writes, “Medium’s story is far from over. The team today is probably the most capable I’ve seen at this company. I’m excited to see what they do.”

Williams is replacing himself with Tony Stubblebine, the chief executive of the online coaching company Coach.me.

Medium has aimed from the start to attract thoughtful writing, the sort of which can be overlooked in a world where social platforms traffic in buzzy, and often fake, news. But it has struggled to find a sustainable business model for itself and writers on the platform.

Writers are compensated based on how much time users spend reading their content, but Medium has needed other sweeteners to boost their pay and has launched numerous experiments toward that end, including, at one point, charging users $50 a year for access to an unlimited amount of articles from individual authors and poets and, more newly, a referral program that Medium launched in August 2021 that gives writers half of the new subscriber revenue that their content generates, after payment processing fees.

The company first launched a subscription model in 2017; the vast majority of content remains outside of a paywall.

Williams — a pioneer in both blogging and podcasting and very famously a co-founder of Twitter who remained on the company’s board until 2019 — isn’t making himself available for interviews today. But he said in his post that his next steps involve “lots of time with friends and family” as well as spending the “next few months (or years) learning as much as I can about things I don’t know a lot about.”

Williams, who is also a venture partner with the venture firm Obvious Ventures, said he further plans to launch a new “holding company/research lab” that can be helpful to Medium and other companies.

Williams is just the latest high-profile CEO to step down in the last year following a very long run in the saddle. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos seemed to kick off the trend when in July of 2021, he handed over the reins to longtime lieutenant Andy Jassy.

Since then, a sampling of others to step away as CEO include Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who stepped down as the CEO of Twitter for the second time late last November; Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann, who stepped away as CEO of the company late last month; Glossier founder Emily Weiss, who stepped down as CEO in late May; JD.com founder Richard Liu, who stepped down as CEO in April; and TheRealReal founder Julie Wainwright, who stepped down as CEO last month.

According to Crunchbase data, Medium has raised $163 million in venture funding over the years from a wide number of firms, including Spark Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock and Obvious Ventures.

What happens now isn’t clear, though skeptics have long wondered if Medium would still be up and running if not for Williams. Among them is Bill Rosenblatt, a media technology consultant who told the New York Times in 2017: “The notion that you’re going to succeed as a writing site simply by putting quality first is not compatible with venture capital revenue expectations … No one would have funded this if it weren’t by Ev Williams.”