Slideshow: Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (the CEO, That Is)


2011 will likely be remembered for its bubbly valuations. But plenty of startup employees may wind up recalling it as the year their company’s top dog was kicked to the curb or else stepped aside to make room for someone better suited for the challenges ahead.

Etsy staffers will be among them. Today, the online marketplace for handmade goods revealed in a blog post that CTO Chad Dickerson has replaced Etsy founder Rob Kalin as CEO. (AllThingsD was first to notice the post, in which Dickerson smartly thanked Kalin for dreaming up Etsy, as well as for hiring him.)

It isn’t yet clear whether Kalin wanted to stay or go, but he’s now been in and out of the CEO’s (presumed) cubicle twice. In 2008, Kalin handed the management reins to Maria Thomas, NPR’s longtime digital head before coming to Etsy. By late 2009, he was back, and she was gone.

Following are some others who this year have gone from managing, to having time for Mah Jong.

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[slide title=”Color, Why Can’t We Quit You? Wait, We Can”]

It was almost absurd, the hell that the photo-sharing mobile app Color caught earlier this year, when it launched with $41 million in the bank, largely from Sequoia. In defense of Color’s many critics, it was pretty stupid of the company to point out that Sequoia provided it with more funding than Sequoia had provided a pre-launch startup ever.

And it wasn’t helpful that the application didn’t work very well at its launch, or that it confused the hell out of everyone.

Still, if the startup never recovers, many will probably point to the fact that two of the three members of its all-star management team beat a quick retreat from the company in the aftermath of its colossally disastrous public reception: cofounder Peter Pham (previously an exec at PhotoBucket and BillShrink) and chief product officer DJ Patil (LinkedIn).

It’s true that neither was Color’s CEO. (That’s Bill Nguyen, who sold LaLa to Apple.) But to Color’s employees, they may as well have been.

[slide title=”RealNetworks, Real Impatient —  if You Can’t Turn Around the Company Fast Enough”]

In March, after a little more than a year in the CEO’s seat, Bob Kimball resigned from the Seattle-based tech company RealNetworks.

The move took many by surprise. After all, Kimball had joined RealNetworks back in 1999 and was long its general counsel before being made its CEO. And he offered little explanation regarding his abrupt departure. Instead, in a requisite press statement, he wrote that: “After twelve amazing years at Real, it is time for me to find new challenges and opportunities.”

At the time, GeekWire pressed RealNetworks founder and chairman Rob Glaser, as well as the company’s interim CEO, Mike Lunsford, for a more substantial explanation. The outlet was told that the real reason Kimball left was to “spend some time with his family and some other pursuits. After twelve years here, we respect his need to do that,” Lunsford said. “That’s really kinda the story.”

Sure. Of course. It always is.

[slide title=”Eric Schmidt to Sergey and Larry: Fine, You Run It”]

In late January, Google dropped some big news: that longtime CEO Eric Schmidt would step down in April, to be succeeded by Google cofounder Larry Page.

Schmidt said at the time that he would assume the role of executive chairman and remain committed to Google, focusing externally on deals, partnerships, customers, government outreach, and so forth. But no one really knew what to make of the switch until it took place a few months ago.

Since then, things have been fine — almost disappointingly so. For example, Page is awkward but he doesn’t appear to have Schmidt’s gift for creeping out consumers with comments about how Google knows where you are, where you live, where you’re going, and why “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Page also leads more like an MBA than some expected. Wrote Matthew Ingram of GigaOm yesterday:

Ever since co-founder Larry Page took over as CEO from Eric Schmidt in January, Google has been getting a lot more, well… businesslike. It has been closing down or winding up a variety of projects and experiments, including Google Health and Google PowerMeter, and now it has announced that it is closing the door on its entire Google Labs venture. Some features will be folded into existing products, but many may simply disappear altogether. While this may be an admirable sign of maturity, it could also make the Google culture less experimental — and therefore also less interesting…”

Of course, Page deserves plenty of early props, including for the highly successful launch of the Google + social network and for smartly anchoring a quarter of employees’ bonuses to Google’s new social strategy.

[slide title=”Then, Of Course, There’s Twitter”]

Whew. Twitter. Talk about your management shake-ups.

The biggest change to the company took place in March, when cofounder Jack Dorsey — the guy who had the original idea to create a dispatch service that connects people through text messages — became its executive chairman.

As most familiar with the company already know, it was a major homecoming for Dorsey, who was Twitter’s CEO until 2008, when cofounder Evan Williams reportedly pushed him out and made himself the CEO. (Dorsey went on to found the payments startup Square.)

Last October, Williams stepped down from that role, promoting Twitter COO Dick Costolo to CEO. Still, Dorsey’s return signaled that it was time for Williams to get going. (Williams has since begun resuscitating Twitter’s one-time parent company, Obvious Corp.)

Apparently, Dorsey’s return also meant it was time for Biz Stone, a third cofounder, to find something else to do. Indeed, Stone announced late last month that he’s joining Williams in the relaunch of Obvious.

What the switcheroos will ultimately mean for Twitter remains to be seen. For their part, investors are happy to keep throwing money at the company as things get sorted. Reports say Twitter is on the cusp of landing a new $800 million in funding. Half the financing will reportedly be used to cash out its war-weary employees.

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