Joel Lunenfeld, Twitter VP and UB alumni ’99, visits UB

Lunenfeld discusses his personal journey from UB student to Twitter VP


When Joel Lunenfeld got to college, he had never been on the Internet or sent an email in his life. His professors and textbooks were his only access to the “real world.” Once he got to UB, everything changed.

Lunenfeld, vice president of Global Brand and Creative Strategy at Twitter and UB alumni ’99 visited UB on Thursday to discuss how college led to his career at Twitter. He held two classroom talks on North Campus and spoke with UB alumni in Harriman Hall.

“The career I chose didn’t exist before I set out to do it,” Lunenfeld said.

Lunenfeld hadn’t been back at UB for 17 years and it was “emotional” and “surreal” to step foot in the classrooms again. Lunenfeld, a Brooklyn native, came to UB as a student because it was the furthest away from home he could get.

Lunenfeld said in an interview with The Spectrum, he felt like he grew up in a “time capsule.” Growing up in Brooklyn, he didn’t realize how diverse the area was until he moved away.

Lunenfeld began as an engineer at UB but switched to anthropology because he said he didn’t know anything about computers.

His parents used to tease him that, as an anthropology major, his job would be to dust bones, but he didn’t realize his job would be to study people.

Along with studying anthropology, Lunenfeld worked as a bouncer at The Steer, played music at Molly’s Pub twice a week, was a member of fraternity Sigma Alpha Epilson and he worked for admissions as a tour guide. UB was where his fondest memories were made.

“I really learned more than anything it’s the story you tell. It’s not the product you’re selling,” Lunenfeld said.

When Lunenfeld graduated from UB in 1999, he moved to Atlanta for “a budding music career that fell apart within a year.”

“I thought that was the worst thing that happened to me – moving to Atlanta for a career that fell apart within a year and it turned out to be a catalyst that brought me deeper into this field,” Lunenfeld said.

Lunenfeld met his wife and became involved with Twitter as a result of his music.

“Everything fell into place because I failed in music,” Lunenfeld said. “That would be the biggest failure in my career but the one that definitely set me on the most direct path.”

Lunenfeld said Twitter has been the most amazing career experience of his life and allows “voyeuristic conversations.”

“You get to see exchanges between people you that you would never have seen before. It’s like being at the world’s most bizarre cocktail party,” Lunenfeld said.

He said he’s seen exchanges between Drake and T. Boone Pickens, an oil tycoon billionaire and he’s seen exchanges between Taylor Swift and embassies. Twitter has become ingrained in culture, he said.

“Now you’ve got presidential candidates literally fighting like teenagers on Twitter together,” Lunenfeld said.

Aside from political debates, Lunenfeld discussed the other human elements of Twitter.

“Something that Twitter does for people is that it allows you to laugh and cry with strangers and that’s something we need as humans,” Lunenfeld said. “That’s why we go to movies, that’s why we go to stadiums, that’s why we’re together. We all feel the same thing and we’re all connected.”

Lunenfeld said he’d be lying if he said he knew where the future is going.

“I think it’s probably the same thing that gives me hope also gives me a bit of concern, which is the freedom to express yourself and the freedom that platforms like Twitter provide have really led to amazing social change, but at the same time it’s a microscope into the reality of people's opinions and some of the vitrial and hate in the world,” Lunenfeld said.

Some students in attendance found Lunenfeld’s talk inspiring.

Patricia Mendoza, a senior business major, said his speech gave her more courage. Mendoza’s entire family is in engineering and she’s the only one in finance. She said she is more optimistic to do what inspires and motivates her.

Lunenfeld said the best advice he has ever received was from his father who would sing to Lunenfeld while he was growing up. He taught Lunenfeld to never be afraid to get up and sing, to be fearless and to know the importance of being himself.
“That is actually the hardest thing in the world – to be yourself. That takes the most bravery,” Lunenfeld said.

Lunenfeld said to not be scared to “write your own future.”

“The career you’re going to end up in probably doesn’t exist yet – That could either be super scary or that could be something that allows you to write your own future,” Lunenfeld said. “Know that what you’re studying today, what you’re doing today will apply in ways that are completely unexpected and that’s what I found with anthropology. I had no idea I would be using that every day in my job.”

Hannah Stein is the co-senior news editor and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HannahJStein