ONE BILLION USERS ON TWITTER
He answered questions about free speech, layoffs, and his plans for the company during a video chat with Twitter employees.
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.
Even though he is buying Twitter for $44 billion, Elon Musk has openly chastised the company for weeks. He finally behaved like a business owner on Thursday.
The world’s richest man
spoke up about his intentions for the service during an hour-long question-and-answer session with Twitter’s 8,000 or so employees in the morning — the first time Mr. Musk has talked with them since agreeing to buy the social media business in April.
He touched on issues as diverse as growth, potential layoffs, anonymity, Chinese apps, the existence of alien life-forms, and even the cosmic nature of Twitter in an enthusiastic and at times rambling talk.
The 50-year-old went on to say that he thought the service will help humanity “better grasp the nature of the cosmos, to the extent that it is feasible to understand it.”
Mr. Musk added at the meeting, which was live-streamed to Twitter employees and listened to by The New York Times, that “I want Twitter to contribute to a better, long-lasting civilization where we better grasp the nature of reality.”
Mr. Musk’s participation in the discussion, which he conducted from his cellphone in what seemed to be a hotel room, indicated that he was dead intent on closing the multibillion-dollar deal. His motives had been called into question in recent weeks, when the billionaire, who also owns Tesla and SpaceX, frequently expressed concerns about Twitter’s phony accounts as a pretext for either terminating or renegotiating the arrangement.
Mr. Musk has been tweeting since April that the purchase is “on hold” and accusing Twitter of “actively fighting and sabotaging” his rights. He has already chastised some of the company’s leaders.
Mr. Musk’s antics had left investors, employees, and others guessing about what he could do with Twitter, which he is buying for $54.20 per share.
The stock of Twitter is now trading at roughly $37. Despite this, the firm has maintained that the agreement is still on track and that it has been exchanging information with Mr. Musk, who is liable for a $1 billion breakup fee if he walks away.
Mr. Musk did not say if he would seal the transaction with Twitter on Thursday, but he made it plain to his employees that he had big plans.
Mr. Musk stated during the discussion, which was mediated by Twitter’s chief marketing officer, Leslie Berland, that he planned to extend the service to more than one billion users worldwide.
That’s approximately four times the existing number of users. He went on to say that he was very hands-on at Tesla and that he expects to be the same at Twitter.
Despite such a strong showing, some speculated that Mr. Musk may reconsider his decision to complete the Twitter acquisition.
Ann Lipton, a corporate governance professor at Tulane Law School, said, “I assume he’s operating on two tracks.” “Perhaps he wants to negotiate a lesser price or even terminate the contract.” He wants more investors if the deal goes through.”
“Publicly speaking with Twitter employees, attempting to ease their anxieties, may provide reassurances to potential investors,” she noted. However, I’m not sure if that’s his Plan B or Plan A.”
Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment, and Twitter declined to comment on the discussion.
Mr. Musk was supposed to talk to Twitter staff a few weeks ago, but the meeting never happened. Then, during the past week, the San Francisco-based firm began collecting questions for him on its internal Slack messaging system from employees.
The meeting, which was supposed to start at 9 a.m. in San Francisco, started a few minutes late, with Twitter’s CEO, Parag Agrawal, congratulating Mr. Musk.
Mr. Musk then began to answer questions, including one about remote employment. He sent memos to Tesla and SpaceX employees earlier this month stating that he expects them to work 40 hours a week. During the coronavirus outbreak, Twitter staff mostly worked from home.
Mr. Musk told Twitter staff that he was open to them working remotely because developing software is not the same as building automobiles on a daily basis.
He did say, though, that a general lack of in-office participation could contribute to a diminishing “esprit de corps,” and that he hoped people would be more ready to come into the office in the future.
Mr. Musk avoided directly answering the question of whether or not there will be layoffs at Twitter, though his response sounded ominous.
“Right now, costs are outpacing revenue,” he explained. “That’s not a good scenario to be in.”
Mr. Musk stated that one upgrade he would like to see is the addition of payment technology to Twitter. Users would ideally be able to send money back and forth via the service, similar to how Venmo or Square Cash work.
Mr. Musk, a longstanding Twitter power user with over 98 million followers, has long claimed that the platform’s potential is being wasted. He also stated that by taking the firm private and making fundamental changes to how Twitter runs, he wants to revitalize the service outside of the public glare.
Some staff at Twitter have mixed sentiments about Mr. Musk. Some have expressed concern about his Twitter habits and his politics.
Employees at SpaceX shared a statement on Thursday expressing their concern about their CEO’s public behavior, specifically how he acted on Twitter, and how it reflected poorly on the company.
The letter, obtained by The New York Times and first reported by The Verge, stated, “Elon’s actions in the public domain is a frequent cause of distraction and embarrassment for us.”
“Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX as our CEO and most visible spokesperson – every tweet Elon writes is a de facto public statement by the company.”
Others at Twitter have expressed concern about Mr. Musk’s desire to take a hands-off approach to policing the platform.
He said on Thursday that he wanted to make Twitter as open as possible, primarily by attracting more users and that he would not tolerate criminal activity on the platform.
He also stated that he did not want to force users to use their true names on Twitter and that adopting pseudonyms to express political opinions on the platform was useful.
After Thursday’s discussion, some Twitter employees said they were encouraged by Mr. Musk’s reputation as an investor. Despite his inability to articulate his thoughts properly at times, Mr. Musk was not aggressive and seemed to have a vision for the product.
When asked if he intended to take over as CEO of Twitter when he took over the company, Mr. Musk was evasive.
He claimed he wasn’t a standard CEO, pointing to his Tesla title of Technoking. He did say, however, that he had a lot of ideas for product improvements and how the service could evolve, and that he’d share them with the rest of the firm.
Mr. Musk stated, “I do expect that they will listen to me in this area.”