Author: Lan Xi
Walter Isaacson, the author of “Steve Jobs: A Biography of the Innovator, Entrepreneur, and Visionary”, and one of the most outstanding contemporary biographers in the United States, has completed the writing of “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future”. It is expected to be released at the end of this year. He has published a chapter about Musk’s acquisition of Twitter (about 20,000 words) in advance on The Wall Street Journal, revealing many exclusive behind-the-scenes stories. I will highlight some of them to share:
In April 2022, Musk’s life was unexpectedly smooth. Tesla’s stock price has increased fivefold in five years, and its market value is higher than the combined value of the nine automakers behind it. The number of SpaceX launches in the first quarter was twice the total of other countries on Earth, and Starlink has also started serving 500,000 users. If Musk can safely get through this year, it will be a very brilliant year for him. Unfortunately, that is not his nature;
Musk’s subordinates observed that their boss was like a video game addict. Although he won the game, he never wanted to turn it off. Musk said, “Put all the resources you’ve won on the line, and then enter the next difficulty level of the game. That’s my factory setting.” Coincidentally, or perhaps destined, Musk exercised a batch of expiring stocks, with a face value of about 10 billion US dollars. Musk didn’t want to leave it to the bank, so he started thinking about buying something he liked for himself. But what is it that he likes? After thinking about it, the final answer is Twitter;
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Musk’s obsession with overturning Twitter’s brand that has been in operation for many years and renaming it as “X” can be traced back more than 20 years ago. At that time, he founded a financial company called x.com, which later merged with LianGuaiyLianGuail. After the transaction was completed, Musk tried to use X as the brand, but was rejected by LianGuaiyLianGuail. They said X is like a dirty website that you won’t talk about in public. This made Musk feel humiliated. However, his power was still weak at that time and he couldn’t decide the fate of the company. After flying for more than 20 years, this bullet hit the bullseye again. When Musk planned to acquire Twitter, he had already decided to use X to replace it. This is his response to the trauma;
Another reason for acquiring Twitter is that Musk believes that the “woke culture” is poisoning America. This idea arose when his eldest son secretly sent a text message to Musk’s sister-in-law saying that he wanted to undergo a sex change and told her, “Don’t tell my dad.” Later, the two severed their relationship. Musk attributed this to his son being influenced by left-wing thoughts at school, and he hoped to help the suppressed side by acquiring Twitter;
During the acquisition process, Musk prepared to join Twitter’s board of directors. He started discussing with friends how to eliminate the unfair judgment of content attributes by algorithms. Making algorithms open source was one of the solutions they came up with at that time. Musk did achieve this after acquiring Twitter. Then Musk smiled and said that he wanted to use Twitter to fulfill the unfinished visions of x.com and LianGuaiyLianGuail. Charging for verified blue badges is a kind of test because in his opinion, Twitter must have the ability to make payments. Users can bind their credit cards to Twitter, which is the first step. When Musk was dating his new girlfriend in Hawaii, he was not very focused. He couldn’t sleep during the wise time and he looked through a group of Twitter accounts with the most followers. He found that they were not very active. Then Musk posted a tweet asking, “Is Twitter dying?” An hour and a half later, Twitter’s CEO sent a text message saying that you can criticize freely, but saying whether Twitter is dying does not help make Twitter better. Musk was furious when he saw this. He asked in return, “What have you done this week? I won’t join the board of directors. It’s a waste of time. I want to privatize Twitter directly”;
The CEO of Twitter was dumbfounded and almost begged, “Can we talk?” A few minutes later, the Chairman of Twitter’s board also contacted Musk, saying, “Can you give me 5 minutes to understand the cause and effect?” Musk told him that it was useless to fix Twitter through conversation and that direct action needed to be taken. Immediately afterwards, Musk began asking his finance manager to start acquiring Twitter’s stocks;
A few days later, Musk was dating another girlfriend. Sometimes he was under a lot of pressure, so his girlfriend would leave him in the hotel and go out socializing on her own. When she returned to the hotel one day, she found Musk playing with an “Elden Ring” all night without sleeping. When he finally closed his laptop, he immediately took out his phone and sent out a tweet, announcing his acquisition decision to the world with a short sentence: “I made an offer”;
Musk is very proactive. He quickly started fundraising for the acquisition plan, and many people were interested in his deal. Some people said to him, “Any amount of money is fine, 1 billion US dollars, or any number you can come up with,” while FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried contacted him to invest 5 billion US dollars – this guy later turned out to be a fraud – but Musk disliked his attitude of always turning the conversation to blockchain topics, “Whenever he speaks, my bullshit detector goes off like a red alert on a Geiger counter.” In the end, Musk rejected his investment because “I need a trading partner, not someone to teach me how to do things”;
After successfully raising funds, Musk received news at the end of April 2022 that Twitter’s board agreed to sell. Twitter was buzzing with discussions about this transaction, but Musk did not participate as he was busy dealing with the Raptor engine malfunction at the Texas rocket launch site. SLianGuaiceX’s engineers knew his temper, so no one brought it up to him. For a period of time, Musk’s emotions fluctuated between excitement and frustration, sometimes rejoicing because it could promote freedom of speech, sometimes feeling aggrieved because he had to sleep at Twitter headquarters and clean up the mess. He underestimated the internal chaos at Twitter;
Several whistleblowers convinced Musk that Twitter had lied about its user base, and he became furious. He called his lawyers three or four times a day, thinking that the $44 billion offer was too high and wanting to overturn and renegotiate. But Twitter started suing him in Delaware, pressuring him to accept their offer and execute the contract. Musk’s lawyers confronted him, saying that if they really went through with the litigation process, he would most likely lose. So Musk gave in and resumed the transaction process. He even comforted himself, “Fine, I can pay a premium because the people managing Twitter are a bunch of idiots. They have lowered the value of Twitter, so let me solve the problems they have caused.”
After the acquisition was completed, Musk, as the owner, visited Twitter headquarters again. He walked around this 10-story office building and carefully observed the “normal” facilities such as coffee bars, yoga rooms, gyms, and game rooms. He also saw the slogan “Welcome gender diversity” on the bathroom and found a T-shirt with “Stay woke” in the Twitter brand display cabinet. He swung the T-shirt and said that the virus that infected America also infected this company;
Initially, there were irreconcilable contradictions between the “Twitter Universe” and the “Musk Universe.” Twitter prided itself on friendliness and pampering, “We definitely have a high level of empathy and care greatly about inclusiveness and diversity. Everyone needs to feel safe here,” explained the former CMO of Twitter. One of her achievements at Twitter was the establishment of a system of “psychological safety,” which required employees not to make any expressions that made others uncomfortable. Shortly after, Musk fired her;
Musk hates “psychological safety.” His favorite word is “hardcore.” He believes that discomfort is a good thing, a weapon against complacency. He first mocked the “psychological safety” system and then felt disgusted by the ubiquitous blue bird logos in the Twitter office. Musk likes darkness and storm-like drama, not pleasant and relaxed small talk. “All these damn birds must get out,” was his first command;
With the completion of the transaction, Twitter entered the delisting process. But Musk had unfinished business. He waited to pull the trigger on Friday’s opening day because he hadn’t forgotten that the Twitter management had deceived him about user data. Musk, together with his loyal bankers, executed a plan to close early. Six minutes after the transfer of ownership of Twitter was completed, Musk canceled all management emails. The management had already written their resignation letters, but they found that the emails couldn’t be sent at all. Musk didn’t give them a chance to leave with dignity. Instead, he announced publicly that he had fired Twitter’s CEO, CFO, and general counsel. This would create trouble for their stock options. “In the end, we won against them,” summarized Musk’s lawyer for him;
That’s all for the part published in The Wall Street Journal. If nothing unexpected happens, this book should dominate the bestseller list for at least a year in the business/biography category. I plan to get a copy and read it.