By the end of last week, when some of the initial dust around Elon Musk’s arrival as Twitter new largest shareholder had settled, Twitter employees tried to approach the situation with some gallows humor.
This one line was a common thread among the messages exchanged between Twitter employees, called “Tweeps”: Musk might be able to find a way for them to start receiving Tesla stock as a reward. Certainly, shares of the electric carmaker run by Musk had lately outperformed Twitter stock (by more than a factor of 10 in the five years before Musk showed up at Twitter’s doorstep).
“Everyone was trying to crack jokes about it,” says a person at Twitter who viewed the chats. “But then it’s like, ‘OK, what Does this mean for us?’”
That’s still not particularly clear because there’s quickly been several more twists in the corporate drama, which has proven surprisingly topsy-turvy in a short amount of time.
Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s CEO, announced that Musk had disclosed his 9.2% stake in the company on Monday. This move was a surprise to some Twitter users. They worried Musk, who has become one of the service’s most popular figures through controversial statements about everything from drugs to politics, would damage Twitter’s internal culture, according to conversations with approximately a half dozen current Twitter employees, all of whom spoke anonymously because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly. In the past 10 years, Twitter has earned a good reputation for being a great place to work. Twitter users often use #LoveWhereYouWork to show their appreciation. It is a contrast to the move-fast-and-break-everything mantra present at other Big Tech companies, which try to mitigate such hard-nosed behavior with lucrative salaries and lavish perks. Some Twitter employees feel Musk and all the uncertainty surrounding him have made their job more difficult. “It’s been chaos,” says a Twitter employee. “Chaos and confusion.”
These are just a few of the many factors that have been added to over these last days. Musk has now chosen to turn down the board seat he’d agreed to days earlier, informing Agrawal about the decision on Saturday morning (presumably pacific time). The importance of hour-byhour timing is surprising. Musk spent much of Saturday on Twitter throwing out increasingly wild suggestions for the $37 billion company—scrap ads, abandon the San Francisco headquarters—adding to already sizeable consternation among Twitter rank and file.
Musk gave the world front row seats, which is a departure from typical corporate protocols. Musk offered Twitter users an opportunity to be part of the action, giving them a first-hand chance. Musk sent two surveys to his 81,000,000 followers last week. One asked about whether or not they would like an editing function, and the other about changing their company’s name. The latter was presented with two affirmative-style answers, suggesting that Twitter could lose a consonant. Twitter’s name will be an inexplicable joke.
Musk was presented with an ultimatum by Agrawal on Saturday: Take the seat as a board member and quit causing so much trouble. Or continue to do as you like—and don’t take the directorship. Musk chose the second, though we still don’t know (and likely never will) which of his strange ideas pushed Twitter and him over the brink.
Agrawal had collaborated with Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, to publically embrace Musk last Wednesday and shared some common ideas about decentralizing power over social media. He notified Twitter employees on Sunday night about his U-turn decision. He also published a version of his note on Twitter, and the company has cancelled a planned Q&A session between Musk and Twitter employees. (Twitter did not comment on Musk’s tweet.
Agrawal’s note came at strange moment for Twitter employees. Monday was a so-called Day of Rest at Twitter, a day off each month the company gives to employees to recharge—hang out with their kids, go to the spa, stock up at Costco, whatever. But some Twitter employees found Monday less than relaxing, left trying to digest the “he’s in, he’s tweeting, he’s out” happenings around Musk. It was the second time in recent months that corporate news has consumed a Day of Rest : Dorsey’s departure in November also leaked out on a Day of Rest. “They might as well cancel the Days of Rest. They’re cursed,” one Tweep complained, finding it hard to enjoy a quiet breakfast. “Obviously, I’m kidding,” the person added hastily, “but something does always to seem to happen recently.”
It’ll likely remain the case, too. It seems that Musk’s whole story is unlikely to reach a definitive conclusion. Agrawal made no secret of this fact in his public statement. “There will be distractions ahead, but our goals and priorities remain unchanged,” he wrote. Agrawal inherits Dorsey’s bold goals, which he agreed to in order to protect another investor many years back. Twitter hopes to reach $7.5 billion revenue by 2023 and have 315 million users daily, which are difficult targets. The company’s shares have been heavily affected. For now, investors chose to shrug off Musk’s sudden reversal about the board, sending Twitter stock up 1.8% on Monday, a day when the Nasdaq dropped 2.2%.
Musk, the world’s wealthiest person, is well positioned to launch a hostile takeover against Twitter if he chooses. Though there are some questions about how exactly he’d finance it—his fortune is mostly in Tesla shares, not liquid cash—and whether Twitter would adopt a poison pill defense to ward him off, diluting his stake at great cost to itself. Musk on Monday made a new filing with the SEC about his Twitter stake, outlining his intentions to possibly “engage in discussions with the Board…through social media or other channels” and said he “reserves the right to change his plans at any time.”