SAN FRANCISCO — For weeks, Elon Musk has publicly trashed Twitter, even as he buys the company in a $44 billion deal. On Thursday he finally behaved like a owner.
During a one-hour morning question-and-answer session with Twitter’s roughly 8,000 employees — the first time Mr. Musk has spoken to them since agreeing to buy the social media company in April — the world’s richest man opened up. about his plans for the service. In a lavish and sometimes rambunctious speech, he touched on topics as diverse as growth, potential layoffs, anonymity, Chinese apps, the existence of alien life forms, and even the cosmic nature of Twitter.
“I want Twitter to contribute to a better, long-lasting civilization in which we better understand the nature of reality,” Musk said during the meeting, which was livestreamed to Twitter employees and listened to by DailyExpertNews.
The 50-year-old added that he hoped the service could help humanity “better understand the nature of the universe, as far as it is possible to understand it.”
The meeting, which Mr. Musk attended from his cell phone in what appeared to be a hotel room, suggested he was determined to complete the blockbuster acquisition. His intentions have been questionable in recent weeks when the billionaire, who also runs electric car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, repeatedly questioned Twitter’s fake accounts in an apparent pretext to potentially end or renegotiate the deal.
Since April, the famous mercurial Mr. Musk tweeted that the purchase was “on hold” and accused Twitter of “actively resisting and thwarting its rights”. At another time, he had criticized some of the company’s executives. He made his incendiary comments as global markets plummeted and shares of Tesla, his main source of wealth, plummeted.
The antics of Mr. Musk, who pays $54.20 a share to buy Twitter, had investors, the company’s employees and others guessing what he might do. Twitter’s stock is now trading around $37. Still, the company has insisted that the deal remains on track and that it has shared information with Mr. Musk, who will have to pay a $1 billion severance fee if he walks out.
Mr. Musk did not directly address on Thursday whether he would close the deal with Twitter, but he did make it clear to employees that he had great ambitions.
During the conversation, which was led by Twitter’s chief marketing officer, Leslie Berland, Mr. Musk said he hoped to expand the service to more than a billion users around the world. That would be nearly four times the number of current users. He added that he was hands-on at Tesla and expected to be at Twitter as well.
Even with such a move, some warned that Mr. Musk could still change his mind about completing the deal for Twitter.
“I assume he’s acting on two tracks,” said Ann Lipton, a professor of corporate governance at Tulane Law School. “Maybe he wants to lower the price or even cancel the deal. If the deal goes through, he wants additional investors.”
She added: “Speaking publicly with Twitter employees, in an effort to allay their concerns, can reassure potential investors. But it’s not clear to me if that’s his Plan B or his Plan A.”
Twitter declined to comment on the meeting and Mr Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Musk was supposed to speak to Twitter staff weeks ago, but the session fell through. Last week, the San Francisco-based company began collecting questions for him from employees on its internal Slack messaging system. The meeting, which was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. San Francisco time, started a few minutes late as Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal thanked Mr. Musk.
Then Mr. Musk started answering questions, including about remote work. This month, he sent memos to employees at Tesla and SpaceX saying he expected them to be in the office 40 hours a week. Twitter employees have largely worked remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Musk told Twitter employees that he was open to their remote work, as developing software is different from showing up every day to build cars. But he said a general lack of participation in the office could be contributing to a dwindling “esprit de corps” and hoped people would like to go into the office more in the future.
Mr. Musk immediately dodged the answer as to whether there would be layoffs at Twitter, although his response was somewhat ominous.
“Right now, costs are higher than revenues,” he says. “That’s not a great situation.”
At another time, he drifted into a discussion about whether extraterrestrial life was possible, though it was unclear where he ended up. He also called the Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok ambitious, as WeChat is so embedded in people’s daily lives in China and TikTok is “not boring”.
One improvement Mr. Musk said he wanted to make was adding payment technology to Twitter. Ideally, the service would allow users to send money back and forth, similar to how products like Venmo or Square Cash work.
How Elon Musk’s Twitter Deal Unfolded
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A blockbuster deal. Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, put an end to what seemed an unlikely attempt by the famed mercurial billionaire to buy Twitter for about $44 billion. Here’s how the deal unfolded:
The first offer. Mr. Musk made an unsolicited offer of more than $40 billion for the influential social network, saying he wanted to turn Twitter into a private company and that he wanted people to speak more freely about the service.
Mr. Musk, a veteran Twitter user with more than 98 million followers, has long said he believes the company’s potential is underutilized. He added that he hopes to rejuvenate the service out of the public eye by taking the company private and making significant changes to the way Twitter works.
Within Twitter, some employees have mixed feelings about Mr. Musk. Some have said they are concerned about his Twitter habits and shady politics.
On Thursday, SpaceX employees circulated a memo saying they were also concerned about their chief executive’s public behavior — particularly how he acted on Twitter — and that it reflected badly on employees.
“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment to us,” said the letter, obtained by The Times and previously reported by The Verge. “As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every tweet Elon sends is a de facto public statement from the company.”
Others on Twitter have said they were concerned about how Mr. Musk wants to take a laissez-faire approach to overseeing the platform.
On Thursday, he stressed that he wanted to make Twitter as inclusive as possible, especially by getting more users, and added that he would not allow any criminal acts to take place on the network. He also said he didn’t want people to use their real names on Twitter and that it was helpful to use pseudonyms to express political views on the service.
Some Twitter employees, who have pointed to Mr Musk’s reputation as an innovator, said they were encouraged after Thursday’s meeting. Mr. Musk was not hostile and seemed to have a vision for the product, although at times he couldn’t pronounce it clearly, they said. Others said he didn’t answer their questions, with one employee writing in an internal Slack message, which was viewed by The Times, that “if you had a drink every time he answered a question, you’d end up with a drink at the end of this one.” .”
Mr. Musk was non-committal when asked if he intended to take on the CEO role at Twitter when he took over the company. He said he was not a traditional CEO and pointed to his title at Tesla, Technoking. But he also noted that he had many ideas for product updates and how the service should evolve, and that he would share them with others within the company.
“I do expect that they will listen to me in this regard,” Mr Musk said.
Ryan Mac and Lauren Hirsch reported.