Could anyone really be this incompetent? Musk’s leadership has been so bizarre that it has even given rise to theories that the billionaire is intentionally trying to sabotage Twitter. These theories remind me of the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency when some people assumed that the president of the US couldn’t possibly be so inept; there must be some kind of method behind Trump’s madness. Turns out, no. Trump wasn’t playing “four-dimensional chess”; there was no method just madness.
Is Musk going to turn into the same sort of laughing stock that Trump has become? It’s starting to look that way. Which would be quite the character arc. Musk’s biggest life achievement, after all, isn’t building spaceships or electric cars, it’s building his brand. He’s managed to position himself as a brilliant visionary who has devoted his life to saving human civilization. There is very little evidence to support this image when you look deeper but that hasn’t stopped an enormous number of people (mainly men) from buying into Musk’s bullshit. Even Bill Gates once gushed that “we need a lot of Elon Musks” in order to save the world. It seems he may have changed his mind on that lately; Gates recently described Musk’s management style at Twitter as “seat-of-the-pants type activity.”
Well, maybe. And here’s an old and prescient post from John Hempton:
Twitter has become a parody of bad Silicon Valley management – the sort of management that existed in the dot-com boom where quite literally burning shareholder funds was considered a mark of innovation.
The main difference between this and (say) Pets.Com is that underneath is a business that should be salvageable – and should make pot-loads of money. After all if they raised costs by $1.5 billion per annum without achieving jack-shit then costs should be able to be controlled. And if that is possible then Twitter as an LBO works on the back of an envelope at these prices.
But Twitter is past that. Somewhere near half a billion dollars of costs need to be taken out almost immediately. And that involves firing people and being a general tough-bastard. It’s inevitable anyway – because Jack Dorsey burning half a billion dollar per year isn’t a sustainable business. The cash eventually runs out.
The problem is if you mix this with a Salesforce.com or similar company it will be really hard to take costs out in a disciplined fashion without upsetting the culture of the home company. Instead this should be fixed (with extreme prejudice by a disinterested outsider) before it is sold again to a strategic buyer.
Or – in summary: the best bastards are from Wall Street. And this needs a Wall Street bastard.
Or, the only thing wrong with Twitter is that no one has taken a flamethrower to the internal bureaucracy. Which Musk has just done.
Now, of course, that jury is still out on whether this is going to work or not. After all, this is the first business Musk has had since PayPal that wasn’t a subsidy junkie. So, you know, might work, might not.
But we’ll know soon enough. 12 months will be enough time for us to know. Either the financial numbers turn around in that period of they don’t. And here’s the thing – if they do then there’s going to be an awful lot of woke and progressive business commentary proven to be wrong. That is, sometimes the flamethrower is necessary and sometimes the only way to get it is by being the ruthless capitalist bastard.
If – if, obviously – Musk turns Twitter around it’s going to be the biggest ad possible for flamethrowing bureaucracies. We can hope, eh?