There's something about Elon Musk that has nothing to do with business, technology or entrepreneurship, though his achievements as a geeky serial entrepreneur who ushered in the electric vehicle revolution, chaperoned new technologies and showed amazing capacity to build new wave companies are now legendary.
Look at his mind, not his speech. Look at his traits, not his talk. Look at his behaviour, not the slot you have of him as a big-thing doer. Look beyond it all, and you will find an attention-seeking adventurer who loves to tilt at the windmills. Maybe he doesn't want to ride the boat. Maybe he just wants to rock it. And that’s what he loves doing. At least, that is my “Drama King” hypothesis on the Tesla CEO, given his love of Twitter – including his latest abandoned/aborted quest to run the microblogging site that is arguably the planet’s highest forum to seek public attention.
Elon Musk recently pulled out of the $44-billion deal to take over the microblogging site Twitter.
Musk doesn’t need the money from his abandoned acquisition, nor does he need a new tech czar image. It is power, the political sort, that must have been a motivation for him as he sought to fly the tweety bird.
All indications suggest that Musk's interest in Twitter was not serious. His behaviour suggests the 'fake accounts' tantrum was more of a way to wiggle out.
A big battle may be ahead as Twitter is out to sue him for his abandoned bid.
Musk Never Needed Money or a New Image
Indian-born Parag Agarwal, Twitter's CEO, may well go down as a digital-age Porus who stood up to Alexander-like Musk with a mix of dignity and a friendly sort of courage that said ‘Welcome’ and ‘Buzz off’ at the same time. Twitter's board appears to have had the same attitude, although officially, the deal was offered to Musk.
There are deep psychology research papers trying to fit Musk into everything from a desire for recognition and appreciation to his “cognitive complexity”. But I would put it all down to a simple fact that he has inherited traits or some conditioning from both his model-nutritionist mother and his electromechanical engineer father.
Whatever his psycho-portrait, make no mistake. Musk doesn’t need the money from his abandoned $44-billion acquisition of Twitter, as his wealth is in the $200-billion zone. He is the world's richest man this year. He also doesn’t need a new tech czar image if you look at his association in everything from solar panels and electric cars to rocketry and fintech (he co-founded PayPal). Money and technology only go far. Musk has enough fame as well. It is power, the political sort, that must have been a big motivation for Musk as he sought to fly the tweety bird.
In his Twitter quest, Musk became associated with the controversial (right-wing) side of the ‘free speech’ lobby as he conducted a Twitter poll, in which 70% of respondents said the site did not support free speech in the rigorous sense of the term. Oh, well. Musk evidently showed love for the ‘Anything Goes’ kind of speech just so we would not miss Donald Trump who preferred running his superpower country from Twitter with his rude words than from the White House. Moreover, Musk wanted the former US President back on Twitter after his exit.
All indications suggest that Musk's interest in Twitter was not serious. In a country famous for retaining talent, he targeted senior Twitter executives and also spoke of layoffs, even though the site's problem was not really headcount or technology as such. Twitter has significantly lacked only profitability. Musk also rejected a board seat, something a serious contender would not have done. Above all, he backed out despite being offered details on fake accounts that he sought.
Given his own tech-savviness, one would have expected Musk to deal with a tech hurdle after taking over the company, not earlier. One would think he was there to solve a problem, and not be a part of it. His behaviour suggests that the 'fake accounts' tantrum was more of a way to wiggle out. Commitment phobia? Perhaps.
Musk’s sincerity and purpose as a “free speech” warrior have been questioned as critics believe that his kind of free speech only encourages hate crimes and the targeting of queers and LGBTQ activists.
The core point to remember is that Twitter, though a tech platform, is mostly about people. A geeky overlord like Musk is used to obedient materials that follow controllable properties, while real people, especially the democratic kind, are difficult to handle.
It is also pertinent to remember that between April and June, Tesla shares (on which rest the bulk of Musk's wealth) fell by more than a quarter in market value, and so did the value of Twitter shares. You could argue (though they happened in the context of high inflation and the Ukraine war) that the markets may have felt that Musk’s move was bad for both Tesla and Twitter. Though Musk had quietly bought a 5% stake in Twitter from January, his buyout bid began only in April. Musk also faced regulatory risk for not disclosing his Twitter share purchases in time. The battle was ugly from the word go.
Attention-Seeking Comes With a Cost
It is clear that be it money, people or politics, Musk was out of his familiar Silicon Valley-cum-Wall-Street territory as he tried to take over Twitter. A big battle may be ahead as Twitter is out to sue him for his abandoned bid that hurt the platform's health.
However, it pays to remember that Twitter’s board, though it offered a board seat and then the entire company to Musk, also had a ‘poison pill’ strategy with a shareholding plan, under which acquiring the company’s new shares to take control would have become prohibitively expensive.
In hindsight, the love-hate deal’s story reads like the chronicle of a death foretold.
Musk’s motive and motivation are both suspect in the Twitter deal, though I would suggest he has got one full quarter of global attention that he certainly must have enjoyed with his 'Diva' psyche. It remains to be seen whether he will have to pay a financial price for it.
(The writer is a senior journalist and commentator who has worked for Reuters, Economic Times, Business Standard, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on Twitter @madversity. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)