There are few people as polarizing as Elon Musk. I'm not sure anyone is neutral on the world's wealthiest man. On the one hand, he has plenty of fans. As CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Musk has accomplished things that few other entrepreneurs ever have.
For example, he's largely responsible for turning mass-market electric vehicles (EVs) into a thing people will actually buy, making Tesla worth more than $1 trillion. That's a lot of very happy shareholders. Oh, and SpaceX is easily one of our most important national security assets.
On the other hand, Musk attracts a lot of criticism, largely because he spends a lot of time attracting attention to himself. He picks fights with his critics, taunts U.S. Senators that think he should pay more in taxes, and runs polls online about whether he should sell off his stock. His detractors range from average people that think he's mostly full of hot air, to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Then there's the fact that a week ago he said he wanted to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. That certainly increased the number of people on the Elon-Musk-is-an-existential-threat side of the ledger. Is he really, though? What if Musk is the best thing that could ever happen to Twitter?
Look, I get why you might think I'm wrong. Musk has shared some, well, aggressive changes he'd like to make to Twitter. While no one is saying it outright, I suspect the biggest fear is that one of those changes includes reinstating former President Trump's account on the grounds that, well, free speech, I guess.
For a week, no one really thought he was serious. Just because he's the world's wealthiest human, all that wealth is in his ownership of Tesla and SpaceX, which means he can't just go to an ATM and pull out the $40 billion he'd need to buy the 91 percent of shares of Twitter he doesn't already own.
Then, on Thursday, Musk filed paperwork that he had funding secured. It appears that he really means it this time. He also said he is considering bypassing the board (who he said had not yet responded to his initial offer) and going directly to shareholders to buy their shares.
If you're a shareholder, if you're holding out for something better, you have to have a lot of faith in the leadership of a company that has essentially done--nothing. It hasn't grown, it hasn't innovated in any meaningful way and it hasn't solved really any of its worst problems--all of which have to do with the core product.
That's why I don't think the best argument is about the money. I think it's about the product.
Is Musk going to ruin Twitter? I don't know. Sure, some of his ideas seem a little out there, but Musk clearly loves using Twitter. That means if you're a power user--the type of person that might be most concerned that Musk will mess things up--your incentives are very much aligned with his. He wants to make Twitter better. You probably just disagree with him on what "better" means.
The real problem is that Twitter doesn't really know what it wants to be when it grows up, and--by social media platform standards--it's been grown up for a while now. As a result, it's been run a lot like the Lost Boys of Neverland. Right now, I'm sure a lot of people think Musk is Captain Hook, but I don't think he's the villain in this story.
What if, instead, he's Peter Pan?
Sure, Peter Pan is impulsive, immature, and has some real problems with authority. Sound familiar? At the same time, he's the inspiring leader the Lost Boys needed.
It's not a perfect comparison, I know, but here's the thing: Every company needs a visionary leader. Every team needs someone who can do two things: establish a vision and direction for a company and then motivate people to move in that direction and hold them accountable if they don't. Can you think of someone with more of a track record of both than Elon Musk?
Obviously, Musk is flawed, to say the least. He's prone to overpromising--especially about things like cars that will drive themselves. And, sure, the fact that he's a free speech absolutist but is unclear about what that would actually mean is problematic.
Listening to Musk's interview with TED host Chris Anderson, it seemed pretty clear that he hadn't really thought through many of his proposals beyond "I'll definitely, probably fix this thing that I think is broken, it'll be easy just watch." It won't be easy, and he probably won't be able to fix most of it.
For example, Musk suggested that an edit button might include "zeroing out" all retweets. "I don't know, I'm open to ideas," he said. That would, by the way, be a terrible idea.
Fortunately, Twitter doesn't need Musk to have all the good ideas, it needs him to inspire other people to have great ideas. His job will be to help whoever he picks to run the company sort through them and motivate people to make the really good ones happen. That's what he does at his other companies.
You can dislike Musk because he's the richest person, well, ever. You can dislike him because you think electric cars are dumb, or because he's mean to people on Twitter. It's hard to argue that Musk isn't in a unique position, however.
Maybe what Twitter needs is to be done with the pressure to do trivial things like, you know, add 100 million users, or finally figure out how to make money with ads. Instead, maybe it should focus on just making the product a better experience for more people.
I doubt that will be easy, but that's an argument why it might not be worth Musk's time. It's not an argument that Twitter would be worse with him as owner.
I mean, the guy already runs two companies, one of which makes electric vehicles that can drive more than 300 miles on a single charge. The other literally launches rockets into outer space. Surely fixing Twitter isn't rocket science.