Musk tells Twitter staffers company must ‘get healthy’

Elon Musk warned Twitter staffers its business needed to “get healthy” and undergo a “rationalisation of headcount and expenses” as he addressed the social media platform’s employees directly for the first time since launching his $44bn takeover bid.

Speaking to its 8,000-strong workforce via a smartphone video, Musk on Thursday laid out a bold vision for Twitter’s future if he succeeds in taking the company private. The freewheeling conversation also touched on issues including content moderation, remote work and aliens.

The billionaire Tesla chief executive said he wanted Twitter to build up a user base of at least 1bn people globally, according to a person familiar with the situation. The company has 229mn monetisable daily active users — logged-in users to whom the platform shows advertising.

Doing so would mean ensuring people are not “harassed” on Twitter, he said, while also adding an array of features to emulate Chinese platform WeChat, a “superapp” where users can send messages, payments, shop or book taxis in one place.

In a nod to a second Chinese-owned app, he said that TikTok had successfully ensured its content was not “boring” — and that Twitter should follow in its footsteps.

Nevertheless Musk also hinted that lay-offs, cost-cutting or a restructuring might be in store, adding: “Right now costs exceed revenue. That’s not a great situation.”

His answers in the hour-long meeting, during which questions from employees were read out to him by Twitter’s chief marketing officer Leslie Berland, suggest that he is still forging plans for how he will run the company.

But it also comes after Musk has repeatedly criticised Twitter’s leadership, accusing executives of failing to provide sufficient data on fake accounts and breaching obligations around the deal. This has led to speculation that he may be manoeuvring to renegotiate at a lower price or walk away. 

Musk first made his bid for Twitter in April on the promise of bringing “free speech” to what he dubbed the “digital town square”, and rowing back against content moderation restrictions. On Thursday, he doubled down on those proposals, adding that he believed “pretty outrageous” tweets should be allowed on the platform.

Musk said that advertising would remain important to driving revenues but that he hoped to diversify into payments, subscriptions and paid-for user verification. In an early presentation shared with investors, he said he would seek to quintuple revenues to $24.6bn by 2028, according to a source familiar with the document.

Morale at Twitter has been low throughout the process, with many employees uncertain about job security if the deal is finalised, or, if it falls through, whether the company’s share price might be hit.

Some fear Musk’s intense leadership style will clash with Twitter’s more relaxed workplace culture. He has recently insisted his Tesla employees show up for at least 40 hours a week in the office or find another employer — in stark contrast to Twitter’s promise during the coronavirus pandemic that employees can “work from home full-time forever” if they so choose. 

During Thursday’s meeting, Musk softened his stance slightly, saying that while he was biased towards in-person work, Twitter employees who produce “exceptional” work might be able to work remotely.

In one rambling answer to a question about whether he intended to become chief executive, he said he did not mind either way, before outlining his vision of “expanding consciousness” in the world and musing on whether aliens exist. “I’ve seen no actual evidence of aliens . . . yet,” he added.

Additional reporting by James Fontanella-Khan

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