Elon Musk Watches the Birdie…
The billionaire is now Twitter’s largest shareholder with a 9.2% stake worth $2.9 billion
The big tech story on Monday was Elon Musk’s decision to buy a 9.2% stake in Twitter worth $2.9 billion, making him its largest shareholder, after having criticized the company’s free speech policy in late March and questioning its democratic values. Previously, the reference shareholder in Twitter was one of its co-founders, Jack Dorsey, who held a mere 2.25%.
The move sent Twitter’s share price soaring by 26%, generating speculation about Musk’s plans for the company and the consequences on what its founders defined as “the free speech wing of the free speech party”. Twitter has been forced to walk back from its ambition of creating a place where people are free to say anything they like after coming up against reality and the uses that certain people have made of it.
What does Elon Musk intend to do? It’s hard to know, but right off the bat, his purchase has provided an outlet for cash he has obtained by selling his Tesla shares and needed to invest to avoid being taxed at an even higher rate than he was already paying. For a Fortune 500 mentality, liquidity makes no sense: it’s cash that could be used for something. In this case, changing a tool you use a lot, which is the backbone of your communication, but about which you have disagreements about the way it manages freedom of expression.
Investing in a company at this level, even passively, gives Musk a direct line with the company’s management, allowing him to influence decisions. For all intents and purposes, Twitter’s largest shareholder is both its biggest fan and its biggest critic. At one point Musk even considered creating a new platform, but instead, he basically bought it. Creating a new platform, as even Donald Trump knows from bitter experience, is hard.
What are Musk’s options? Twitter has never been a stellar investment: anybody putting in money at the time of its IPO in November 2013 would have a revaluation of only 29%, compared to say, Amazon (192.822%), Apple (221.431%) or Alphabet (5.184%). People invest in Twitter because they appreciate its importance as a communication tool, its characteristics as a vehicle for people’s expression or its…