(Bloomberg) — It’s been a rocky start for Twitter Inc. under Elon Musk.
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In the two weeks since the tech billionaire took over Twitter, he’s laid off half of the company’s more than 7,000 employees, laid off most of its executives and asked those who remain to return to the office immediately – ending remote working, “days off” and free food. He told employees to prepare for long hours, that “the road ahead is arduous and will require work intense to succeed,” and said bankruptcy was possible if the company didn’t stop bleeding money soon.
With $1.2 billion in annual interest payments from the acquisition coming due, and possibly higher as interest rates rise, Musk is in a rush to shore up cash. But with brands slashing spending as recession fears loom, he’s in a race to find new revenue streams. With teams working around the clock to add blue “verification” checkmarks to the subscription product, copycat accounts are proliferating, driving a brand exodus that’s costing the company $4 million a day, according to Musk.
Here’s how the saga unfolds:
October 27: Musk takes control
After being forced into the deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion, Musk announces he has taken ownership of the social network. His first act is to fire the board with chief executive Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal, legal and policy officer Vijaya Gadde and general counsel Sean Edgett, among others in executive leadership.
After changing his Twitter bio to call himself “Chief Twit,” Musk is building a small advisory team that includes celebrity attorney Alex Spiro, venture capitalist and engineer David Sacks, the CEO of Neuralink Corp. and head of Musk’s Jared Birchall family office, tech investor Jason Calacanis, and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz Sriram Krishnan.
October 28: Brands are starting to take a break
As Musk considers unblocking accounts and says he will charge for user verification, advertisers are starting to get worried. General Motors Co. is suspending ads and others are reviewing their Twitter budgets.
October 31: Demonstration of the best tweeters
Amid rumors of billing plans for existing verified accounts, bestselling author Steven King tweets, “$20 a month to keep my blue check? F**k that, they should pay me. If instituted, I’m gone like Enron. Musk responds, “We have to pay the bills one way or another! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8? Musk doubles down on promoting the product. A possible release date of Monday, November 7 is debated.
November 1: Teams working around the clock
The product team is working over the weekend on Musk’s idea of charging users for blue ticks. A photo of product manager Esther Crawford asleep on the floor of a conference room, trying to meet the deadline, is going viral. Meanwhile, managers are asked to draw up lists of those who can be fired. Employees print their software code for review by Musk and Tesla Inc. engineers to determine if their contributions are worthy of keeping a job.
November 3: Start of mass layoffs
A note is being sent to all employees informing them of the impending layoffs and to watch for an email being sent with the subject line: “Your role on Twitter”. Badge access to offices is suspended as 3,700 staff learn they have been cut off. Sources report the chaos that ensued, with “survivors” not knowing who their boss will be or what projects to work on, and project managers not knowing who remains on their team. Noting that employees essential to the continuity of the company have been made redundant by mistake, some are invited to return.
Co-founder Ev Williams tweets: “It is with pleasure that the tweeps are laid off today.” A few days later, co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who was a supporter of Musk’s acquisition, added: “I realize that many are angry with me. I am responsible for why everyone is in this situation: I increased the size of the company too quickly. I apologize for that.”
A class action lawsuit is being filed over whether California employees were given adequate notice under state law.
Meanwhile, more advertisers are holding back, fearing that cuts to content moderation teams will mean their ads could appear alongside unsavory content.
November 5-6: Musk responds to celebrity protests
Unrest grew on the platform over the weekend, particularly over the issue of impersonator accounts. Actress Valerie Bertinelli is starting a movement of people changing their Twitter names to “Elon Musk”. Comedian Kathy Griffin joins the protest, finds her account locked, and then Musk announces, “Going forward, any handle on Twitter that engages in impersonation without clearly specifying the ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.”
Nov. 7: Musk urges supporters to vote Republican ahead of Election Day
Musk breaks out of the normal neutral posture of social media executives when he tweets to his more than 100 million followers: “To independent-minded voters: shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties, which is why I recommend to vote for a Republican Congress, given that the presidency is a Democrat. He then pins the tweet to the top of his profile.
November 8: Musk sells more Teslas
Despite a previous vow not to sell any more Tesla shares, Musk is selling another $3.95 billion, bringing the total sold last year to $36 billion.
November 9: Musk answers questions from advertisers
In an attempt to stem brands’ departure from the platform, Musk is hosting a Twitter Spaces Q&A with head of sales Robin Wheeler, head of trust and safety Yoel Roth and CEO of The Office. interactive advertising, David Cohen. Over 114,000 listeners tuned in, including a number of official accounts from brands such as Target, Pandora, Chipotle and Chevron. Musk is considering how his subscription product can grow by creating more commerce on the platform, including offering high-yielding money market accounts on Twitter that users can link to their bank accounts. Soon after, the company’s blue tick option becomes available for purchase, and immediately becomes a tool for copycats. An account posing as Nintendo Inc. posts an image of Super Mario holding a middle finger, while a fake Eli Lilly & Co. account tweets that insulin is now free. A Tesla Inc. account impersonator jokes about the automaker’s safety record. Politicians and celebrities are also spoofed.
November 10: Other key executives step down as Musk warns of bankruptcy
In his first meeting with employees, Musk tells them to prepare for 80-hour weeks and demands that everyone return to the office full-time, ending remote work and other perks like free food . He also says the company’s bankruptcy isn’t out of the question if it doesn’t start generating more cash, and teams need to act on the $8 subscription product urgently.
Several executives responsible for Twitter’s security and accountability to its users have resigned, including chief information security officer Lea Kissner, chief privacy officer Damien Kieran and chief compliance officer Marianne Fogarty. Their departure raises concerns about the company’s ability to secure its platform and comply with regulations. Later that day, it is learned that Roth and Wheeler are resigning, albeit shortly after Wheeler’s return.
November 11: Verified Accounts Receive “Official” Tags
Twitter is adding badges that say “official” to verified accounts in some places, though confusion reigns.
More brands are leaving the platform, including the Playbill theater guide. “Due to its tolerance of hate, negativity and misinformation, our time with the social media platform is over,” the theater guide company said in a statement. He warns fans to ignore tweets from a Twitter account containing the Playbill name. “Please understand it’s not us,” he said.
–With help from Kurt Wagner.
(Corrects acquisition amount in October 27 section)
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