Elon Musk’s texts debunk the myth of a technological genius | Catch My Job


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Yesterday, the world looked at Elon Musk’s phone. The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX is currently in a lawsuit with Twitter and is trying to back out of his deal to buy the platform and take it private. As part of the discovery process related to this lawsuit, the Delaware Court of Chancery released hundreds of text messages and emails sent to and from Musk. The redacted 151-page document is a remarkable, voyeuristic record of a few months in the life of the world’s richest (and most overexposed) man, and a rare unvarnished glimpse into the overlapping worlds of Silicon Valley, media and politics. The lyrics are juicy, but not because they’re creepy, especially offensive, or offer some scandalous Muskian master plan — quite the opposite. What’s so illuminating about Musk’s messages is how unimpressive, unimaginative and hypocritical the powerful people in Musk’s contacts seem. Whoever said there are no bad ideas in brainstorming never had access to Elon Musk’s phone.

Soon, the texts became a central topic of discussion among technology workers and observers. “The dominant reaction from all the topics I’m in is They all look fucking stupid” one former social media executive told me, to whom I have granted anonymity because they have connections to many of the people in Musk’s writings. “It was a general.” Is this really how it works? No real strategic thinking or analysis. It’s just emotional and done without any real concern for the consequences.”

Appearing in the document is, I suppose, a perverse kind of status symbol (some people I’ve talked to in tech and media circles are forced to look for their names in it). And what is immediately visible after reading the messages is that many of the same people the media couldn’t stop talking about this year also inserted themselves into Musk’s texts. There’s Joe Rogan; William McCaskill, an effective altruist, gets in touch on behalf of crypto billionaire and Democratic donor Sam Bankman-Fried; Mathias Dopfner, CEO of Akel Springer (and subject of a recent, unflattering profile); Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist, NIMBI, and prolific blocker on Twitter; Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, who was recently revealed to have joined the November 2020 call to challenge Donald Trump’s election loss; and, of course, Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter. Musk, arguably the most outspoken and exhausting of them all, has an inbox that doubles as a power ranking of the semi-to-fully polarized people who’ve been in the news for the past year.

Few people in Musk’s phone think of themselves as equals. Many of the messages appear to be flattering, although they may be more opportunistic than sincere. Either way, the intentions are unmistakable: Musk is seen as having power, and these pillars of the tech industry want to be close to it. “I like your tweet, ‘Twitter algorithms should be open source,'” said Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir, before hinting that he would mention the idea to members of Congress at an upcoming GOP policy gathering. Antonio Gracias, CEO of Valor Partners, cheered in the same tweet, telling the billionaire: “I’m with you 100% Elon. On mattresses no matter what.”

Few seemed as excited on Musk’s phone as angel investor Jason Kalakanis, who showered his friend with flattery and random ideas for a service. In the span of 30 minutes, not long after Musk’s bid to take the company private, Kalakanis proposed a five-point plan for Twitter that would introduce membership tiers, creator revenue sharing, algorithmic transparency and changes to the company’s operations — including but not limited to moving the company from San Francisco to Austin. After pledging his loyalty (“You have my sword,” he texted Musk), Kalakanis spent weeks pushing new ideas. “I just had the best monetization idea,” he wrote out of the blue, before suggesting a way users could pay Twitter to send promotional DMs to their followers.

“Imagine if we asked Justin Beaver to come back and let him DM his fans… he could sell a million merch or tickets instantly. It would be CRAZY,” he wrote, apparently adding an unfortunate instance of autocorrect to the historical record. According to the court document, Musk did not respond. Later, Musk blamed Kalakanis for trying to encourage public investment to finance Musk’s purchase. This results in a series of messages that are read directly Succession:


Morgan Stanley and Jared don’t think you’re putting our friendship to good use

This makes it look like I’m desperate.

Please stop.


I just want to support you.

During Musk’s April media frenzy, the billionaire often showed a shallow understanding of Twitter, suggesting contradictory policies such as spam bans and bot armies, but also leaving out all content that is “legal.” (Spam, bot armies, and crypto scam sellers are technically legal.) Many of the ideas that came from his peanut gallery were equally bad. Dopfner, who is in charge of numerous media houses, including Insider and Politico, offered to run Twitter for Musk, but seemed woefully unprepared for the task. In a novel-length text, Dopfner laid out his “#Gameplan” for the company, which began with the line: “1.), Solve free speech.” He alluded to vague ideas such as making Twitter censorship-resistant through “decentralized infrastructure” and “open APIs.” He is similarly non-specific with his suggestion that Twitter has a “marketplace” of algorithms. “If you’re a snowflake and don’t want offensive content, choose another algorithm,” Musk wrote.

At one point in early April, Musk appeared to be infatuated with his idea to replace Twitter with a blockchain-based payment and messaging system. In a series of texts to his brother, entrepreneur Kimball Musk, he manages to convince himself that the idea could be huge and a way to destroy spam while preserving free speech. In this absurd scenario, users would have to pay a fraction of the Dogecoin cryptocurrency to post or retweet. About 10 days later, Musk sends a different text stating that “Blockchain Twitter is not possible.

The articles also shed a harsh light on the investment tactics of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest. There’s the overzealous angel investment of the Calacanis, and then you have the more relaxed tactics of the likes of Andreessen, who offered Musk “$250 million with no extra work” in a dismissive Twitter DM. “Thanks!” Musk replied. In a separate exchange, Musk asks Ellison if he would like to invest in Twitter’s privacy. “Yes, of course,” Alison replies. “A billion … or whatever you recommend. Easy enough.

“This is one of the most telling things I’ve ever seen about how investing works in Silicon Valley,” Jessica Lessin, founder of the tech publication Information, tweeted Andreessen exchanges. Indeed, both examples from the document offer a look at the boys club and power grids of the tech world at work. Is it surprising that rich people (including one of the 10 richest people in the world) throw money at their friends the way you might at a low-stakes poker night? Not really — and especially not when that man is the richest man in the world. But the desire to take on Musk and the lazy quality of this deal-making reveal something deeper about the brokenness of this investment ecosystem and the ways in which it is driven more by vibes and complaints than due diligence. Looking at these texts, it seems much easier to understand Andreessen Horovitz’s recent $350 million investment in WeWork founder Adam Neumann’s new real estate startup, or Bankman-Fried’s admission that most venture capital investments are not “examples of efficient markets” and driven primarily by FOMO and hype. “Like, all models are made up, right?” he said infamously Bloomberg last April.

What’s immediately clear is that many of the men on Musk’s phone are amused by his Twitter escapades. It’s a chance to wantonly throw shit at the wall and see what sticks. They throw out phrases like “hard reboot” and “Day Zero. Sharpen your blades, boys”—to cut through what they see as an unnecessary and inefficient workforce, perhaps. They envision huge income opportunities and big changes that only they can bring about. For this crew, the early success of their previous companies or careers is usually prologue, and their skills will naturally transfer to whatever field they choose to conquer (including magical addressing freedom of speech). But what they actually do is winging it.

“I’m on 20 threads with people,” a former social media director told me. “And it’s literally like, Damn, they were just throwing shit at the wall. The ideas that people have written about, in terms of who’s going to be the CEO – that’s real fantasy baseball shit. Despite all their self-mythologizing and construction talk, the men in these text messages seem grumpy, disorganized, and incapable of solving the kind of social problems they think they can.

There is a tendency, especially when it comes to the uber rich and powerful, to assume and fantasize about what we cannot see. We attribute a shadowy glow or malevolence, which may very well be undeserved or wrong. What is striking about Musk’s messages, then, is the similarity between the behavior of these men behind closed doors and in public on Twitter. Perhaps the real revelation here is that the shallowness you see is the shallowness you get.


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