Lessons on Entrepreneurship: I Was Wrong About Elon. The Jury’s Still Out.
The pull of a new venture is intoxicating for some. We can look no further than Elon Musk’s foray into the Twittersphere. No matter how bad the deal looked on paper, Elon’s attraction to it was gravitational.
As a kid who grew up around space missions to the moon being a regular thing, I kind of get how obsessive thinking begins. I, like many, was dumbstruck the first time I witnessed SpaceX’s spent booster rockets land on a launch pad upright and ready for reuse. I also love being a Tesla passenger and having your head plastered against the headrest on a highway on-ramp. Or the internet for all, Starlink’s satellite systems, being used to advantage over invading Russians and becoming an indispensable tool for Ukraine’s survival during the Russian invasion.
I, however, don’t get Elon's politics nor do I understand his cult of personality. In all fairness, the one thing most tech entrepreneurs seem to have in common are at most political agnosticism and non-partisanship and at least, trying to be better citizens like Steve Jobs. And while Elon is trying to save the planet from climate disaster among his many accomplishments, and is the entrepreneur of the century so far, he continues to belittle the very people and “the heartbeat of the news” platform that made Tesla and SpaceX in the first place.
The hero worship of these entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs before them, was not lost on me. When Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250M, a collective sigh went out as worries of editorial independence began to surface. Zuckerberg’s manipulation of Facebook’s algorithm is still dangerous, as the content questioning the rights of women, for example, hasn’t stopped. Elon, now, has literally paid 176 times what Bezos paid for the Post. But where Bezos has a Board of Directors, an independent editorial board, and an army of qualified journalists, Elon, after a slew of departures, only has himself.
Granted, the people Elon recently let go, who are not “hardcore” enough for him to be around, are the more high-functioning people on the planet. Yet, my friend, Mike, who’s led ventures in the entertainment space his whole life will probably tell you, it’s about supporting the mission-driven, like-minded people, who are critical to the success of any enterprise, not denigrating them as Musk, overnight, has, and becoming the worst kind of role model for young people.
Where the extra value has never been captured by Twitter’s business model that supports ads, and not getting rid of spam, a subscription service will undoubtedly help maintain long-term relationships, especially with media companies. Certainly, he must realize that one-third of misinformation went away when President Trump left the platform, and content moderation does matter. So his own hero worship will not help Mr. Musk. His self-inflicted impairment, to his own undoing, may kill off what made Twitter so insatiable: the fun in fishing for affirmations, the thrill of getting good and bad comments, and being part of a town hall-like consciousness.