Elon Musk isn’t the kind of person who likes to be told what to do—ever. In fact, when he is told what to do—no matter how big or small the demand—he seems to completely lose control of his ability to temper his feelings and very quickly erupts in petulant ways. For example, when a group of cave divers in Thailand told Musk they didn’t need his help rescuing a dozen kids from a Thai cave, he mobilized his communications team to attack a local official there, and responded to one of the rescuers, calling him a “pedo guy,” short for pedophile. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Musk was told by county officials to shut down his Tesla factory (like virtually every other business in California) to adhere to COVID protocols—and one state assemblywoman literally told Musk to fuck off when he made a fuss about this. In response, Musk essentially told the entire state to fuck off, and moved his headquarters to Texas (even though Tesla has received an estimated $3.2 billion-plus worth of direct and indirect California subsidies and market mechanisms since 2009, as Governor Gavin Newsom said earlier this month). And when Musk was about to join the board of Twitter, Parag Agrawal, the CEO of the social network, asked Musk to not tweet things like, “Is Twitter Dying?” which in turn sent Musk into such a tizzy he responded tersely with three text messages. The first snapped: “What did you get done this week?” The second quipped: “I’m not joining the board. This is a waste of time.” And then, finally, he said: “Will make an offer to take Twitter private.”
In other words, Musk decided to buy Twitter for $44 billion (no small feat, even for the richest man alive) after he was told what to do—or should I say, what not to do. This is all now on display thanks to a series of court documents revealed Thursday, detailing the exchanges between Musk and those in the orbit of Musk’s attempt to buy Twitter. You can almost see his blood boiling in the text exchanges as he grows more and more agitated following Agrawal’s initial message to him. In a separate text sent later that day between Musk and Bret Taylor, the chairman of the board of Twitter, Musk snapped: “Fixing Twitter by chatting with Parag won’t work.” And then he followed up, adding: “Drastic action is needed.”
What’s most astounding in these court documents isn’t the fact that Musk seemingly uses his phone more than most screenagers, or even that he decided to buy Twitter on a whim, but more so that everyone who reached out to Musk in the days and weeks following his announcement fawned over him and his decision. “Are you going to liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob?” Joe Rogan excitedly asked Musk. When a meeting between Agrawal and Musk went sideways, Jack Dorsey praised Musk, rather than taking his successors’ side. “At least it became clear that you can’t work together. that was clarifying,” Dorsey wrote about Agrawal. When Musk asked his billionaire friend, Larry Ellison, if he wanted to participate in the deal and how much he wanted to put in the pot, Ellison responded: “A billion…or whatever you recommend.” (I mean, who among us hasn’t offered “A billion…or whatever you recommend” on a deal?) Tim Urban, of the tech site Wait But Why, even wanted a piece: “I haven’t officially started my podcast yet but if you think it would be helpful, I’d be happy to record a conversation with you about twitter…but only if it would be helpful to you.” (Awww, so sweet of Urban to want to help Musk.) My favorite line of the entire exchange had to come from the investor Jason Calacanis, whom Musk scolded for upsetting the bankers behind the Twitter deal, and Calacanis responded: “You know I’m ride or die brother—I’d jump on a grande [sic] for you.” (He meant to say he’d jump on a “grenade,” but instead wrote something that one could only imagine is what Calacanis orders at Starbucks.)
Musk spoke to some of the highest-level thinkers in Silicon Valley and New York media, and bankers across the country, including the investor Marc Andreessen, former Facebook president Sean Parker, CBS This Morning cohost Gayle King, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and former CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey—and as far as I can tell, not one of them said, “Hey, Elon, maybe buying this company when you’re already trying to run half a dozen other companies, and personally populate the world, isn’t the best idea right now.” It was all: How can this help me? How can I pledge allegiance to Musk? How can I show fealty to the greatest man alive?
After the messages were released on Thursday, ahead of a trial kicking off in mid-October over the disputed deal, people in Silicon Valley and bankers on Wall Street reached out to me with perplexed commentary about the messages. “I couldn’t read past the first few pages without feeling the need to vomit,” one investor said to me. “It was just fawning over Musk.” Another insider said that the entire debacle felt like the writers behind the overly-serious and histrionic TV show Succession got together with the writers behind the comedic and callow TV show Silicon Valley, and wrote all the tweets and text messages between Musk and his sycophantic friends.
While there is lots of lunacy within these exchanges, many people hoped that these coming court hearings, and the documents that have become the chatter of the internet over the past 24 hours, would shed some light on what is going to happen to this doomed Twitter deal. Getting to see what’s behind-the-scenes could shed some light on if Musk will be forced to buy the company, or be allowed to walk away from the deal. But in reality, so far, all this has confirmed is that Musk is seemingly in a very difficult situation right now—and not because of the Twitter deal or how that plays out.
It won’t come as a surprise to many that most tech companies, and their famed CEOs, meet their demise (both literal and figurative) because of one fatal flaw. Steve Jobs, for example, was all-knowing, with the answer to everything. When he found out he had pancreatic cancer, he bucked his own doctor’s advice to begin treatment right away, and tried healing himself with a fruitarian diet, which only made him more ill, according to a biography on Jobs. Since the moment Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, he did whatever he wanted, trampling on users’ privacy concerns over and over and over, or flat-out stealing ideas from competitors, also over and over and over, without any thought for how his actions would affect others. Now, Facebook is suffering the massive consequences of those actions as the stock languishes, growth slows, and American teens abandon the app. I could go on about countless other CEOs’ hubris or obsessive personalities, but we’re here to talk about one specific obsessive personality: Elon.
There’s no question Musk is a genius. He built the most valuable car company on the planet, has successfully sent rockets into space, and will (without question) send the first humans to Mars. He’s working on the leading edges of AI and driverless cars and putting chips in people’s brains (and a few poor little monkeys too) and he’s revolutionizing battery technologies and solar power, all of which will help climate change. But, he also sometimes acts like a peevish child when anyone stands in his way, no matter how unassuming the disagreement might be, and (at least it appears) does that to avoid ever having to deal with anyone telling him he’s wrong. As these text messages so clearly illustrate, he has surrounded himself with sycophants who suck up to him and never ever challenge him, even when it’s so obvious that he’s made a mistake. While he may think this is all working out for him given that he’s the richest man on earth and has all those accolades, it seems like his fatal flaw is staring at us within the court documents revealed this week. The world may get an even deeper glimpse into Musk’s makeup, and likely more insight into his endless list of supporters, next week, when he sits down for a deposition in the Twitter case.