It’s too early to say for sure, but if current trends prevail, Twitter will become part of the burgeoning Elon Musk empire. Call it Twitter-sla or TwitterX or Muskatweet, if you want but then ask who really won in the tug-of-war that’s been swaying back and forth for nearly six months.
I don’t think the winner will be Twitter itself, though Musk has some ideas for increasing its value over time, and the winner certainly won’t be Mr. Musk.
Throughout this star-crossed courtship, Musk has played suitor, then wretched cad seeming to question his love interest’s virtue and abandoning her at the altar. Some people tell me it was all kabuki theater, a vain effort to beat up Twitter’s stock price so that Musk could acquire it on the cheap.
I don’t have access to Musk’s innermost thoughts, so the rumor remains just that. But if Musk expected to come out of this tumble with his businessman chops newly burnished, that won’t happen.
He agreed to a price and then tried to back out, then Twitter launched a suit in Delaware, where it is incorporated, to force compliance with the purchase agreement. As the trial date drew close, Musk caved, agreeing to the original terms. That is not exactly shrewd maneuvering.
One of the winners in all this, aside from the shareholders who stand to have a nice payday, is Bret Taylor, Co-CEO of Salesforce, with a side hustle as board chairman at Twitter. This was not Taylor’s first rodeo. He had been CEO of Quip before Salesforce acquired it in a whirlwind 10-day deal. Ten days vs. six months, think about it.
Keep Calm, Carry On
From the outside looking in, Taylor possesses at least some aspects of staying cool under fire that retired Admiral James Stavridis recently wrote about in “To Risk It All” when he described such heroes as John Paul Jones. Staying cool and having the ability to make time slow down serve decision-makers well in a crisis, according to Stavridis. It’s a skillset baked into U.S. Navy officers.
Taylor had a strong hand throughout the dealings, he knew it, and he refused to let Musk’s performance distract him from his North Star. Taylor knew Musk would likely lose in court and played his hand accordingly. Musk and Taylor (in response) also made many public comments that didn’t help Musk. What’s important about this episode is that it was a low-risk war game for Taylor and, by extension, Salesforce.
One of the most challenging jobs of a founding CEO is finding and nurturing their replacement. Marc Benioff has auditioned several people for second in command, Taylor is not the first. The others seemed like they were following a script, starting major Dreamforce presentations as Marc does, by thanking stakeholders, or by genuflecting at the altar of giving back.
Also, don’t forget the importance of the vision to be trustworthy and to do the right things for the right reasons, which is core to Salesforce messaging. Taylor seems to have the same fire in his belly, not just the words in his mouth. Perhaps that comes from the discipline of entrepreneurship. I don’t think it can be taught.
But there are entrepreneurs, and there are entrepreneurs, just as there are grades of revolutionaries. Generally, I give very low grades to revolutions that last more than a year or two. The third world is full of revolutions that span decades.
How This Plays Out
The tech world is too well stocked with wunderkinds who make billions and still feel the need to disrupt something. However, once you’ve made your first billion and built a unicorn, you’re no longer a disrupter; you’re the establishment. Maybe you’re just the establishment behaving badly.
CRM began as a disruption. Heck, I might have been the first person to apply the label (ask Paul Greenberg). But today it is not only the established enterprise standard; it is the tool of the enterprise. You can’t watch some of the videos from Dreamforce featuring the CEO of Ford, Jim Farley, for instance, talking about how his company relies on CRM to push the new idea of electric vehicles into the market and not see this.
The biggest winner in the whole Twitter spectacle might be CRM, which shows how not to deal with stakeholders. It’s not just the users of the service, but the partners who rely on Twitter data for their marketing programs, the once and future shareholders, and Twitter employees whose morale was bruised by all this.
If there’s a learning here, it’s that the days of treating a business and all its assets like something that can be trashed willy-nilly are over. At least, they should be. Another learning, and it’s sad to have to say it, is never to bet against the adults in the room.
Regardless of how the Twitter acquisition turns out, I suspect the big winner will be CRM, both the industry and the ticker symbol.