Elon Musk, the Twitter deal and the quest to save ‘all life on Earth.’

(Daniel Hertzberg for The Washington Post)

Fresh out of school, Elon Musk constructed his first enterprise round an early Web search expertise to assist struggling newspapers launch themselves into the digital world. Frenetic and combative, Musk struck the newspaper executives he was pitching as sensible however bizarre.

“He slept under his desk and he didn’t smell very good,” mentioned a former information govt who negotiated with Musk and spoke on the situation of anonymity for worry of angering the world’s richest man. “He didn’t have any inherent interest in newspapers. He told me he wanted to do this so he could make money and then do what he really wanted to do, which was design spaceships.”

Musk made that cash, then pumped a lot of it into the corporate that may grow to be PayPal. His curiosity in facilitating on-line funds additionally turned out to be passing. What Musk actually needed was the large payday that may let him deal with his lifelong ambition: to save lots of humanity by means of area exploration, electrical autos and photo voltaic power.

His subsequent ventures — SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, Neuralink — lastly propelled Musk towards the objective he’d set when he was 14 to be on the innovative of creating human life “exciting and inspiring.”

Now Musk is pivoting as soon as extra, taking up one of the vital outstanding and problematic symbols of the Internet age, Twitter. As was true at the beginning of every of his main ventures over the previous quarter century, he has been without delay daring, brash and considerably blurry about his objective.

He has forged Twitter as a “de facto public town square,” important to a functioning democracy. But it carries a legacy of intangible issues — misinformation, censorship, harassment, some starring Musk himself — removed from the concrete realm of rockets and engines.

Early Friday, amid doubts that he may muster the money, he tweeted that the $44 billion deal was “temporarily on hold.” The tweet mentioned he was searching for “details” to assist Twitter’s claims that pretend accounts often called bots make up lower than 5 % of customers. (Musk has made eliminating pretend accounts a centerpiece of his takeover bid.)

Two hours later, Musk tweeted 4 phrases: “Still committed to acquisition.”

Did his predawn tweet point out he was in search of a approach out of the deal? Or was he merely searching for to drive down the acquisition value? Twitter inventory futures fell sharply after his uncertain tweet; costs jumped after his reassuring one, however closed down Friday nearly 10 %. (Meanwhile, Tesla, the cornerstone of Musk’s huge fortune, rose barely on Friday. But the share value has misplaced 30 % of its worth since April 4, when Musk revealed his first strikes towards buying Twitter and commenced promoting off Tesla shares to assist fund the acquisition.)

Musk has performed this form of factor earlier than. In 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined him $20 million to settle the federal government’s declare that he misled buyers by tweeting that he had the funding to show Tesla into a non-public firm. (The SEC additionally reportedly is investigating Musk’s tardy disclosure of taking an enormous stake in Twitter.) Musk didn’t admit wrongdoing, and has grumbled in regards to the SEC ever since.

Those who know Musk, 50, say he’s each fickle and artful. At each stage of his supremely public profession, he has positioned himself as an entertaining, if off-putting, celeb. He is without delay an open e book — an omnipresent star inventor, pontificating about free speech in tweets and podcasts, internet hosting “Saturday Night Live” — and an elusive enigma, given to riddles, insults and slogans about how he may remake society — or, on this case, a social media platform with 229 million day by day customers.

Beneath the puckish public persona, Musk has displayed a fierce mood and what some associates and workers name a darkish tendency to dismiss or harass individuals not like himself. He has tossed off casually insulting tweets about ladies and different feedback which have unleashed torrents of abuse from his practically 93 million Twitter followers.

According to some Tesla staff and California regulators who sued the corporate, he has overseen a manufacturing facility rife with racial slurs and a “pervasive culture of sexual harassment … a daily barrage of sexist language and behavior … [and] frequent groping on the factory floor.” Tesla has denied among the allegations and seeks to deal with others in non-public arbitration relatively than in court docket. The firm mentioned it takes any violations critically.

Last fall, a jury awarded a Black Tesla employee $137 million in damages after discovering in favor of his allegation that Tesla tolerated racist harassment, together with “daily racist epithets” on the manufacturing facility. After the decision, a Tesla govt mentioned the corporate was “still not perfect, but we have come a long way.” The award was later decreased. Musk himself has hardly ever addressed such allegations, however typically notes that he fled his native South Africa partially due to its repressive apartheid regime.

He is an engine of contradictions. His worries over the way forward for civilization seem to have deepened by means of the years: He give up President Donald Trump’s councils on manufacturing and job creation to protest Trump’s resolution to tug the United States out of the Paris local weather accords. He has contributed to Democrats and Republicans alike, but usually has aligned himself with the proper on-line, just lately tweeting a meme exhibiting “my fellow liberal” turning right into a “woke progressive.”

He seems to thrill in maintaining the world guessing about how he may use his fortune and prominence, diving into random pursuits with gusto — sumo wrestling, digital music, Barack Obama’s presidential marketing campaign (he as soon as waited six hours in a queue to shake Obama’s hand).

He rails in opposition to authorities regulation, but his most outstanding ventures have relied closely on taxpayers’ {dollars}, within the type of federal loans for Tesla, tax credit for electrical autos, and authorities contracts for SpaceX.

He has revolutionized two advanced industries — automobile manufacturing and rocketry — however usually tweets like a 12-year-old. Asked by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey which of his 17,000 tweets ranks as quintessential Musk, he selected one from 2020: “I put the art in fart.

He has absolute confidence in his skill to innovate (“I can see the truth of things and others seem less able to do so,” he told NPR in 2007) yet has described himself as fearful and anxious. “When I was a child, there’s one thing I said: ‘I never want to be alone,’ ” Musk told Rolling Stone in 2017. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Some view Musk as one more “thrillionaire,” an ultrawealthy Internet entrepreneur who — like Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Virgin magnate Richard Branson and Amazon founder (and Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos — directs his money toward fulfilling childhood dreams of space exploration, life extension or other fascinations born of adolescent hours spent soaking in science and science fiction.

Musk’s serial endeavors show other continuities. Whether figuring out how to trim a car’s weight so it can accelerate shockingly quickly while carrying heavy batteries or how to blast rockets into space and retrieve them for economical reuse, Musk bristles with confidence that he can solve humanity’s central problems, primarily climate change, a threat so serious, he told blogger Tim Urban, “we better get to the multi-planet situation fast.”

But to boost humanity’s chances, Musk decided early on, he first needed to become rich.

Musk, who did not respond to multiple emails requesting an interview, displayed cosmic ambition even in childhood. At 14, having already created and sold a video game called “Blastar” (it won $500 from a computer magazine), Musk decided his life needed a serious mission.

He would, he later told his biographer, “strive for greater collective enlightenment.”

Musk’s first wife learned about her husband’s supreme confidence early on. When Musk asked Justine Musk how many children she wanted, she said “one or two, although if I could afford nannies, I’d like to have four.”

Musk laughed, Justine later wrote, and said, “That’s the difference between you and me. I just assume that there will be nannies.”

There were. The couple ultimately had six sons (one died in infancy) and a domestic staff of five. Married in 2000, they divorced in 2008, when Musk got engaged to actress Talulah Riley, whom he married and divorced twice. Musk later had two children with the singer Grimes.

Adventure came naturally to Musk, who was born to a family of explorers. His mother, Maye, a model born in Canada, flew around the world in her father’s prop plane as a child. His father, Errol, was a South African engineer who lectured Elon and his brother, Kimbal, for hours, teaching them electrical wiring and bricklaying. (He also has a sister, Tosca.)

But Musk’s childhood in Pretoria, South Africa, was volatile. His parents split when he was 9, and he has described his upbringing as lonely and harsh. He read constantly, often 10 hours a day — science fiction, history, encyclopedias.

After the divorce, Musk spent two years along with his mom, then took it upon himself to maneuver in along with his father, who “seemed sort of sad and lonely,” as Musk advised Ashlee Vance, writer of “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.” But Errol handled younger Elon poorly: Kimbal mentioned the daddy engaged in “psychological torture” in opposition to his older son. Both brothers have declined to supply particulars, and Errol has persistently denied any abuse.

At school, Musk was bullied, shoved down a flight of stairs, beaten so badly he needed a nose job. At 17, he resolved to immigrate to America. He arrived first in Canada, taking jobs logging and farming before enrolling at Queen’s College in Kingston, Ontario.

He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania and did some graduate work at Stanford, but was anxious to dive into his life’s work. He knew how to achieve (“I work loads,” he mentioned on Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2020. “I mean, a lot”) and he knew what made him totally different.

He may, he mentioned, “boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to … copying what other people do with slight variations.”

Some of his critics see Musk’s angle towards his intelligence and talent to generate wealth as proof of final conceitedness. Musk sees it as easy reality.

“How does this wealth arise?” he advised Rogan. “You organize people in a better way. That gives you a right to organize capital.”

His first step down that highway was Zip2.

A ‘fanatical intensity’

In 1995, when the World Wide Web was nonetheless a thriller to most Americans, Musk was 24, a self-taught programmer recent off an internship at a online game maker in Palo Alto, Calif. Three years earlier than two different Stanford graduate college students launched Google, Musk created Zip2, which constructed on-line directories of native companies. These had been primarily digital Yellow Pages with one thing additional — digital maps.

With a $28,000 present from his father, Musk and his brother rented a small workplace in Palo Alto, recruited gross sales individuals to hawk the concept to native retailers and labored around-the-clock to excellent Zip2′s software program. Less than a 12 months later, a enterprise capital agency pumped $3 million into Zip2, permitting Musk to rent gifted engineers and shift the corporate’s focus to information organizations.

Eager to translate their choices from paper to display, newspapers needed to supply readers a strategy to seek for eating places, occasions and native companies. Newspaper executives who met with Musk preferred his expertise, however didn’t know what to make of the frantic, awkward, temperamental man who was promoting it.

“There were a lot of graduate students coming to us then, many of them out of Stanford, with ideas about how to make the transition” to digital, mentioned Ralph Terkowitz, chief expertise officer at The Washington Post on the time. “They were all brash, eager. They saw the world differently.”

Musk “had an almost fanatical intensity that all successful entrepreneurs have,” mentioned Martin Nisenholtz, the CEO of New York Times Digital who negotiated a deal to make use of Zip2 expertise to construct the Times’ first on-line metropolis information and later joined the corporate’s board.

“But I’ve also known unsuccessful entrepreneurs with that same fanatical intensity,” Nisenholtz mentioned. Musk “was super dramatic,” he added, “but I didn’t see greatness there.”

Several former information executives who spoke on the situation of anonymity for worry of public assault by Musk recalled him as tough to work with. “He would lose it over very small things,” one mentioned. “Every little thing was existential.” Two executives described Musk storming out of a board assembly in a huff as a result of he wasn’t getting his approach on a minor subject. Two recalled Musk upbraiding workers at Zip2’s workplaces in entrance of visiting buyers.

“He’d tell them that compared to what he’d studied in college, this stuff was so stupid that he couldn’t believe they couldn’t do it perfectly,” one govt recalled.

In 1999, Compaq, a personal-computer maker, purchased Zip2 for $307 million. Musk obtained $22 million: He was wealthy.

Soon, he’d be a lot richer.

He used a big chunk of his Zip2 income to start out, which ultimately merged with a competitor based by Peter Thiel to grow to be PayPal, which was offered to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.

Finally, Musk may observe his dream.

Musk based SpaceX in 2002 with the objective of getting individuals to Mars. Like Tesla, which might search to finish dependence on gas-powered autos, SpaceX was meant to save lots of the species. Mars, Musk mentioned, could be mankind’s backup plan, a protected haven in case of nuclear battle, local weather catastrophe or another “extinction event.”

He had been warned it was a idiot’s errand; there was an trade saying that “the quickest way to become a millionaire in space is to start out as a billionaire.” But after transferring slowly at first, Musk unleashed a attribute barrage of bombast and bare-knuckled road preventing.

Before beginning SpaceX, Musk had checked NASA’s web site for details about its first human Mars mission. He couldn’t discover it.

“I thought the problem was me,” he mentioned throughout a speech in 2012. “Because it must be somewhere on this website.”

If NASA wasn’t going to Mars, Musk decided that SpaceX would. Getting there could be costly — and inconceivable with out mega-contracts from the federal government.

SpaceX barely survived its first few years, its spacecraft failing thrice to achieve orbit. By 2008, Musk had burned by means of just about all the $100 million he had guess on the corporate and barely had sufficient to try yet one more launch.

It was successful — the primary privately developed rocket to achieve orbit — main NASA to come back to the corporate’s rescue, hiring it in late 2008 to fly cargo and provides to the area station.

That contract, price $1.6 billion, gave SpaceX a toehold within the area trade. But Musk had his eye on one other prize: the profitable contracts to launch nationwide safety satellites for the Pentagon and intelligence companies.

For years, these launches had been entrusted to the United Launch Alliance, a three way partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Musk had tried to dam their merger, submitting an unsuccessful lawsuit in 2005 that alleged the businesses had “destroyed any pretense of competition.”

Over the subsequent few years, as SpaceX launched a number of rockets efficiently and despatched its autonomous Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, Musk made his huge transfer. He beefed up his Washington lobbying efforts and filed one other swimsuit, this time in opposition to the Air Force, which was transferring towards awarding extra contracts to the United Launch Alliance.

“We sued the Air Force and Boeing and Lockheed — these are formidable opponents,” Musk as soon as advised The Post. “Suing the military industrial complex is something that you do not take lightly.”

The swimsuit angered prime Pentagon officers, however Musk charged forward, taking his battle public, insulting his rivals and casting SpaceX because the ethical alternative over the United Launch Alliance, whose rocket trusted an engine made in Russia.

Musk prevailed: Congress capped the variety of Russian-made engines the United Launch Alliance may purchase, forcing it to hunt a U.S.-built various. The Air Force settled Musk’s lawsuit, permitting SpaceX to bid for Pentagon contracts. SpaceX now launches Pentagon satellites, flies cargo and crew to the area station for NASA and received the contract to construct the spacecraft that may land NASA astronauts on the moon.

Musk stays targeted on creating Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation rocket. But he’s additionally wanting farther forward, saying he may wish to retire on Mars — however solely “if I’m certain that SpaceX will be fine without me” and progress towards area colonization continues.

Rise of the ‘Technoking’

In 1999, flush with Zip2 cash, Musk purchased himself a toy, a McLaren F1 sports activities automobile. He invited a CNN digicam to movie the supply.

“Now I’ve got a million-dollar car and quite a few creature comforts,” Musk boasted. (Looking mildly astonished, his then-fiancee Justine pronounced the acquisition “decadent.”)

Four years later, with many tens of millions extra from the sale of PayPal, Musk’s automobile pursuits had shifted: He longed for an electrical car however discovered few choices. His search led him to Martin Eberhard, founding father of Tesla Motors, which aimed to construct an electrical automobile for on a regular basis shoppers.

The path to success at Tesla was usually stormy: Musk pumped in tens of millions and ultimately fired Eberhard, who sued him, after which Musk known as his erstwhile associate “the worst person I’ve ever worked with.” (Eberhard’s libel swimsuit in opposition to Musk was settled out of court docket.)

Musk grew to become extra hands-on, seeing Tesla’s first car, the Roadster, by means of to manufacturing. As in different industries he’d entered, Musk struck individuals within the auto enterprise as impulsive and at instances tyrannical, given to sudden terminations often called “rage firings,” in keeping with buyers, former executives and workers who spoke on the situation of anonymity for worry of risking their jobs by talking publicly about Musk.

In court docket testimony final 12 months, Musk denied partaking in rage firing, however mentioned he presents “clear and frank feedback, which may be construed as derision.”

To make Tesla a practical various to gas-burning engines, Musk blazed seemingly contradictory paths, pushing exhausting in opposition to established automakers at the same time as he struck up very important partnerships with Daimler and Toyota — simply as SpaceX had each attacked and wooed the federal authorities.

Tesla was close to collapse through the 2008 Great Recession when Musk noticed a chance. Daimler, mum or dad firm of Mercedes-Benz, was searching for assist designing an electrical model of its Smart automobile. Tesla electrified Daimler’s car to its specs and added a number of additional perks — which shocked the German powerhouse throughout an indication on the electrical carmaker’s Bay Area workplaces in early 2009.

The automobile “was so fast, you could do wheelies in the parking lot,” Musk mentioned, in keeping with “Insane Mode,” a e book by Hamish McKenzie. The Germans gave Tesla a contract to make electrical powertrains, in keeping with the e book, saving Tesla from its quick disaster and serving to it win a $465 million mortgage from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Newly flush, Tesla pressed forward with the Model S, the automobile that made it a family title.

Next, Toyota purchased a 2.5 % stake in Tesla and offered the electrical carmaker the California manufacturing facility that may grow to be its most important manufacturing hub. But the meticulous Japanese carmaker sensed that Tesla was transferring too quick and slicing corners, and the connection quickly soured. A recall Toyota confronted on a Tesla-built powertrain didn’t assist.

“Basically, it was cultural incompatibility,” mentioned Ed Niedermeyer, writer of “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors.” Tesla and Toyota had been “kind of like oil and water from the get-go,” he mentioned, and Toyota apprehensive “that Tesla’s practices would reflect poorly on their brand.”

Still, Musk discovered a strategy to make main carmakers depending on his firm. Because Tesla sells solely electrical automobiles, it simply surpasses state emissions requirements, successful credit it sells to carmakers that fail to satisfy emissions necessities. The result’s a windfall for Tesla, which posted a $331 million revenue within the third quarter of 2020 due to the credit score gross sales.

Around the identical time, Tesla’s inventory value started the steep climb that may make Musk the world’s richest particular person, topping out at greater than $1,200 per share a number of months after he modified his title from CEO to “Technoking.” (Tesla closed Friday at $769.)

When Musk talks about Tesla, he steers away from revenue, preferring to deal with its position in saving “all life on Earth,” as he advised podcaster Kara Swisher in 2018.

“If we do not solve the environment,” he mentioned, “we’re all damned.”

With Tesla and SpaceX established as exemplars of innovation, Musk has branched out, in search of different methods to bolster life on Earth.

In 2016, he launched Neuralink, which seeks to develop mind implants to be drilled into individuals’s skulls — together with his personal, “if it works,” he says. So far, the proof is skinny. But Musk says the implants ultimately will remedy illnesses, restore misplaced recollections — even remove the necessity for phrases.

“You would be able to communicate far more quickly and with greater precision” with out phrases, Musk mentioned on Rogan’s podcast. He expects to liberate individuals from having to speak “in maybe five years, five to ten years.”

Until then, Twitter presents communication in 280-word snips — and poses a problem not like any Musk has confronted to this point.

After Musk joined Twitter in 2010, it took him 18 months to put up greater than a welcome observe. “Went to Iceland on Sat to ride bumper cars on ice!” he tweeted. Hardly anybody observed.

In latest years, tweeting has grow to be a part of Musk’s day by day routine. He posts in any respect hours, selling developments at Tesla, posting launch movies from SpaceX. He replies to followers, snaps at rivals, needles critics. Asked why he devotes a lot power to it, he replied, “Because Twitter is fun.”

In a 2018 interview with “60 Minutes,” Musk described Twitter as “a war zone. If somebody’s going to jump in a war zone, it’s like, ‘Okay, you’re in the arena, let’s go.’ ” It’s a sport and a present, and a strategy to promote his ventures.

He says it’s additionally about free speech, however there his concepts have been inconsistent. He tweeted final month that he favors permitting as a lot free speech because the regulation permits. Yet he additionally has known as authorities regulation of Big Tech a possible necessity: “If something … could potentially negatively affect elections or something like that … there probably should be some regulatory oversight,” he advised Swisher.

Yishan Wong, who labored with Musk at PayPal and later grew to become chief govt of Reddit, predicted that Musk could be annoyed by Twitter, arguing that the calculus required to guard free speech whereas discouraging damaging misinformation and abuse — particularly violence in opposition to ladies and minorities — is way extra difficult than precise rocket science.

“The internet is not a ‘frontier’ where people can go ‘to be free,’ it’s where the entire world is now, and every culture war is being fought on it,” Wong wrote final month in a prolonged Twitter thread. “The problems are NOT about politics, or topics of discussion. They are about all the ways that humans misbehave when there are no immediately visible consequences.”

Eventually, Musk could be compelled to bow to the necessity for self-discipline, Wong wrote, pushing the freewheeling entrepreneur into the dour and “inevitable” position of censor. “This will distract from his mission at SpaceX and Tesla, because it’s not just going to suck up his time and attention, IT WILL DAMAGE HIS PSYCHE.

“I think if Elon takes over Twitter, he is in for a world of pain,” Wong concluded. “He has no idea.”

Source hyperlink

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.