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Twitter Isn’t Tesla — My Takeaways From The Last Three Weeks

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Before starting this article, I went back and forth with what I wanted to use as a subtitle. Ultimately, “My Takeaways from the Last Three Weeks” edged out something about how impossible it feels to cover these companies because of how quickly the news has been going out lately. And the truth is, I used to write frequently, but I sort of got in a loop where I keep starting an article, but before I’m able to finish it, something new happens and my article feels like it is super old news.

Heck, before sitting down to write this, I was brushing my teeth for bed and thinking about how I should write an article exploring why Twitter isn’t Tesla in the next couple days. As I walked toward my bed, though, I realized, if I don’t write this now, it probably won’t make sense to write a day or two from now. So, here I am, 2:00am, editing an article because I feel the key that Musk is missing and that Tesla investors aren’t thinking about is …

Twitter isn’t Tesla

The biggest problem Elon Musk has had with Twitter isn’t the blue checkmark verification. It isn’t the loss of advertisers. It isn’t even the apparent mass resignation of staff that may be happening as I type this, causing #riptwitter to trend. It is that Elon Musk is trying to run Twitter the same way that he runs Tesla. And they aren’t the same. At all.

It’s worth checking out this article about how Tesla has applied “Agile Software Development” to automotive manufacturing — even though it is now four years old, it’s still relevant! Tesla created a culture built around enabling its employees to identify the most impactful problems they can solve, solving those problems, and then being naturally rewarded from their work. This creates a feedback loop of employees who feel valued, who have direct impact and influence on the products Tesla is creating, and who are rewarded with stock that their work can have a direct impact on.

This is why I believe Tesla remains far ahead of every other automotive manufacturer, and will have success in other categories like utility energy storage, mining, insurance, and so on. In all of the different companies I’ve worked with, I’ve never seen another company that has done such an incredible job creating a culture like this.

And, frankly, Twitter doesn’t have this culture. Twitter has lost money for ages. When Musk started the first round of layoffs, Jack Dorsey, the prior CEO and co-founder of Twitter, said:

Twitter was too big, and grew to be that size largely on the back of a flawed business plan that focused on growing the stock price more than growing a sustainable business model. Musk came in and figured the company would adapt to the agile method immediately, and has faced massive pushback.

I’ve known a number of people that work or have worked at Tesla in the past. They have told me the pace is unrelenting, but they love it. They feel they have a direct impact in slowing climate change, and that pushes them. Everyone of them knew it would be a crazy adventure going in.

And let me just say right here: if anything, the chaos at Twitter proves to me why I think legacy automotive is so far behind. Legacy automotive does not have the agile method of product development, and Musk has visibly demonstrated the turmoil that can happen when changing a company without that mindset to one that has it.

It takes a particular type of person to work in an agile environment, and most people don’t stay for their entire careers. The people who I’ve spoken with who have worked at Tesla ate, drank, and slept Tesla while they were there. And they loved it. But the majority of them wanted to slow down at some point — maybe to start a family, or to travel, or just because they were feeling burnt out.

From how I’ve had it described to me, the way that Tesla runs, it’s like every day you’re creating a new startup to solve the biggest problem that you see at that moment. And, as someone who has been part of a number of startups, that period can be invigorating! The most recent startup I was involved with, I had worked 70 days straight for 12–14 hours a day. If the crunch had lasted much longer, I don’t know if I would have been able to continue doing it. Many employees at Tesla choose that sort of crunch for months or years.

Twitter probably doesn’t have many employees there who have been treating it as a startup. As an established company, you’re expected to punch the clock, and do the best you can for your department. You report to your manager, and if you see a problem in another department, you keep your mouth shut since it isn’t your job. To be clear, this is an absolutely fine setup for established companies — the majority of big companies work with this sort of structure in place — but it isn’t the structure I’d expect Musk to operate under. And, with Twitter not being a profitable company, this structure doesn’t allow for an easy path forward to solving that problem.

So, Musk arrives and immediately attempts to apply Tesla’s culture to Twitter, but runs into the following problems:

First, employees don’t feel valued. In the last three weeks, employees have suddenly been told to return in person, told they are expected to work “hardcore” hours, and if they don’t state their intention to stay, they’ll be let go. While I’m certain this was done to help drive the least valuable employees from the company, in practice it made it so no employee feels valued. That’s a huge issue.

Second, employees don’t understand the changes that are being implemented. Even if Musk has a clear vision of what he wants to do — and I believe that he does — he hasn’t explained this in a way that everyone can understand. It seems like there was a lot of pushback to the $8 for Blue idea from within Twitter, but Musk forged ahead anyway. If I was an employee who had legitimate concerns about the verification scheme and I didn’t know how to share my concern, I would once again feel completely devalued and pointless.

Finally, what is the reward? Maybe there is something that I’m missing again, but as far as I can tell, it’s just your regular salary as an employee.

Again, I’ll mention, while this is an absolute cluster at Twitter, it shows the insane difficulty and pain of implementing an agile method in an established company. And to be blunt, it sure appears that Musk has put all of Twitter at risk by making this change so quickly. I think ultimately it’s a lose-lose situation. If you implement it too fast, you risk destroying the company, but if you implement it too slowly, you risk losing a ton of money. Neither situation is great, and if Twitter was a publicly traded company, I’d expect its stock price would be absolutely destroyed right now. But it would also be destroyed if they kept losing a ton of money.

Now, imagine you’re some legacy automaker, attempting to change so that you can make changes as quickly as Tesla does. Both options leave you with your stock price getting destroyed, and both options leave you at risk of bankrupting the company. If anything, this is a lesson in what a special unicorn a company like Tesla actually is to be able to create and continue this sort of culture.

Can Twitter Be Saved?

I can’t pretend I’ve ever run a company like Twitter, but I’ve done a ton of work with companies of all sizes. If I were to talk with Musk, here is what I’d suggest doing for Twitter:

First, apologize. Seriously. To everyone — the employees, the users, everyone. Tell everyone that you understand their concerns, that you haven’t been clear of what you’re trying to do, and that you hope people can give you and the others at the company the benefit of the doubt as you start moving forward. Point out a couple of things you hope people can notice already — I, for one, have noticed that the amount of bot spam has decreased by an incredible amount — but acknowledge that it wasn’t enough to create confidence in the overall plan.

Secondly, define goals for Twitter. Call it the Twitter Master Plan. A lot has been made of advertisers leaving the platform, but I get it. In fact, I am currently working with a person who has overseen millions of dollars of social media advertising, and when Musk took over, that money was pulled. Not because of any dislike of Musk, but because the plan for Twitter is extremely unclear. On top of that, Musk’s retweet of that insane Paul Pelosi conspiracy theory did nothing but drive this point home. Clearly apologize for that tweet, and use it as an example of how the plan that you want to implement isn’t in place yet, because it wouldn’t have been done in the same way. Otherwise, advertisers worry that they’ll be associated with crazy ideas, users think it’s the wild west where they can say anything, and employees worry they’re working for someone like Alex Jones who uses their platform without thinking and actually damages people.

This is not enough:

Finally, create a space for open conversation with people at Twitter about how you’re going to move the company forward, ask for and listen to their insight, and create a reward structure for the ones with the best ideas. At the same time, figure out what the goal is — is it profitability, is it user growth, is it paid verification, or is it to create an open and trusted place for verifiable information? If it is the latter, acknowledge that Twitter may have to be run at a loss for a period of time before the profitability comes, as the trust will have to be built first.

It’s hard to trust that Twitter will keep what works when we don’t know what the goal is to determine if something “worked.”


Twitter isn’t Tesla. Tesla has a unique culture. That unique culture will continue to serve Tesla in great ways. The turmoil at Twitter just goes to show how difficult change can be.

And that’s it. I promise I’m going to get back to some Tesla and other cleantech writing soon — I know, I’ve said that before, but I mean it! The Tesla Semi is about to start deliveries, and seeing as how my first article here was on the Tesla Semi, I think it would be important to revisit it to see if I still think it’s as big of a game changer as I did back then. Spoiler: yes!

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