Twitter is not Tesla – My takeaways from the past three weeks
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” highlighted the inability to cover these companies due to the speed with which news has been spreading lately. And the truth is, I used to write frequently, but I was kind of in a loop where I kept starting an article, but before I could finish it, something new happened and my article makes it sound like super old news.
Heck, before I sat 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 few days. However, as I walked to my bed, I realized that if I don’t write this now, it probably won’t make sense to write in a day or two. So here I am, at 2:00 a.m., editing an article because I think the key that Musk is missing that Tesla investors aren’t thinking about is…
Twitter is not Tesla
Elon Musk’s biggest problem with Twitter isn’t blue tick verification. It’s not the loss of advertisers. It’s not even the apparent massive resignation of staff that may be happening as I type this, causing the #riptwitter trend. It’s that Elon Musk is trying to make Twitter work the way he runs Tesla. And they are not the same. At all.
It’s worth checking out this article on how Tesla applied “agile software development” to automotive manufacturing – even though it’s now four years old, it’s still relevant! Tesla has created a culture designed to empower its employees to identify the most impactful problems they can solve, solve those problems, and then naturally be rewarded for their work. This creates a feedback loop of employees who feel valued, who have a direct impact and influence on the products Tesla creates, and who are rewarded with actions that their work can directly impact.
That’s why I think Tesla stays far ahead of all other automakers and will be successful in other categories like utility energy storage, mining, insurance, etc. In all the different companies I have worked with, I have never seen another company that has done such an amazing job creating a culture like this.
And, frankly, Twitter doesn’t have that culture. Twitter has been losing money for ages. When Musk began the first round of layoffs, Jack Dorsey, the former CEO and co-founder of Twitter, said:
Twitter was too big and got to that size largely because of a flawed business plan that focused more on share price growth than growing a sustainable business model. Musk arrived and thought the company would immediately adapt to the agile method, and faced a massive setback.
I have known a number of people who work or have worked at Tesla in the past. They told me the pace is relentless, but they love it. They feel they have a direct impact on slowing climate change, and that drives them. Each of them knew it would be a crazy adventure.
And let me say here: if anything, the chaos on Twitter proves to me why I think the legacy auto is so far behind. Legacy automotive lacks the agile way of product development, and Musk has visibly demonstrated the turmoil that can occur when changing a company without that mindset to one that has it.
It takes a special type of person to work in an agile environment, and most people don’t stay their entire career. The people I spoke to who worked at Tesla ate, drank, and slept Tesla while there. And they loved it. But the majority of them wanted to slow down at some point – perhaps to start a family, or to travel, or simply because they felt exhausted.
From the way it’s been described to me, the way Tesla works is like you’re creating a new startup every day to solve the biggest problem you see at that moment. And, as someone who has been part of several startups, this time can be invigorating! In 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 could have continued doing it. Many Tesla employees choose this type of crisis for months or years.
Twitter probably doesn’t have many employees treating it like a startup. As an established company, you must be punctual and do your best for your service. You report to your manager and if you see a problem in another department, you shut up since it’s not your job. To be clear, this is an absolutely perfect setup for established companies – the majority of large companies work with this type of structure in place – but it’s not the structure I would expect Musk operates. And, since Twitter is not a profitable business, this structure does not easily solve this problem.
So Musk comes along and immediately tries to apply Tesla’s culture to Twitter, but encounters the following problems:
First, employees do not feel valued. Over the past three weeks, employees have suddenly been told to come back in person, told they have to work “hard” hours, and if they don’t declare their intention to stay, they will be fired. While I’m sure this was done to help drive less valuable employees out of the company, in practice it made no employee feel valued. It’s a huge problem.
Second, employees do not understand the changes that are being implemented. Even though Musk has a clear vision of what he wants to do – and I believe he does – he hasn’t spelled it out in a way that everyone can understand. It seems like there was a lot of pushback against the idea of Twitter’s $8 for Blue, but Musk went ahead with it anyway. If I were an employee who had legitimate concerns about the verification system and did not know how to share my concerns, I would once again feel completely devalued and useless.
Finally, what is the reward? There might still be something I’m missing, but as far as I know, it’s just your usual salary as an employee.
Again, I will mention that while this is an absolute cluster on Twitter, it shows the insane difficulty and pain of implementing agile in an established business. And to be frank, it sure looks like Musk 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 quickly, you could destroy the business, but if you implement it too slowly, you could lose a ton of money. Neither situation is great, and if Twitter were a publicly traded company, I would expect its stock price to be completely destroyed right now. But it would also be destroyed if they continued to lose a ton of money.
Now imagine you’re a legacy automaker, trying to change so you can make changes as quickly as Tesla. Both options leave you with your stock price destroyed, and both options put you at risk of putting the company out of business. Rather, it’s a lesson in the special unicorn of a company like Tesla to be able to create and continue that kind of culture.
Can Twitter be saved?
I can’t claim to have run a company like Twitter before, but I’ve worked extensively with companies of all sizes. If I had to talk to Musk, here’s what I would suggest doing for Twitter:
First, apologize. Seriously. Everyone — employees, users, everyone. Tell everyone that you understand their concerns, that you haven’t been clear about what you’re trying to do, and that you hope people can give you and others in the business the benefit. doubt when you start moving forward. Highlight a few things that you hope people can already notice – for my part, I have noticed that the amount of bot spam has gone down by an incredible amount – but acknowledge that this hasn’t been enough to create trust in the overall plan.
Second, set goals for Twitter. Call it Twitter’s master plan. There has been a lot of talk about advertisers leaving the platform, but I understand. In fact, I’m currently working with a person who oversaw millions of dollars in social media advertising, and when Musk took over, that money was taken out. Not because of any dislike for Musk, but because the plan for Twitter is extremely unclear. On top of that, Musk’s retweet of that crazy Paul Pelosi conspiracy theory only drove that point home. Clearly apologize for this tweet and use it as an example of how the plan you want to implement isn’t in place yet, because it wouldn’t have been done the same way. Otherwise, advertisers fear being associated with crazy ideas, users think it’s the Wild West where they can say anything, and employees fear working for someone like Alex Jones using their platform. -thoughtlessly forms and actually harms people.
This is not enough:
Finally, create space for an open conversation with people on Twitter about how you’re going to move the business forward, ask for and listen to their ideas, and create a reward structure for those with the best ideas. At the same time, determine what the goal is: is it profitability, user growth, paid verification, or creating an open and trusted place for verifiable information? If it’s the latter, recognize that Twitter may have to operate at a loss for some time before profitability arrives, as trust will need to be established first.
It’s hard to believe Twitter will hold on to what works when we don’t know what the goal is for determining if something “worked.”
Twitter is not Tesla. Tesla has a unique culture. This unique culture will continue to serve Tesla in tremendous ways. The commotion on Twitter shows how difficult change can be.
And that’s all. I promise I’ll get back to some writing about Tesla and other clean tech soon – I know, I’ve said this before, but I mean it! The Tesla Semi is about to start deliveries, and seeing as my first article here was on the Tesla Semi, I think it would be important to review it to see if I still think it’s as important as I think it is. did at the time. Spoiler: yes!
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