- By James Clayton
- Technology Reporter for North America
It was a cool late March evening in San Jose, California. A hastily organized meeting had been scheduled at an Airbnb to host the richest person in the world.
The meeting was important for Twitter. Elon Musk had become the main shareholder of Twitter. He is now said to want to join the company’s board.
When Twitter President Bret Taylor arrived on the scene, it wasn’t quite what he expected.
It’s ‘the weirdest place I’ve had a meeting recently. I think they were looking for an Airbnb, near the airport, and there are tractors and donkeys’, he reportedly wrote to Mr. Musk.
However, the meeting went off without a hitch.
A few days later, it was announced that Elon Musk would join Twitter’s board of directors.
It’s only a beginning. The next six months were marked by one of the wildest deals in Silicon Valley history.
In early April, Mr. Musk seemed content with his position on Twitter’s board, tweeting regularly about how the company might evolve.
However, private meetings between him and Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal had not gone well. The two men disagreed on how to repair the platform. Mr. Musk felt frustrated.
“Fixing Twitter by chatting with Parag will not work. Drastic action needed” is the message he reportedly texted Mr Taylor.
On April 14, the billionaire publicly declared that he wanted to buy Twitter.
He offered 44 billion dollars, the equivalent of 28,848.7 billion CFA francs, for Twitter. A take it or leave it offer. Twitter’s board initially rejected the offer, even creating a “poison pill” to try to stop Mr Musk from forcibly taking over the company.
Then another change of mind (which is not the first in this story). Twitter’s board of directors decided, after consideration, to accept the deal, and on April 25, Twitter announced that it had accepted the offer.
“Yesssss,” Elon Musk tweeted.
Mr Musk argued that Twitter had lost its way, had too often restricted freedom of expression and that, as a “global network”, it had to put freedom of expression above all else.
In an interview at the TED2022 conference, in Vancouver, Canada, Elon Musk said he doesn’t care about “the economy” at all.
This is fortunate, as the weeks and months following the deal saw tech stocks plummet. Twitter’s value has also declined. Soon, many analysts began to question whether Mr. Musk had paid too much for Twitter.
Publicly, he began to ask questions, seeking for example how many real accounts there were on Twitter.
The billionaire – the richest person in the world, according to Forbes and Bloomberg, with a net worth of around 250 billion dollars (164,101.4 billion CFA francs) – has complained for years about the number of bots (software who perform certain tasks independently) that are on the platform.
After seeing his offer accepted, he repeatedly asked Twitter to provide data on the number of actual users.
Twitter executives shared their figure that less than 5% of daily active users, based on estimates from randomly sampled accounts, were bots. This seemed to anger Mr. Musk.
After a long discussion on Twitter with Mr Agrawal, explaining how the company had arrived at this figure, Elon Musk replied with the “poo” emoji.
The deal was falling apart. Unsurprisingly, on July 8, Mr. Musk announced that he wanted to pull out of the deal.
Was he trying to get a better price for the business or was he really backing out? It was hard to say.
Twitter did not let it go. He argued that the deal for Mr Musk to buy the company was legally binding and there was no way to back out of that deal now.
With very expensive lawyers on both sides, a trial date has been set for October 17 in Delaware. It was to be known, at the end of the trial, whether Mr. Musk would be forced to buy the company or not.
In its filings, Twitter argued that it provided extensive information about the number of actual users it had.
Mr. Musk said Twitter may have many more bots than he has publicly stated, and even accused the company of fraud.
The criticisms have hurt Twitter. The vast majority of Twitter’s revenue comes from ads, and advertisers were starting to wonder how many ads were shown to real people.
The process was also getting very distracting at Twitter headquarters. Some employees were excited about Mr. Musk becoming their CEO. Many, privately — and some publicly — have said its takeover would be a disaster for content moderation and the company’s broader goals.
Mr. Musk, Twitter, the judge and reporters were all bracing for what seemed like an inevitable trial when another remarkable twist happened.
Out of nowhere, after making all sorts of allegations against Twitter, Elon Musk suddenly announced that the deal was good again.
“The purchase of Twitter is an accelerator for the creation of X, the universal app,” he said.
What made him change his mind? Maybe he thought he was going to lose his case. A few days before announcing his reversal, he had to face a deposition from Twitter’s lawyers. Perhaps he wanted to avoid what would have been grueling and probably revealing cross-examination.
Whatever the reason, you can understand why Twitter hasn’t popped the champagne corks. Once bitten, twice shy, Twitter reacted, muted. Mr Taylor tweeted that the company was “committed to completing the transaction at the price and terms agreed with Mr Musk”.
Twitter also called for the trial to be postponed, not canceled. Mr Musk’s lawyers countered that Twitter “doesn’t take a yes for an answer”.
Mr Musk had until 5pm GMT on October 28 to find the money.
Billions will be contributed by his wealthy friends and the banks. The rest Mr. Musk will get by selling some of his shares in Tesla.
A deal that at times seemed irretrievably broken, now appears to have been done.
James Clayton is the BBC’s North America technology reporter. He is based in San Francisco.