Policy

Musk’s texts are a who’s who of power players — and everyone had an angle

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

Elon Musk with a cartoon bubble coming out of his mouth reading "Haha cool"

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

Musk’s bid for Twitter brought out a who’s who of tech and media’s über-rich who wanted to get in on the action and share their ideas for how Twitter should really be run. As tech analyst Benedict Evans put it on Twitter, “It has to be pretty embarrassing if you think of yourself as a Silicon Valley power player and you’re NOT saying something dumb in Elon’s texts.”

Here are just a few of the famous names who slid into Musk’s DMs — and what they were asking for.

Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of FTX

What he wanted: The billionaire founder of FTX was among the first to want in on the Twitter deal. Back in March when Musk still seemed to be trolling Twitter with polls about its commitment to free speech, Bankman-Fried adviser Will MacAskill told Musk the crypto mogul had himself considered buying Twitter “then making it better for the world.” MacAskill introduced the two men to see if they could work out a “joint effort in that direction.”

At first, the texts suggest Musk was dubious. “Does he have huge amounts of money?” he asked. “Depends on how you define ‘huge!’ He’s worth $24B,” MacAskill answered, noting that spending $1.3 billion on a deal would be “easy.”

“That’s a start,” Musk replied.

Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer

What he wanted: Like a lot of the people on this list, Döpfner wanted in on the deal. “Shall we discuss [whether] we should join that project?” he asked in April.

But he also had big ideas for how Twitter should be run, including dramatically shrinking the company’s terms of service. The way Döpfner described it in messages to Musk, Twitter users should only be prohibited from sending spam or scamming users, promoting violence, or posting “illegal pornography.” He told Musk that Twitter should be “the backbone of free speech.” (Disclosure: Axel Springer owns Protocol).

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter

What he wanted: Dorsey really wanted Musk to join Twitter’s board, so much so that he told Musk in March that the board’s refusal to allow Musk on the board was one of the reasons he left the company. When it looked like Musk really was going to join the board in April, Dorsey told Musk he “got very emotional when I learned it was finally possible.”

Dorsey also seemed to want to mend fences between Musk and the company once the relationship began to sour. One day after Twitter accepted Musk’s offer to take Twitter private, Dorsey set up a meeting between Musk and Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, but ultimately told Musk, “At least it became clear that you can’t work together. That was clarifying.”

But even more than that, Dorsey told Musk (and has also repeatedly told the world) that he wanted Twitter to be “an open source protocol,” not a single company. “If it has a centralized entity behind it, it will be attacked,” Dorsey wrote.

Gayle King, CBS host

What she wanted: King was angling for a sit-down interview with Musk as soon as he took his stake in the company. But she also had suggestions for the site: An edit button with a 24-hour time limit. “We all say shit we regret [and] want to take back in the heat of the moment,” King wrote to Musk. Later, when Musk decided to take Twitter private, King called it a “gangsta move.”

But Musk had an ask of his own for King and her most famous friend: “Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds.”

Jason Calacanis, angel investor

What he wanted: Hoo boy! Where to begin? Calacanis had a lot of ideas for ways Musk could change Twitter: He encouraged Musk to remove bots and spam, and make algorithms and content moderation decisions “understandable and fair.” He had thoughts for paid products, like charging users $5 a month for “real name memberships,” or charging people one cent per follower to let them send direct messages to all their followers for a year. He had management suggestions, like moving Twitter’s headquarters to Austin and forcing employees back to the office. And he had some particularly harsh feedback to share about the “dog shit features” in Twitter Blue. “It’s worth paying to turn it off!” Calacanis said.

Musk asked Calacanis if he might want to be an adviser to the company when all was said and done. “Board member, advisor, whatever,” Calacanis wrote. “[Y]ou have my sword.”

David Sacks, venture capitalist and founding COO of PayPal

What he wanted: Sacks came to his fellow PayPal alum bearing an ask not for himself, but for Libertarian congressman Justin Amash. Amash wanted to let Musk know he was happy to help him navigate the choppy waters of Twitter’s relationship with the government, including “future threats to Section 230.”

Musk didn’t exactly leap at the opportunity, replying, “I don’t own twitter yet.”

Marc Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce

What he wanted: It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, but Benioff floated an idea to Musk for “Twitter conversational OS — the townsquare for your digital life.”

If Musk was into the idea, he didn’t show it. “Well I don’t own it yet,” he replied.

Reid Hoffman, partner at Greylock and LinkedIn co-founder

What he wanted: A close confidant to Musk since the PayPal days, Hoffman initially wanted to join Musk’s bid for Twitter through a venture investment. Musk told Hoffman that even though the round was oversubscribed, “You’re a friend, so just letting you know you’d get priority.”

Hoffman wanted to know what the largest investment he could make would be. “$2B?” Musk asked, as if it were pocket change. “Great,” Hoffman answered. “Probably doable.”

In the end, Greylock opted not to participate, and Hoffman later told Axios he had doubts about all that Musk was taking on. “I think I had the reaction of most people, it was like, ‘Oh my God, another huge problem. He’s already dealing with a large number,’” Hoffman said.

Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle

What he wanted: Musk initially reached out to Ellison to offer him a slice of the Twitter deal. The billionaire Oracle exec hardly hesitated before answering. “Yes … of course,” with a thumbs-up emoji.

The two men proceeded to discuss billions of dollars and cents like they were entering an office fantasy league. Ellison at first offered “a billion … or whatever you recommend.” Musk’s recommendation was “maybe $2 billion or more.” Ellison ended up contributing about $1 billion to the deal.

Joe Lonsdale, investor

What he wanted: The 8VC partner’s angle in reaching out to Musk was distinctly political. He hoped Musk could bring some awareness to Twitter’s board about the “little cabals” inside Twitter. He also wanted to pass along a message from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who Lonsdale said called him “outraged at that board,” which had just invoked a “poison pill” maneuver in a bid to stop the deal. Lonsdale said DeSantis wanted him to know “the public is rooting for you.”

Lonsdale offered to connect the two, to which Musk replied “Haha cool.”

Joe Rogan, podcaster

What he wanted: Rogan’s goal, unsurprisingly, appeared to be to encourage Musk to “liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob.”

Musk, who was at the time merely planning on joining the board, answered the call with some uncharacteristic modesty. “I will provide advice, which they may or may not choose to follow,” he wrote.

Steve Jurvetson, venture capitalist

What he wanted: Jurvetson had some personnel recommendations for Musk and suggested former Uber exec Emil Michael as someone who could “run the Twitter revamping.”

Musk seemed uninterested in hiring another manager. “Please send me anyone who actually writes good software,” he replied. Jurvetson offered up another idea: his son.

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