It can't be very fun to be inside Twitter HQ this week — and dad jokes aside, new Chief Twit Elon Musk is apparently presenting himself as a taskmaster seeking to test employees' devotion to the company, their skills, and their work ethic right out of the gate.
Musk officially dissolved Twitter's board and took over as sole director or CEO or whatever he wants to call it as of Monday. But his tenure really began on Thursday night, and reports have emerged from inside the company's offices of long hours being demanded, especially of engineers.
As CNBC reports, Musk brought in a team of people from Tesla and his other companies, including director of software development Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot and TeslaBot engineering Milan Kovac, senior director of software engineering Maha Virduhagiri; and Pete Scheutzow, a senior staff technical program manager. And he's reportedly looking to these loyal lieutenants to help figure out what's working at Twitter — and who's working hardest — and to decide who gets the boot.
Even though the Tesla engineers don't work in the same coding languages or on projects anything like the backend of Twitter, they are conducting code reviews, as some anonymous Twitter employees tells CNBC.
Teams of engineers were reportedly assigned fast-paced, extended coding projects over the weekend, known as sprints, as Business Insider reported. Some of these workers told the New York Times they slept in the office over the past few days. And a project to revamp Twitter's verification system, making blue checkmarks subscription-based, was given a hard deadline of November 7 with the threat of firing looming over that team if they can't make the deadline.
Rumors that Musk was planning a mass layoff before a stock-vesting date that was today, November 1, don't seem to have been true, though a group of a high-level executives appear to have been forced out or they resigned since Friday. Those include Sarah Personette, Twitter's chief customer officer — who worked directly with advertisers, and who tweeted this morning that she had resigned and lost her work access Monday night.
As of Monday, per the Times, the City of San Francisco said that it had received no advance notice of mass layoffs happening at the company — notice which would be required under the U.S. Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The Washington Post reported Monday, via someone close to the internal talks, that a first round of layoffs could affect about 25% of Twitter's workforce.
Meanwhile, Musk apparently set up a war room inside Twitter HQ late last week before traveling to New York to meet with advertisers on Monday. Referred to already by Twitter's rank-and-file, per the Times, as "Elon's goons," the transition team, as it were, reportedly consists of Sriram Krishnan, the former Twitter product leader who's now a partner at the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz; venture capitalist David Sacks; Jared Birchall, "the head of Mr. Musk’s family office"; Alex Spiro, his personal lawyer; and Jason Calacanis, an angel investor and podcaster who notably tweeted at Musk "Put me in coach!" a few months ago when talk began of Musk seeking a new CEO of Twitter.
In cheerleading mode and having flown with Musk to New York, Calacanis tweeted on Monday, "We’re having a very productive day meeting with the marketing and advertising community here in New York... So many great ideas on how to increase joy on the platform!"
Calacanis, who founded the partly-subscription-based newsletter company Inside.com, sounds like he's been put in charge of selling the notion that the Verified checkmarks should be subscription-based, as a new revenue stream for Twitter — or this was his idea. The Verge reported Monday that $20/month was the number being floated, but after some uproar on Twitter, including from author Stephen King, Musk sounded like he was hedging and said "How about $8?"
We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 1, 2022
The Verge reports today that the subscription service will give users "Priority in replies, mentions, and search, which Musk argues is 'essential to defeat spam/scam,'" "half as many ads," as well as verified checkmarks and the ability to post longer videos. An existing Twitter Blue service that costs $4.99 a month provides some of these perks but was not linked to the verified-user program.
Calacanis tweeted today, "For everyone wondering why someone would pay for Twitter Blue/Verified, it's going to be a collection of AWESOME features--in addition to the Blue check mark." He added, "Twitter will always have a free option, but the paid option will be well worth your consideration!"
It feels like it's just a matter of time before Twitter, as a global "town square" with enormous potential for abuse by foreign actors, again falls under the scrutiny of U.S. lawmakers and/or the European Union. There's already rumbling that Twitter could run afoul of U.S. laws governing whether users in sanctioned countries can pay for such services — and Congress is always happy to get riled about how social media is a threat to everything.
Two of the biggest investors in Twitter now, as Bay Area News Group explains, are a Saudi prince and the Qatar Investment Authority — and President Biden two weeks ago suggested that Musk's buyout deal could be subject to a national security review. The discussion was partly prompted by Musk threatening to cut off Starlink internet access to Ukraine.