The doors at the Twitter offices are locked and staff are nervously awaiting an email to find out whether they’re going to be included in the expected 50 per cent lay-off of staff at the social-media giant - employees who are staying will receive an email to their work address, and those who aren’t will get one to their personal address.
It is a typically dramatic move in what has been a highly sensational takeover of the company by Elon Musk. And as the exodus begins in earnest at Twitter, there is the question of who will come in.
That is currently unclear but Musk’s track record suggests he will keep things close to home, with allies.
However, for a man with a strangely packed social calendar, a newfound iron rule over one of the biggest social-media apps of all time, and countless invites to high-society events like the Met Gala, we actually know very little about who Elon Musk spends his time with.
Musk isn’t a celebrity in regular terms and doesn’t hang out with a litany of other A-listers, either, so he’s rarely photographed alongside other people - let alone other people we actually know the names of.
He does have friends, but these friends almost always double up as business partners. According to Tim Higgins - the Wall Street Journal reporter and author of Power Play: Elon Musk, Tesla, and the Bet of the Century - Musk routinely brings friends in from previous business ventures to work on his newest efforts - something he appears he is now doing with Twitter.
“Elon has an inner circle of friends and family that he keeps close,” Higgins says. “We’re seeing some of them emerge in the Twitter deal, such as David Sacks and Jason Calacanis.”
Sacks, 50, is the founder of Craft Ventures, a venture-capital company, and a member of the so-called “Paypal Mafia”, the group of former PayPal employees and founders who have since founded other technology companies (ie Tesla, SpaceX, LinkedIn, YouTube). Musk and Sacks helped to build PayPal together, with Sacks being the COO and product lead.
He’s been hovering around the Twitter deal since the beginning, and even tweeted their proposed plans for the takeover back in April: “New Twitter CEO Checklist: Open-source the algorithm, eliminate all bots, restore free speech, implement Coinbase policy on workplace politics, fire useless employees (50%?), no more company-wide days of rest (take vacation if you’re tired).”
We’ve already seen Musk echo some of these sentiments, with banned accounts like those of Donald Trump being given an option to return, and Ye already back and Tweeting, as well as headlines dominated by the news of potential mass layoffs of Twitter staff - and yes, that will be half of employees.
Like Sacks, 51-year-old Calacanis is an angel investor and entrepreneur. Sacks and Calacanis are close - the pair co-present a podcast called All In, which covers “all things economic, tech, political, social & poker” and have consistently invested in each other’s companies or gone in together on business efforts.
Calacanis is also deeply connected to Musk’s Twitter deal. Calacanis’s Twitter bio currently describes him as “Chief Meme Officer” of Twitter, as well as “World’s Greatest Moderator”. (In turn, Musk’s Twitter bio reads: “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator”.) Calacanis made a name for himself by investing in Uber back when it was only valued at $5 million. The ride-share app is now worth an estimated $55.83 billion.
What Elon likes most about Calacanis and Sacks, Higgins says, is how they champion his every move.
“Calacanis was a cheerleader for Elon when Tesla was in trouble,” explains Higgins, “[he wrote] him a check to buy a Model S before it had even been revealed publicly.”
The Model S was the second car Tesla had ever produced. It went on to win a series of awards and became the first electric car to top the monthly sales ranking of a country. Given the relative lack of success of the Tesla roadster, its first car, by comparison, the Model S could basically be considered the car that started it all.
Musk also has Sacks to thank for introducing him to Antonio Gracias, who is considered “one of Musk’s closest partners”, according to Higgins. So close, in fact, that when the second-ever Roadster rolled out of a Tesla factory back in 2008, Musk gave Gracias the keys.
Gracias is one of the only people to be described primarily as Musk’s “friend”, though - and this should come as no shock at this point - the two are also business partners. Gracias has been an early investor in many of Musk’s projects, and is on the board of SpaceX.
One of Musk’s strange characteristics as a friend is his love of sleepovers. “Elon is a notorious couch surfer, sleeping at friends’ homes often,” Tim Higgis says. “Elon wants loyalty and his inner circle is made up of people who’ve been with him for years and years. Like his brother, Kimbal, for example.”
Kimbal Musk is one of the other key players within Elon’s inner circle. He’s two years younger, 49, and works as a South African restaurateur, chef, entrepreneur and, most importantly, is rarely seen without his trademark cowboy hat. You could say he and Musk were different, based on Kimbal’s relative salt-of-the-earth appearance, but Musk is hardly a straight-and-narrow kind of guy.
Finally, we have the man referred to as Musk’s “fixer”, Jared Birchall, who actually couldn’t be more different to Musk if you tried. Birchall has been described as “a practising Mormon, a buttoned-up guy, who never says no.” And yet, he is invaluable to Elon.
“Jared has been a key employee to Elon for many years,” says Higgins, “playing the background role running Elon’s family office, fixing issues that arise.”
He’s the managing director of Excession LTD, which manages Musk’s personal net worth and helps distribute it to charities. (Musk also counts his own companies as charities, FYI.) Birchall literally has Musk’s wealth within his hands, and he’s about one of four people he would let touch it.
But will this group of men actually control your Twitter user experience? It’s starting to look like it. Musk’s tweets are in line with Sacks’ demands six months ago and, according to Tim Higgins, Musk has a habit of sticking to his tweets: “History shows that Elon is often pretty direct about what he’s up to,” he says. “If he’s tweeting about charging for blue checks, then it’s safe to say that’s what he’s thinking about. He wears his emotions on his Twitter page. Sometimes, he follows through on his ideas, other times not. Sometimes he’s joking, other times not. He believes in momentum, like a gambler in a casino with a hot hand. If something is working, he wants to chase that. If it’s not, he wants to try something else.”