Apr 12, 2022 - Technology

Musk's "goblin mode" is here to stay

Illustration of a suit without a head, and goblin ears off to the sides.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

At the end of his week-long Twitter adventure — buying 9% of the company's stock, taking a seat on its board and then abandoning it — Elon Musk posted a meme reading: "In all fairness, your honor, my client was in goblin mode." Then he deleted it.

  • Goblin mode apparently means "I no longer care about what anyone thinks about how I look or what I say."
  • Don't mind me, Musk seemed to be saying. I've just been putting you on.

Why it matters: Musk may just be one crazy-rich guy who loves to play the trickster-troll, but the manic style of corporate disruption he is pioneering is likely to be with the tech industry for a long time.

  • That's because Musk's tactics are going to be irresistible for his legions of fans and imitators in the business world and for a new generation of investors schooled in his playbook.

"Activist investor" used to mean someone who starts buying stock in a company in order to force it to change how it operates.

  • That would include the folks at Elliott Management, who took a run at Twitter in 2020 and ousted its CEO, Jack Dorsey, the next year.
  • It's a hard-knuckled business that involves shareholder meetings, proxy fights and other complex corporate processes often managed by lawyers.
  • Most of these investors aim to strip away what they view as costly, self-indulgent distractions so the firm can get back to earning more profit for owner/shareholders.

Musk seems to find all that boring. His idea of activist investing involves roasting the company's management in public (ideally, on their own social media platform) while frequently changing his own course.

  • This method's strength is that it attracts attention, it hooks people on an unpredictable narrative, and it makes Musk himself look (to fans, at least) like a renegade rule-breaker.

The big picture: That approach has potent allure in the tech marketplace.

  • It appeals to investors weaned on meme stocks...
  • and to startup founders looking to stand out from the crowd...
  • and to crypto enthusiasts trying to organize their companies and projects on Discord and govern them via DAOs.

Our thought bubble: Not everyone has Musk's 80 million followers or his billions of dollars. But anyone can put on a show!

The bottom line: No one knows what Musk will do next, probably not even Musk himself. He could still try for a hostile takeover of Twitter, or he could walk away. Whatever he does, it won't be done quietly.

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