Neuralink, which works on brain implants for controlling a computer, was also founded in 2016. Musk has previously said he planned to have regulatory approval for the brain chips by 2020, and would begin human trials in 2022, but the company is behind schedule. Neuralink has held more than just business interest for Musk. This July, Business Insider revealed that Musk had twins with one of the company’s executives, Shivon Zilis, in November 2021.
Is there method to this Muskness? Andy Wu, an assistant professor at Harvard, argues that Musk’s businesses share a pattern of tackling complex problems that require mastering large scale through huge capital investment, daring bets, and persuading employees and investors to believe in the bigger mission.
The Twitter acquisition doesn’t yet fit that pattern. Wu has been impressed by how quickly the new CEO has sought to reorganize the company, but he has yet to see clear communication about the mission. Musk’s takeover of Twitter doesn’t provide a clear and inspiring engineering goal like Tesla and SpaceX—the company’s business problems are mostly people problems. And his apparent focus on free speech appears somewhat at odds with the challenge of running a social media company safely and profitably. Musk in recent days appeared to backtrack on earlier suggestions he would strip away Twitter’s content moderation policies, to the dismay of some supporters of his project.
Wu says it is important to separate distaste or ardor for Musk’s politics or personal life from any assessment of his business skills. He points out that juggling more than one CEO job is not unprecedented, and that many investors take an active hand in multiple ventures. “The closest analogy is after Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, he was affiliated with both Pixar and Next Computing—and did pretty innovative things at both companies,” Wu says. He adds, however, that Tesla and SpaceX are probably a lot more complex and challenging to manage.
One of Musk’s talents cuts across his ventures without conflict. Yoffie says that Tesla and its stock price has benefited hugely from the entrepreneur’s antics on Twitter, which include interacting with customers, hyping up investors, and taking aim at critics. Taking control of the platform that has helped him burnish his personal brand has so far only made his voice—and its reverberations around the business world—that much louder. “He gets an amazing amount of free PR,” Yoffie says.
Additional reporting by Amanda Hoover