The future of Twitter: Will Musk’s chaotic start-up mentality pay off?

CEO of Honest Fox, Dillon Bailey tackles a burning question from the industry: As engineers exit, how likely is Twitter to crash?

You have to admit, what comes out of Silicon Valley makes for a pretty entertaining social soap opera. The disaster playing out before us with Elon Musk’s latest endeavour as Twitter CEO has everyone from armchair industry spectators to adtech heavyweights and politicians wagging their tongues.

But amongst the conjecture and grandstanding, there’s a couple of fundamental challenges the platform faces from a guy who has a great track record in start-ups, but not so much in acquisitions. Before we all leap to ‘yes it will / no it won’t’ conversations on the future of Twitter, let’s look at the facts to form an opinion.

First, a burning question from the industry: As engineers exit, how likely is Twitter to crash?

In short, extremely likely. But that must be the plan right? Musk appears to be trying to get Twitter back to the start-up phase by creating working conditions that encourage people to leave. 

When you remove the people that were part of the company’s legacy, people who might even have been around when Twitter only allowed 140 characters, all you are left with are new problems with no one to answer.

Smart? Debatable. But is it even a viable strategy to do this when the platform has 200M active users? So there must be more.

Here’s the important thing: my opinion, although critical, on this matter is not reflective of Elon Musk as an individual, but is focused on his leadership approach to Twitter.

The three key facts that have informed this opinion are:

  1. Twitter is not SpaceX or Tesla
  2. Twitter has its own complexity
  3. Twitter is a tech platform losing engineers

Twitter is not SpaceX or Tesla

In the case of SpaceX and Tesla, admittedly the electric car and space travel were not Musk’s original ideas. But he has done an incredible job of owning the narrative and becoming the de facto visionary within each category. 

However, Musk did not discover Twitter, unlike his other ventures where pioneering the new frontier required a certain amount of daring and bravado. He did not build the platform, he bought it, and naturally the organisational dynamics at play in this scenario would be foreign and unfamiliar territory for him in recent years when he can’t uphold his status as a visionary leader. Twitter is an established company with 16 years of history that you can’t simply reset – not without massive consequences.  Which brings us to our second point.

Twitter has its own complexity

SpaceX and Tesla would no doubt have large engineering teams, but those engineering teams would expand well beyond technology into mechanics, electrical, aeronautical – basically you name an engineer discipline and they probably have one handy.

Organisational complexity is naturally a function of the number of people involved. Remember the diagrams that evolve from a triangle into kaleidoscopes with only a few additional team members? Amazon famously introduced the “Two-pizza rule”, roughly stating that if you have a team requiring more food than two pizzas, it’s too large to work together effectively. 

Navigating this complexity is ultimately on the job description of every CEO, no matter how small or large the business. And in this case we are witnessing, quite publicly, a decision that navigating Twitter’s complexity would be easier in the scorched Earth landscape Musk has created. 

The swash-buckling “devil may care” approach to navigating complexity may occasionally win favour on Wall Street, not necessarily in this industry though.

This brings us to the last, and potentially most important point. 

Twitter is a tech platform losing engineers

We all know how painful it can be when one or two key technical team members leave a project on good terms. Now, imagine entire teams of them walking out the door at a moment’s notice and on top of that, on very bad terms. Mix in the international spectacle that your new CEO has decided to make out of your situation and well, it doesn’t get much worse. 

Businesses are complex organisms, particularly at scale, but when you get to the heart of a tech business, engineers are writing the code and building the infrastructure that brings every idea to life. I know how often engineering teams can be seen as the “no” team. Managing teams of engineers is a challenging job, particularly at scale. I don’t know Twitter’s day-to-day culture, let alone their engineering culture, but it’s difficult to see how the current strategy is going to turn the dial from “no” to “go” at a critical time.

So is Twitter likely to crash? 

In July 2022, Twitter went down globally for close to an hour. This was before walkouts and protests began. So yes, it’s of this humble technologist’s opinion that it is not a matter of “Could this happen?” but “When will it happen?” and if so, the question we know an entrepreneur like Elon Musk will probably be asking next is: is it worth booting back up again?

Dillon Bailey (left) with Clint McIntyre

Bailey is the CEO of Honest Fox who co-founded the digital agency together with Clint McIntyre in 2016.


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