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Musk gets help from tech titans and a Saudi prince in Twitter bid

Backers including Larry Ellison and Sequoia Capital will collectively finance more than $7 billion of the deal

A new regulatory filing shows Elon Musk has secured commitments from numerous investors in his Twitter bid. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
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correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Marc Benioff is a Tesla board member and backer of Elon Musk's Twitter bid. In fact, Larry Ellison is the Tesla board member who is backing the Twitter bid. The article has been corrected.

Two weeks ago, business leaders publicly questioned whether Elon Musk was serious in his bid to take Twitter private. Now, some of the top investors in the world are lining up to backstop his ambitions.

In a regulatory filing Thursday, Musk unveiled a list of backers who collectively plan to finance more than $7 billion of the Twitter deal. The group includes top Silicon Valley investment firms Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital, cryptocurrency exchange Binance, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, and the Qatar sovereign wealth fund.

The infusion is a significant validation for Musk, whose pursuit of Twitter was until recently viewed as a quixotic effort to recalibrate the treatment of free speech on the social media platform, and raises the likelihood of the deal being finalized in the coming months, said Dan Ives, managing director at Wedbush Securities.

“You have a who’s who of Silicon Valley and the investing landscape of America behind Musk,” Ives told The Washington Post. “It’s not just Musk himself trying to fix Twitter.”

The backing of tech titans such as Larry Ellison, a friend of Musk and a Tesla board member, solidifies the idea that Musk is intent on making Twitter more profitable. This marks a turnaround from last month, when the Tesla chief executive said in an interview at a TED conference that he was not interested in the economics of the transaction and acknowledged the deal might not work out.

Elon Musk spoke of possible job cuts at Twitter with bankers

The investment eases some of the financial pressure Musk has absorbed in pursuit of the social media platform. The investments mean his margin loan, which allows him to borrow against the value of securities he already owns, has been reduced from $12.5 billion to less than $6.3 billion, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission filing dated Wednesday.

However, Musk still must come up with $21 billion in cash he does not yet have or publicly spelled out how he will obtain. The bulk of his $268 billion fortune is tied up in his stock holdings, including Tesla, though he recently sold more than $8 billion of his shares in the electric automaker.

If money is no object in Musk’s purchase of Twitter, then regulators might be. The Federal Trade Commission is considering a review to determine whether the acquisition runs afoul of antitrust laws, Bloomberg News reported. It is unclear how his other companies might compete against Twitter. The agency declined to comment.

The Twitter focus from Musk has investors worried about his day job at Tesla. Shares of the electric automaker slid more than 8 percent amid a broader market decline Thursday. Twitter stock climbed more than 2 percent.

The Twitter board of directors signed off on the $44 billion deal late last month, giving the richest person in the world command of a highly influential social media platform. The acquisition followed weeks of talking about the necessity of “free speech,” as Musk seized on the role of Twitter as the “de facto town square” and took umbrage with content moderation efforts he views as an escalation toward censorship.

His posturing on Twitter, even amid his acquisition attempt, is one reason many people doubted his sincerity. Mark Cuban, venture investor and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, wrote in a tweet last month that he thought Musk was toying with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When reached by email Thursday, Cuban said at the time he wrote the tweet, he had no idea whether Musk would go through with the acquisition. Other experts on corporate finance focused on the initial lack of a financing plan when Musk first made the bid.

His positions on free speech and how to police the site have put him relatively at odds with current Twitter leadership, raising questions about how he will steer his changes through and whether they will affect the executive suite.

CNBC, citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday that Musk is expected to step in as temporary chief executive after he completes the takeover. The current chief executive, Parag Agrawal replaced Jack Dorsey in November. Twitter declined to comment.

Elon Musk purchases Twitter in deal worth about $44 billion

To steer this ship, Musk may lean on the expertise of his new backers. Ellison, who committed $1 billion, was one of the founders of business software company Oracle in the 1970s and grew it into one of the biggest technology firms in the world. In the past decade, Ellison gave up the chief executive role, purchased the Hawaiian island of Lanai, and spent more of his time backing an America’s Cup sailing team.

Unlike Musk, Ellison is not known for being politically outspoken. But in 2015 and 2016, he donated more than $5 million to two political action committees that supported the campaigns of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), according to donation records on OpenSecrets. A spokeswoman for Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.

Sequoia Capital, which committed $800 million to the Twitter deal, has a long history with Musk. Besides backing two of his current projects, SpaceX and the Boring Company, Sequoia helped him launch one of his first companies, X.com, which eventually merged with another start-up to become PayPal.

Roelof Botha, whom Musk recruited out of Stanford to eventually become the chief financial officer at PayPal, is poised to take over leadership at Sequoia this summer. Mike Moritz, who led the firm until 2012 and is now a partner, made a significant investment in X.com.

“For over two decades, we have had a front-row seat to Elon’s business and technical prowess,” a Sequoia spokesman said. “We see, as he does, the opportunity to drive meaningful product innovation that will help unlock Twitter’s full potential as a global platform that connects the world.”

Ben Horowitz, an investor and a founder of Andreessen Horowitz, which contributed $400 million to the new deal, said in a Twitter feed that the venture capital firm believes in “Elon’s brilliance” to make Twitter “what it was meant to be.”

“While Twitter has great promise as a public square, it suffers from a myriad of difficult issues ranging from bots to abuse to censorship,” Horowitz said. “Being a public company solely reliant on an advertising business model exacerbates all of these.”

He said Musk was “perhaps the only person in the world” who could fix these problems. The praise echoes that of conservatives who have championed the bid and characterized Musk as a crusader for free speech, saying he will make the platform “great again.”

Musk has become one of the leading champions of cryptocurrency, which perhaps explains why Binance plans to invest $500 million toward the Twitter purchase. The largest crypto trading platform in the world contacted Musk after his initial bid, and the billionaire welcomed a discussion on how crypto technology could be harnessed to improve the social media site, according to Patrick Hillman, a Binance spokesman.

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Hillman said the Musk team expressed interest in using blockchain technology, the foundation of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, to counter spam and fake accounts on the site. “We’re excited to be able to help Elon realize a new vision for Twitter,” Hillman said.

Binance has drawn scrutiny from regulators who are concerned it may be used for money laundering and tax evasion. The company has said the blockchain is a safer and more transparent place to do business than traditional banks, and said it works with regulators and shares information with them when requested.

Other investors include the Qatar sovereign wealth fund and Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Alsaud, who originally rejected Musk’s $54.20 a share offer, saying in a tweet last month that he didn’t think it came “close to the intrinsic value” of the company. Musk fired back on Twitter, asking the prince to disclose how much of Twitter is owned by Saudi Arabia and for him to spell out the nation’s views on “journalistic freedom of speech.” Alwaleed did not respond to requests for comment.

American intelligence has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Now, the prince has agreed to convert his stake in Twitter, worth nearly $2 billion, into a stake in the private company.

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

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