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Elon Musk Wants Your Bank Account Number

Social Media, Payments and Food Delivery

There are lots of things Elon Musk wants to change about Twitter: who gets checkmarks; what Tweets you see (preferably, lots of his); the company’s cost structure.

And then there’s what Musk wants to add to Twitter: a payments app and food delivery.

These ambitions, detailed recently by the New York Times, aren’t necessarily new. Musk first tweeted about adding them to the platform he owns last October, calling the future version of Twitter “X, the everything app.”

The main thing to say about this plan is that it doesn’t really make sense. But this, you please, this is Elon Musk, the guy who dives into businesses that seemingly don’t make sense – he makes electric cars and rockets. It’s true, to a point, that Musk is what VC Benedict Evans called him: “a bullshitter who delivers.”

The problem is that the plan to make Twitter into a payments platform, a social media site, and food delivery doesn’t make sense in very prosaic, un-Muskian ways. Payments is a good business to be in – Musk knows this as much as anyone from his PayPal days – but it’s not really a good business to try to get into now. It’s dominated by four card networks and a few companies like PayPal that sit between merchants and your bank. It’s wildly oligopolistic and what exactly about Twitter right now makes you want to hand them your bank account number?

On the social media side of things, it’s very challenging to grow that business, which faces all kinds of issues that Musk was very happy to say were practically fatal after he had agreed to buy Twitter and was trying to get out of the deal.

And then there’s food delivery. The main innovation that made food delivery apps such a success was that they priced their product below cost. Lots of customers want free food delivery. I often joke that Uber Eats is an astonishing case study: they proved that what people wanted was for it to be even easier to eat McDonald's. Intellectually, they proved a point. Financially, it’s not the greatest.

The bottom line is that Musk’s grand dream for Twitter is to take its core social media business and try to compete on payments, a business with numerous well-networked, very established and effective players) and food delivery (a financially bad businesses to be in). Musk has already lost a lot of money investing in Twitter. When it comes to “X, the everything app,” he’ll only be financially worse off if he somehow manages to deliver.

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