Elon Musk, dual-class shares, and who owns the future

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Technology news was entertaining this week, if nothing else. The fact that we started the week learning that Elon Musk had bought a material percentage of Twitter’s stock, spent the mid-week period learning that he had joined the board, and by the end of Friday were busy reading about how employees were digesting the matter, it’s been busy.

But better busy than not, and the saga has given us a lot to think about. I want to touch on the matter one more time today through the lens of voting rights.

Something that we have seen the last few years are multi-class shares at startups. In simple terms, multi-class shares exist when investors and founders create a class of equity that affords them more votes per unit of stock than what is provided by other, lesser types of company stock. This does a few things, including concentrating power in fewer hands. In extreme cases, multi-class share setups can ensure that a founder has complete control of a company, forever.

Facebook is one such company. Twitter is not.

The difference between the two companies isn’t idle. Facebook is struggling to reinvent itself under the guidance of the same leader that brought it to early success while, in contrast, Twitter is now run by a non-founder, and just added a controversial power-user to its board. These are very different results for publicly traded social networks.

This brings us to what is making me laugh. By my understanding of today’s technology tribalism, the folks most enthralled with Elon Musk and his own brand of capitalism are also those most in favor of using multi-class shares to control companies. Or more simply, the folks who see little issue with Facebook’s CEO holding all the cards, are also the ones excited about what Musk can do at Twitter.

It’s an example, I think, of intellectual dissonance, and one that forces me to folks who share my view — that creating corporate governance that looks like monarchy is a poor choice over a long time horizon — to ask a question: Given that a very wealthy shitposter just arrogated himself onto Twitter’s board through creative use of their checkbook, does it change how we think about corporate governance, and the importance of shareholder voting rights being more than mirages?

Nope. Not really. Elon is doing activist shareholder things, which is fine, even if some folks find him distasteful as much as some consider him a hybrid of visionary and role model.

What will Musk bring to Twitter? Who knows. But at least it will be entertaining.

Empowering non-developers

My friend and colleague Ron Miller wrote about a project at Salesforce this week that will let folks write code by having a conversation with a computer. I recommend that you read it. It reminded me heavily of what GitHub built recently, namely a method to suggest code to developers as they type. Tools are coming for boring development work, it appears.

Neat tech from Salesforce and Microsoft — GitHub’s parent company — will not supplant developers. The tricky work that they do will remain in demand. Instead, consider code-writing tools from the perspective of folks who don’t write code daily, but need to at times to do their job. For them, the market appears to be clearing obstacles from their path.

Between the rise of no-code and low-code services, and the above work regarding more automated code-generation, we are slowly moving toward a future where development work will be far more in the grasp of the beginner, and even more for the dabbler. This could unlock a lot of human potential. And perhaps even lessen the developer shortage on a modest basis.

All told I am excited by this part of tech work. Let’s give more people more power. It will be good for humanity as a whole.