Sinead O’Sullivan is a senior researcher at Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness.
One reason social media companies (used to) make attractive investments was their asset-light nature. Elon Musk has clearly been catching up on his reading of The Lean Startup as he takes this logic to the extreme at Twitter.
Not only did he discard most of the company’s workforce in late 2022, today he starts auctioning off most of Twitter HQ’s “corporate assets” — read: office furniture (and some other stuff). Yes, really.
The winner of 2022’s What-A-Strange-And-Slightly-Sad-Auction award undoubtedly went to former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who last July sold off nearly all the spoils of his spacefaring days. This year’s winner will undoubtedly be Twitter.
Aldrin’s auction was admittedly a tad more glamorous. That was hosted by Sotheby’s, while Twitter has hired Heritage Global Partners, an auction, liquidation and asset advisory firm, to conduct the sales. At least they’ve added a disconcertingly jaunty exclamation mark to the auction title: “Online Auction Sale Featuring Surplus Corporate Office Assets of Twitter!”
Here is a small selection of the items available:
But given how iconic the blue bird site is to Silicon Valley’s feel-good 2010s, surely Twitter HQ’s furniture, kitchen equipment and memorabilia deserves more than low-resolution photos and generic auction tags of either $25, $50 or $100?
This is not just any corporate paraphernalia, after all. These are the couches, hand slicers and ‘Kegerators’ of the company Mark Zuckerberg described as a clown car that fell into a gold mine, the company that could lead to Morgan Stanley owning Tesla.
Here’s an FT Alphaville guide to the top three art pieces to watch out for in this auction. All of these are starting at $25, so don’t hold back!
1. The Bird
The Bird is one of the most iconic sculptures of the mid-to-late-stage capitalism cycle. This original work, which represents a business that, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun, stands roughly 4-feet high. Key aspects of The Bird sculpture is how the artist uses and controls space with its baby-blue form.
Used for purely aesthetic purposes, its most common purpose until today has been to inspire and motivate keyboard artists on the sixth floor of Twitter HQ to fulfil their higher calling: printing out code and handing it to their Chief Twit before being immediately fired.
2. Sound-proof Office Phone-Booth-Box
The FT’s own Edwin Heathcote once said this of one of the 20th century’s most iconic structures:
“The phone box is a very curious piece of architecture. A kind of glass coffin for communication, it is a very personal and very public place. It is also, now, almost perfectly obsolete.”
Obsolete, indeed. Consider Twitter’s phone booth-meets-box, representing corporate capture of workers and the proliferation of a societal two-class managerial system. With such a PhoneBoothBox, one can imagine a place of transition between two states, both physical and mental: out of the office but still in the office; unheard but still seen; seeking privacy but receiving surveillance.
This glass coffin emulates not only the slow death of the Twitter engineers’ willingness to suffer such a managerial system for its user base, but also the slow death of what was once a roaring trade: that of social media platforms themselves.
3. Hardcore Engineering Whiteboard
Could one of these fifteen whiteboards be the whiteboard, upon which Elon Musk first mapped out a basic schematic of how Twitter works at 4am and called it Hardcore Engineering, seven months after agreeing to pay $44bn for the business?
While it’s unlikely, there’s a small chance you could possess a part of this one-of-a-kind post-purchase diligence.
Yes, we’ve seldom seen a better opportunity to acquire “hundreds” of Knoll ‘Task Chairs’, but somehow this auction feels like a missed opportunity.
After all, if shedding assets while raising capital is the goal, there are some highly desirable pieces missing:
While not as significant a sanity-ware showpiece as Marcel Duchamp’s $2mn “Fountain” urinal, Musk’s own porcelain feature, Let That Sink In, carries substantial meaning: the true sinking feeling was reserved for Musk himself, as the acquisition and its aftermath helped him secure one of the least-enviable Guinness World Records.
Musk, CEO-turned-fashion-influencer, cooked up a storm by finding and subsequently highlighting the #StayWoke T-shirts — greenlit by Twitter management back when Black Lives seemed to matter and workers’ rights were more than just a punchline.
These T-shirts, much like the iconic Levi’s 501, are cornerstone statement pieces representing the struggle against conformity to a top-down system upon a disenfranchised society. In other words, trendy new #resistance stash?
The Twitter Files
Arguably the most valuable asset of Twitter and the reason one might try to acquire the failing social media platform in the first place are its Twitter Files, which could finally reveal—
Oh wait. Never mind.