Elon Musk says Twitter takeover has been ‘painful’ but the company is now ‘roughly breakeven’

Elon Musk Twitter account seen on Mobile with Elon Musk in the background on screen, seen in this photo illustration. On 19 February 2023 in Brussels, Belgium.
Jonathan Raa | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Elon Musk says that Twitter is close to becoming cash-flow positive after making sharp layoffs and working to lure advertisers back to the platform.

“I’d say we’re roughly breakeven at this point,” Musk said Wednesday, during a live interview with the BBC recorded on Twitter Spaces.

Musk has pushed to make more money at Twitter to recoup his multibillion-dollar investment in the company. As part of this income-generation drive, Twitter has sought to make more money from subscriptions, charging users $8 a month to get access to Twitter verification marks and for the ability to edit tweets, among other features.

Musk said that Twitter will start removing blue checks from accounts without a subscription to the company’s paid Twitter Blue service next week.

During the interview, Musk said that “almost all” advertisers have resumed buying ads on the platform, after several hit pause on Twitter advertising following Musk’s acquisition of the app.

Musk purchased Twitter for $44 billion in late October after a drawn-out legal battle with the company. He has since sought to radically overhaul the platform, including its content moderation policies.

This has spooked many product placers, with half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers now estimated to have left the platform since Musk took over.

“Depending on how things go, if current trends continue, I think we could be … cashflow-positive this quarter, if things keep going well,” Musk said.

Brands were concerned about the app failing to tackle hateful posts in the wake of the $44 billion deal, which was completed in October 2022. Musk styles himself as a “free speech absolutist” and says that he wants to encourage free expression on Twitter.

He controversially allowed Donald Trump, who was last week charged with 34 criminal counts of falsifying business records, back onto the platform. The former president has said that he has no intention of returning, opting to instead post on his own site, Truth Social.

CNBC was not able to independently verify if most previous advertisers are returning to Twitter.

“Almost all of them… have… either come back or said they’re going to come back, there are very few exceptions,” Musk said.

When pressed by the BBC on which advertisers haven’t yet returned, Musk said: “I actually don’t know of anyone who said definitively they’re not coming back.”

“They’re all sort of trending to coming back. ‘Hey, jump in, the water is warm, it’s great,'” he added as his message to advertisers who had yet to return.

Representatives for Volkswagen, General Motors, Stellantis, which paused advertising on Twitter after Musk’s acquisition, were not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Twitter, which erased its press department in a wave of layoffs this year, automatically responded to a CNBC request for comment with a poop emoji.

In December, advertising guru Maurice Levy told CNBC that Twitter was at a crossroads of “complete freedom” — which could result in either chaos or better oversight — and that most advertisers were in “wait and see” mode.

“I believe that if we are back to something more controlled, advertisers will get back to Twitter,” Levy, who is chairman of Publicis Groupe‘s supervisory board, told CNBC’s Charlotte Reed at the 2022 Conference de Paris.

‘Painful’ takeover

During the BBC interview, Musk said that the Twitter takeover process has been marked by an “extremely high” level of pain.

“It’s been really quite a stressful situation, you know, for the last several months,” he said. “It’s been quite painful, but I think… at the end of the day it should have been done.”

“Were there many mistakes made along the way? Of course. You know … all’s well that ends well.”

Twitter has slashed thousands of roles since the acquisition. Musk said that Twitter is now at roughly 1,500 employees, down from 8,000 when he took over.

The exchange came after Twitter added a label to the BBC’s Twitter account saying it was classed as “government-funded media.”

The BBC is largely funded by a license fee that British households must pay to watch BBC programs and all other TV channels. Musk said the platform will change the label to say “publicly-funded media” instead.

During the interview, he lambasted the media and said that he is under “constant attack.”

“The media is able to trash me on a regular basis in the U.S. and the U.K.,” he said.

Musk also falsely claims that Covid is “no longer an issue,” while the World Health Organization still classifies Covid as a pandemic.

– CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Karen Gilchrist contributed to this report