It's hard to imagine committing to invest $500 million in someone's vision for a company only to watch that individual almost immediately try to distance himself from it. But Changpeng "CZ" Zhao told an audience tonight at Web Summit in Lisbon that he wasn't bothered when, after committing to invest $500 million in Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter, Musk then tried for months to torpedo the deal.
First and foremost, suggested the founder and CEO of Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency platform, "When we invest in a deal, we're very comfortable if the deal goes through. We're very comfortable if the deal doesn't go through. We always want to get to a point where we're in that position."
In fact, while, Zhao admitted that he was "honestly" a "little bit surprised" when the deal finally went through -- Musk is "pretty hard guy for me to predict," Zhao said with a laugh on stage -- getting on board again as an investor and active user and web3 proponent was a no-brainer for "many different reasons," he told interviewer Katie Prescott of The Times.
He said, for example, that Binance wants to be "completely supportive of free speech" because Binance's great ambition is to "increase the freedom of money" and free speech, he said, is inextricably tied to the freedom of money.
Free speech is also paramount to Zhao as a founder who finds himself in the headlines and doesn't always like what he reads. "Little guys like us have our followers" said Zhao, whose personal fortune is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. "We can correct the news." (Asked by Prescott if Zhao thought Twitter was constricted on this front previously, he said no.)
Zhao also sees Twitter as an important business development tool, he suggested, calling himself an "active Twitter user" who uses the app more than he uses the Binance app. ("I don't trade. I just store my crypto on Binance and then I use Twitter," where the "crypto community" lives and "where politicians go.")
Naturally, however, the biggest driver is Musk himself, who Zhao said Binance "loves to support" for his "different ideas."
Despite forking over a massive check to Musk, Zhao insisted that he doesn't receive much detail about what's happening inside Twitter HQ right now, telling Prescott that he heard of Musk's apparent plan to charge verified Twitter users $8 per month at the same time as the rest of the world.
But he said that "we're very supportive of anything that can reduce the bots on Twitter." Zhao further suggested that what he appreciates most is that Musk doesn't deliberate for long. "You can see the speed of change in Twitter is much faster now. Last year, I don't know how many new features (the company rolled out); I didn't see that many new ones. But I fully expect that with Elon now in charge, the speed of new features rolling out will be much much faster."
Not all of them will stick, Zhao added. "I would actually say probably the majority of them will not stick," he said. "But that's how you figure out the rest of the 10% of the features that will stick; by defining a lot of new features."
As for when Zhao expects a return on his money -- Musk has said he plans to take Twitter public again in a few years -- he demurred, unsurprisingly. "We're very long-term investors so we anticipate to be involved in the next 10 to 50 to 100 years. We're not bothered by short term; we don't care about that. We care about long-term potential for the platform, and with Twitter plus Elon? Independently, they have a lot of potential, but combined, there is such high potential. Ten to 20 years from now, we're very confident that this will be a much stronger platform than Twitter yesterday."