A very public rule breaker
Love him or loath him, Elon Musk does push the boundaries of what is possible. The charismatic, if somewhat eccentric, South African serial entrepreneur, has been a rule breaker and disrupter of many industry sectors. His impressive, and growing, portfolio of diverse companies he leads makes for interesting reading :
- SpaceX – a rocket company which has a BHAG of making humans multiplanetary ( ie – manned spaceflight to Mars). They are well on the way to reducing the cost of spaceflight to a fraction of what it is today, with their Falcon rocketry design, reusable rocket technology and know-how.
- Tesla – electric car company, which is now the highest value carmaker in the world. Tesla’s aim to totally shake-up the ICE (internal combustion industry), and his resultant progress has now forced the hand of the big laggard incumbent players to divert billions into R&D to develop their own EV models.
- The Boring Company – underground tunnelling company that plans to disrupt this notoriously expensive industry.
- Solarcity – coupled with Tesla, Elon plans to ‘lay waste to US power utilities and burn the utility business model.
- Starlink – by piggy-backing on his wildly successful SpaceX, Elon aims to launch thousands of satellites to provide high-speed, low-latency connectivity across the globe.
- Neuralink – building a minimally invasive brain computer interface (BCI) for allowing humans to keep up with machine development.
- OpenAI – aims to develop better artificial intelligence. However Musk has stepped down from its board, citing a conflict with Tesla’s own AI aspirations.
and now the recently purchased social media giant, Twitter, where he sees it very important for civilisation to have a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive, allowing free speech.
To me, it’s kind of refreshing that Musk isn’t scared to throw out the rule book and refuse to play the somewhat staid rules of business. Here are several good examples of his not playing by the unwritten ways of business :
- The Tesla car company sells its cars direct to the customer, thus skipping out the traditional franchised dealerships. This traditional ‘middleman’ model has been around for 60 years, and in accordance with state franchise laws, has meant if you want to buy a new car you must go through a dealership (and pay extra taxes). BUT Tesla has not granted any dealership franchise licences anywhere. Some US states, such as Texas and New Jersey have banned Elon’s direct selling model outright, meaning residents of such states need to go across their border to buy.
- Musk doesn’t do business plans, saying that things rarely go according to plan in the start-up world, so why bother meticulously detailing one. Other entrepreneurs, such as Richard Branson, Mark Cuban and Mark Zuckerberg take a ‘half-way’ approach, recommending a basic outline plan that needs to be open for change.
- Just before starting SpaceX, a close friend, trying to dissuade Musk, made him watch a whole series of space rockets blowing up. The company’s first 3 launches all failed and Musk is quoted as saying that a 4th failure would have been game-over. But the 4th launch succeeded and the rest is history.
- With Tesla only one month away from bankruptcy, Musk needed investor cash … and fast. But the investors that were about to help prop up his car-manufacturing idea were haggling over some fine details. To get them over the line he bluffed them by saying he was about to take the investment opportunity himself. The bluff worked and they coughed up the much-needed cash.
- Musk isn’t scared to poke fun at seasoned business figures, or even politicians. Anyone that confronts him may be found in the firing line. Some Ewell-known examples are when Bill Gates shorted Tesla stock – Musk poked fun at his weight. He also suggested renaming Donald Trumps ‘Truth Social’ social media platform to ‘Trumpet.’ After overtaking Jeff Bezo’s to become the world’s richest man, he sent Bezo’s a silver medal. He even went as far to challenge Russian president Vladamir Putin to a single combat duel. Most recently he has challenged Mark Zukerberg to a cage fight.