Two words: Vicious visionary.
I started hearing about him when SpaceX launched a reusable rocket, successfully sending it to outer space then back here on Earth, landing safely. At much lower costs. Beat that.
This guy’s cool, smart, and will not be bound by the impossible. But at the same time I wouldn’t want him for a boss because he’s an employee’s nightmare, unless of course building rockets and electric cars is your thing. But granted that those are indeed your thing, I still think it’s a rare gift for one to survive Musk’s demands, of pushing his employees and goals way beyond the limits. Keys to his success I guess. Slave driver is too polite of a word to describe him.
Good lessons for budding and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. Some notes for my memory’s sake:
Inside of every Ford were dozens of computing systems made by different companies that all had to speak to each other and work as one. It was a mess of complexity that had evolved over time, and simplifying the situation would prove near impossible at this point, especially for a company like Ford, which needed to pump out hundreds of thousands of cars per year and could not afford to stop and reboot. Tesla, by contrast, got to start from scratch and make its own software the focus of the Model S.
The way Elon talks about this is that you always need to start with the first principles of a problem. What are the physics of it? How much time will it take? How much will it cost? How much cheaper can I make it? There’s this level of engineering and physics that you need to make judgments about what’s possible and interesting. Elon is unusual in that he knows that, and he also knows business and organization and leadership and governmental issues.
Musk speaks about the cars, solar panels, and batteries with such “passion that it’s easy to forget they are more or less sideline projects. He believes in the technologies to the extent that he thinks they’re the right things to pursue for the betterment of mankind. They’ve also brought him fame and fortune. Musk’s ultimate goal, though, remains turning humans into an interplanetary species. This may sound silly to some, but there can be no doubt that this is Musk’s raison d’être. Musk has decided that man’s survival depends on setting up another colony on another planet and that he should dedicate his life to making this happen.
Either you’re trying to make something spectacular with no compromises or you’re not. And if you’re not, Musk considers you a failure. This position can look unreasonable or foolish to outsiders, but the philosophy works for Musk and constantly pushes him and those around him to their limits.
Tesla would make up for its lack of R&D money by hiring smart people who could outwork and outthink the third parties relied on by the rest of the automakers. “The mantra was that one great engineer will replace three medium ones.