11 Nov 2022
The character Elon Musk and the developments in his companies have fascinated me for over a decade now.
- Zip2/x.com/Paypal (past)
- The Boring Company
- OpenAI (past)
To be specific, I have followed Elon Musk closely (sounds creepy, I know! 😂) since Steve Jobs' death in 2011.
it all started with Steve Jobs
I was similarly fascinated by Steve Jobs, starting in 2007.
My fascination with Jobs was triggered by a personal experience.
competing against the iPhone.. before it came out!
At the time, I was working at a French manufacturer of telecommunications equipment for consumers, or CPE in the jargon.
The products we sold ranged from fax machines to residential & mobile phones. The company was obviously trying to be ahead with technology, and pioneer new CPEs.
I was an Account Manager, in charge of the largest telcos in Europe.
In 2006 I sold the concept of a "home tablet" with touch screen to the largest European telco. Well.. WE sold, as it was with a team of course - but in that particular case, one of my proudest achievement, I'm venturing in the frowned upon use of "I sold".
What I mean here by "selling the concept" is that the product did not exist. It was only slides and a non-working mockup.
And we got a multi million purchase order to trigger its development.
After selling it to one telco, my CEO pushed me to sell the same concept to a 2nd telco - to validate the interest, and mitigate development risks.
After gaining buy-in from most within that 2nd telco, I landed in a meeting with a high-ranking exec at that company, and my own CEO.
The main challenge we had at the time with the mockup we brought with us was the touch screen. More precisely the user experience with it wasn't good - lagging and not smooth.
Seeing this, the exec stopped and told us something along the lines of "guys, hold on... this will not work.. let me show you the future.".
And he proceeded to take out from his vest pocket a slick black slate. And he demonstrated to us this new phone, not out yet (we were under NDA), with its silky smooth touch screen scrolling.
My heart skipped a beat, and I was in awe.
This was the iPhone.
We managed to close the deal on the promise that we'd improve our touch screen to this new phone's level.
And I started to look into Apple with more curiosity, as they would be a competitor now, rather than just a computer company.
My obession with Steve Jobs had started.
the next Steve Jobs
When Steve Jobs died, I wondered who "the next Steve Jobs" would be - it was so sad to me that the world had lost a visionary that was making the world more exciting to live in.
Almost immediately, in Dec 2011, I came across Elon Musk for the first time.
what "following" means
I have spent more time than I would care to admit over the last 15 years to study them both.
The scope of this "following" includes:
- specialist websites (dedicated to Apple, Tesla, SpaceX, etc..)
- following specific Twitter users
- their respective companies' presentations (eg. keynotes & product launches, quarterly earnings, etc..)
- YouTube channels (last 5 years only.. but a lot of videos!)
- long-form video interviews (all I could find)
- books (eg Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs or Ashley Vance's biography of Elon Musk)
To be clear: while I can relate and "connect" with their way of thinking and seeing the world, I would not want to be them.
It is not out of a bizarre frustration of not being them.
The life sacrifices required to build businesses (and personas) of that scale are outside of my life priorities and what I see as sucess - primarly family.
It remains fascinating to me though to observe and analyse these 2 characters.
Jobs vs Musk
They are both bending reality to their will following their singular & exciting visions.
There are lots of similarities between both - yet at the same time they are so different.
Jobs combined a hippie culture with technological vision, fuelled by a LSD trip(s) and focusing on how humans & computers can "connect".
His genius was in creating great products with insane attention to details, and state-of-the art marketing behind.
His keynotes (ie product launches) were famous - slick & exciting. Books have been written about them and I've studied the method behind this extraordinary level of professionalism.
Elon has "out of this world" visions, is fearless, and operating from first principles to rethink what people think is "impossible".
He is not neurotypical (ie autistic - Asperger's syndrome) which explains why he comes across as weird to most.
The first time I saw Elon presenting I was shocked. Especially after years of studying the polishness (?) of Apple's presentations, rehearsed to death.
Elon stutters, digresses, looks unprepared - like he's winging it live.
But listening to him, my mind was blown by the grandeur of his vision - eg "making the human species interplanetary" (aka "going to Mars") is like a dream for any science-fiction fan like me - and his (technical) knowledge (uncommon for typical CEOs).
I'm happy they both exist(ed).
it's all about great products
And I LOVE their products.
I'm lucky to be able to afford most of their companies' portfolio products.
I live in an Apple & Tesla/Starlink ecosystem, with a deep experience of their products.
Both can be accused of putting form over function at times.
But the feeling you get when using their products is vastly superior (to me) compared with other similar products.
And a great product sells itself.
The Boring Company
01 Jul 2022
60mns interview - Australia
23 Sep 2022
Disinformation & rebuttals
message to detractors
Is Elon Musk perfect?
Yes, of course,
You are right!
Nobody is 🤷🏻♂️
But he's trying, harder than most, to improve the world we live in, and beyond.
His track record so far is net positive so.. perhaps we can give him some slack?
If everyone had experience building a business - especially one considered "impossible" - and the pains & hard decisions that come with it, there would be less negativity and more understanding/support.
The issues mainly are with his communication:
1) he is not neurotypical (Asperger's syndrome, aka "autistic"), so communicates differently than most (less filter).
2) his public comms = his bullish internal goal-setting. Very atypical in the business world (more common in early stage startups).
3) he works on things that have never been done before. Considering building a house (done millions of time) comes usually over time and over budget, of course delivering on the "impossible" will not happen on the day - who cares in the long run?
4) his work bandwidth & cross-functional knowledge are phenomenal - I think "Elon time" is basically thinking "how long would it take for a team of people like me to deliver on that" + he doesn't know everything +
Is he making mistakes along the way?
Sure he is.
But it's about focusing on intent.
Social media answers
19 Nov 2022
I for one, if I'd be in that position, would welcome going "extremely hardcore".
I think working with Elon in the early days of a venture (eg x.com 2.0 here) OR saving a venture from near bankruptcy (also the case here) is like joining the NAVY Seals. Not for the faint of heart.
Plenty of room in the regular army (ie other Tech companies) for great people not aligned with this though.
That's basically his message.
Elon's MO is to have a small team of dedicated people: I read that Tesla's AI team is only 150 (and arguably dominates the market) vs 1000s at other companies.
Let's see if this bet here will work as well as it has with others 🤷🏻♂️
Also: plenty of similar comments about Steve Jobs' leadership style at the time - yet 20 years later Apple dominates and Jobs is hailed as a visionary genius.