Betting it all

Elon Musk arrived at the Dell World stage in a Tesla automobile

Elon Musk arrived at the Dell World stage in a Tesla automobile

This is just a short and funky little post but I am sitting here in my hotel room after a couple of inspirational days at Dell World in Austin and I’m feeling the creative energy so I’m just going for it.

The last time I was in Austin (SXSW) I got to see Elon Musk — the founder of Tesla, SpaceX and a bunch of other things. It was the highlight of my week. I saw him speak again this week in a much more intimate setting and I am just so impressed with this guy, truly a once-in-a-generation entrepreneur.

He told this amazing story.

He said he started Tesla, at least in part, after viewing a 2006 documentary film called Who Killed the Electric Car that explores the creation, limited commercialization, and subsequent destruction of the battery electric vehicle in the United States. The film explores the roles of GM, the oil industry, the US government, and others, in limiting the development and adoption of this technology.

This propelled his vision to start the company.

Unfortunately timing (most notably the World Financial Crisis in 2008) conspired against his efforts and he was within a day of running out of money and shutting Tesla down. With two American car makers on the brink of bankruptcy, no one was willing to fund a start-up electric car company.

To demonstrate his commitment to backers, he invested his entire personal wealth in the company. He had to borrow money from friends to pay bills. Eventually life support money (from Daimler) came through.

At this point in his story the moderator stepped in and said, “So you believed in the long-term success of this company so strongly that you were willing to bet everything on it … or is that overstating it?”

“I think that is over-stating it,” he said. “I mean logically, I thought at that point we were probably going to fail.”

Quite a story.

The entrepreneur also forcefully made the point that the biggest inhibitor to innovation is that “almost everybody” is self-limiting beyond their potential.

Any way, it was a great experience to be able to hear this man speak and I wanted to pass it along to you.

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