In this Moneycontrol Deep Dive, we will focus on some of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad events in Musk's life and his uplifting vision for the future.
Reema Moudgil | Rakesh Sharma
The world was never as sharply divided as it is today between those who do and those who well… talk.
So believe it or not, there is a website called Teslarati that calls itself the leading source for Tesla news, rumours and reviews.
There are entire industries surrounding the extraordinary life of Elon Reeve Musk, a technology entrepreneur, investor, and engineer, the founder, CEO, and lead designer of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, Inc.; co-founder and CEO of Neuralink; and co-founder of PayPal.
Yes, there are industries existing because of Elon Musk that he has little or nothing to do with.
For instance, sites that endlessly report on his rumoured feuds with the likes of American rapper Azealia Amanda Banks and on his love life. Tech magazines that review and take apart every Musk soundbite and tweet, every invention. And a news cycle that feeds on his finances, his set backs and his triumphs. And trivia such as that Musk taught himself computer programming at the age of 9, dropped out of Stanford after just two days, is the inspiration for Tony Stark, a.k.a. Ironman, that he owns the “submarine car” made famous by James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, that he is a big X-Men fan, and surprise… he built rockets as a kid!
To state the obvious - Elon Musk does not just make news. He is news. Be it his irreverent weed-smoking during podcasts that shocked the Tesla stocks. Or his attempts to make something as mundane as driving into a thing to “maximize enjoyment," with the introduction of TeslAtari, a new Easter Egg that allows drivers to play classic Atari games, the man is always providing fodder to the media.
And in this Money Control Deep Dive, we will focus as Musk himself would put it, on just some of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad events in his life and also his surprising and uplifting vision for the future .
A few tweet storms
"Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured, " tweeted Musk in August 2018, unleashing a storm. The claim was disputed and called false and misleading with a large number of Tesla shareholders believing that Musk was engaging in market manipulation via the tweet and had cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.
And now the ramifications have caught up with him in 2019 and Bloomberg has reported that investors in Tesla who are suing Musk, are now asking to subpoena both Grimes, his former girlfriend and also Azealia Amanda Banks to testify to his state of mind when he made that tweet, presuming that one of them was with him. Banks has stirred the pot further by claiming that she has private Instagram and text messages connected to the tweet that could get Musk in more trouble.
So what is Banks’ role in this whole controversy? As it turns out, Banks had been allegedly invited to Musk’s home, by his then-girlfriend Claire Boucher, or musician Grimes, for a recording session and witnessed Grimes placating her boyfriend for and we quote, “being too stupid not to go on Twitter while on acid.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission, as has been reported earlier, ended up fining Musk and Tesla $20 million each over the Aug. 7 tweet, as well as removing Musk as chairman. And as New York Post reported, a probe suggested that Musk’s relationship with Grimes had played a role in setting the price he said he would ask for Tesla.
It was alleged that Musk had rounded the price up to $420 because he had recently learned about the number’s significance in marijuana culture.
We would have you know that in the latest developments, Musk's lawyer Dean Kristy is asking the judge to dismiss the subpoenas, arguing that they are just sensationalising the matter. Because of course, a random tweet resulting a multi-million dollar lawsuit is not sensational enough on its own!
We would also have you know what Bank's last word on the feud is and we quote, "This is going to get extremely ugly. I may be a lot of things but a liar is not one of them. Elon will learn very soon who is more powerful of us two."
Musk ploughs on nevertheless
Regardless of the smoke and the little fires erupting around him and his equity, Elon Musk's plans keep rocketing into a seemingly incredible future that most of can barely even dream about.
As the Wall Street Journal reported in December 2018, Musk’s rocket company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is set to raise $500 million from earlier shareholders at a $30.5 billion valuation and the Scottish money management firm Baillie Gifford & Co, in a bid to help get its internet-service business off the ground.
This week though, techcrunch.com reported that though SpaceX, still hasn’t announced the round, it nevertheless has made things official, and has filed details with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about the fundraise. Though the filing doesn’t confirm investor Baillie Gifford’s involvement, it does show that the company has secured from 8 investors at least $273.2 million toward a planned $500 million round.
Techcrunch also notes the involvement of longtime investor Steve Jurvetson, who has been on the board of both SpaceX and Musk’s car company, Tesla Motors, for 10 and 13 years, respectively. Why is this worth mentioning? We quote, "After Jurvetson left Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), the venture capital firm he co-founded, in 2017 amid questions about his personal conduct, there was uncertainty around whether he would keep those director positions. Indeed, at the time, a Tesla spokesperson told the outlet Recode that Steve Jurvetson “is on a leave of absence from the SpaceX and Tesla boards pending resolution of these allegations.”
Jurvetson went on to form a new venture firm, Future Ventures, and remains involved in SpaceX, too, even while sources suggest he is still, on leave.
As the piece repeats for effect, assuming SpaceX closes its newest round of funding, it will have raised $2.5 billion in equity funding altogether, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s earlier report, SpaceX’s new round will be used to finance a new satellite internet service, one whose early designs suggest it could be powered by more than 4,000 satellites orbiting the earth at low altitudes.
Starlink, as Wall Street journal said, is one of two multibillion-dollar projects at the company, the other involving plans to develop the largest rocket system ever built, the Starship and its Super Heavy rocket booster.
But there are challenges ahead
As Wall Street Journal put it, "SpaceX’s existing business faces headwinds. It expects launches of its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket will decline in 2019 and perhaps 2020. Global demand for launching commercial satellites, its core business, is stagnant, with some satellite manufacturers and customers looking to permanently exit the market segment. In the U.S. government arena, SpaceX is just beginning to see its Pentagon and NASA business ramp up. But it will likely take several years to gain substantial revenue from the deals."
Inventions on a loop
Despite financial, legal and personal challenges, Musk keeps coming up with inventions that force the news pundits to stop and catch their breath.
Mid December last year, thousands gathered for the first public viewing of Musk’s ‘loop track’, or a path-breaking Test Tunnel In California or an underground “loop” track that promises to revolutionize transport in the 21st-century city and as The Guardian reported, it turned out to be a grand mixture of imaginative futurism and showbiz razzmatazz, not to mention a showcase for a novel tunnel-boring technology that may be the most significant development of all.
We quote from the entertaining piece, “Whether the technology succeeds in increasing the speed of tunnel construction fifteenfold, as Musk said he hoped it would, or heralds the beginning of a vast underground network of transport channels beneath our cityscapes, is anybody’s guess. Musk, for one, didn’t sound completely sure. “We’re obviously in the early stages here,” he told reporters. “This is a prototype. We’re figuring things out. What’s really important is that there is a path, finally, finally, finally … to alleviating traffic congestion in cities."
As the piece goes on to say, the test tunnel, a 1.1-mile underground track that runs near the headquarters of Musk’s SpaceX company in an unlovely corner of south Los Angeles, was built with relatively conventional tunnel-boring technology for about $10m. But Musk’s underground construction arm, known as the Boring Company, has already envisioned a second- and third-generation technology that would simultaneously dig the hole, move the dirt out, and automatically install the reinforced concrete tunnel walls.
We quote, "The idea is that, one day, cities will have so many underground layers of tunnel networks that a driver of an autonomous electric car could join the loop at any point and be whisked at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour to a destination programmed in advance. Musk said a station could be just a glorified parking spot with an elevator to take the driver down into the system, or something grander with double-helix spiral ramps."
But as is becoming obvious in Musk's case, sometimes, his grand plans outstrip ground realities so as the piece suggests, "Musk was vague about the timeline and vaguer still about the costs. True to his wayward reputation, he suggested at one point that anyone could copy the technology he was developing free of charge because all he cared about was alleviating traffic congestion. At another point he fantasized about building “infinite real estate underground” on Mars."
The reaction was patchy as well since the vehicles went no faster than 40 or 50 miles per hour and many onlookers compared the experience to an amusement-park ride and an airport shuttle, rather than a clutter-breaking scientific miracle.
Though as the piece points out, several cities have expressed strong interest in Musk’s vision – whether to provide a high-speed transportation link or to create a more mundane tunnel network for sewage, electricity and gas lines that could be serviced without the need to break up roads and create more congestion.
But as of now, even Musk does not have all the answers.
The world according to Musk
When you are Elon Musk, you can however reimagine the world and present your own version of reality regardless of what is going on around you. Catherine Clifford reported in www.cnbc.com how Musk presented his version of the world during the unveiling event of the test tunnel on December 18, 2018.
He said that he looks at the future from the standpoint of probabilities and he has made three predictions for the future. He believes that in 7 to 10 years, the first humans will colonize Mars. In a Twitter conversation, he has also mentioned that it will be "engineers, artists and creatives of all kinds" who will go to Mars first.
He also told Axios, an American news and information website last November, that there is a "70 percent" chance that he himself will go to Mars and also interjected a bit of patented drama when he said and we quote, "It's gonna be hard, there's a good chance of death, going in a little can through deep space, you might land successfully, once you land successfully you'll be working non-stop to build the base — so not much time for leisure — and once you get there, even after all this, there's a very harsh environment, so there's a good chance you'll die there. We think you can come back but we're not sure."
If we were rude like Azealia Banks, we would ask what Musk was smoking when he constructed this sentence but we won't.
The important thing is that SpaceX hopes to get an unmanned cargo rocket to Mars in 2024.
According the www.cnbc.com piece, according to Musk, you will be able to connect your brain to computers in 10 years and Musk's company Neuralink is developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.
Musk told Axios and we quote, "The long-term aspiration with Neuralink would be to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence…to achieve a sort of democratization of intelligence, such that it is not monopolistically held in a purely digital form by governments and large corporations. That will be done by connecting computer electrodes to neurons in your brain — "a chip and a bunch of tiny wires" that will be "implanted in your skull."
If this statement reminds you of a Black Mirror episode, you are not alone and only the future will reveal how many of Musk's ideas will pan out and as Musk says, "I believe this can be done. ... It's probably on the order of a decade."
And Musk is not done yet. Tesla's 'cyberpunk' pickup truck prototype is expected to be here in 2019.
As always Musk is not specific about the specifics of the truck but he wants us to get as excited as he is and in typical Musk speak, he has stated, "We've got the pickup truck, which — actually, I'm personally most excited about the pickup truck," Musk told Swisher in October. "It's gonna be like a really futuristic like cyberpunk, 'Blade Runner' pickup truck. It's gonna be awesome, it's gonna be amazing. … This will be heartstopping. It stops my heart. It's like, oh, it's great."
He also believes that Robots will be able to do everything better than us in the very near future.
The Musk legend grows on
As we mentioned right at the onset of the podcast , regardless of what is working or not working in his life, Elon Musk feeds collective imagination like few others can. And even as we try to piece together the man from various sound-bytes and news reports, it can be safely said that nobody knows Elon Musk as well as Elon Musk does.
Ashlee Vance, made a fair attempt to get to know Musk in the book ‘ELON MUSK- Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future’ by basing it upon nearly 30 hours of conversations with the man himself.
And here is what we gleaned from that book. If we are surprised by how quickly Musk bounces back from setbacks, we should not be. Because, he after all emigrated from South Africa to Canada at age 17 to escape from an abusive father who once forced him to sit quietly for four hours while he talked non stop. When Musk came to Canada as a teenager, he had no money and survived by working through random jobs and finally enrolled for undergraduate classes at Queen’s University in Ontario. He survived a nightmarish childhood and was once beaten so much by bullies in school that he had to be hospitalised.
We learnt also what makes him the tireless thinker that he is. As a young person of no privilege, Musk once read 60 books a month, memorised two entire encyclopedias and drew upon the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to deal with life's big questions. And how studying at the University of Pennsylvania clarified the direction he wanted to take.
From an upstart in the Silicon Valley who he began to create and sell companies, Musk became a one man multi-billion dollar aspirational industry and he continues to expand his mind and work like there is no tomorrow.
We also witness via the book's gaze, how success brings pitfalls and in Musk's case, there have been enough and more as when he has undermined colleagues and taken credit where it wasn't due.
Add to these, his recent indiscretions on social media and questions about the profitability of some of his truly far-fetched ideas and we have a success story that could be in the danger of imploding but as the book points out and we agree, at the heart of most of what Musk does is his preoccupation with the idea of making the world a better place. As he famously said once,
"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. Too many smart people are pursuing Internet stuff, finance, and law. That is part of the reason why we haven’t seen as much innovation.”
Even as a teenager, Musk had a mission statement, "The only thing that makes sense to do is strive for greater collective enlightenment.”
Ironically, the man whose tweets have given him enough reasons to regret his impulses once said and we quote, "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”
But despite his failings, his contribution to the expansion of the scope and scale of human consciousness cannot be denied. And he did so by doing what few people do these days. Ask the big questions. Questions like how to harness solar power, how to explore space and understand the scope of digital banking.
Rejection is not new to him but dealing with it successfully is one of the reasons why he is where he is today. In space and perhaps even beyond.Musk for instance may be working with space technology and solar energy and a million other ideas, but his ultimate intention is to change the world for the better. And you just can’t help but root for that.