Elon Musk and the Real Power of Entrepreneurism
Great entrepreneurs don't just build valuable, enduring companies. They change context, reimagine systems, craft new narratives, and dream new dreams.
In 2006, Elon Musk wrote the Master Plan, a long-term vision for Tesla of creating a low-volume car, then a medium-volume car at a lower price, then an affordable high-volume car, all to fund an ambitious plan to provide solar power at scale. The point of the Master Plan was “to explain how our actions fit into a larger picture [of] accelerating the advent of sustainable energy so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good.” Ten years later, Musk wrote the Master Plan, Part Deux, which outlined Tesla's plan to accelerate that vision by creating solar roofs with integrated battery storage, expanding the electric vehicle line, developing a 10X safer self-driving capability, and enabling cars to make money for their owners when they’re not being used. This week, Tesla announced the forthcoming Master Plan 3. While the document itself has not yet been released, Musk revealed an annual production goal of 20 million vehicles and a vision of a completely sustainable economy fueled by $10 trillion of investment and an expansion of the world's energy storage capacity by up to 240 TWh.
As of this writing, the market cap of Tesla is $620 billion. One can argue that much, if not most, of that value is the product of one person – Elon Musk. This, of course, doesn't account for Musk's early contribution to PayPal or his ongoing involvement with SpaceX. But all of this misses the larger point. The value of a rare visionary entrepreneur like Musk cannot be measured by financial metrics alone. Great entrepreneurs don't just build valuable, enduring companies. They change context, reimagine systems, craft new narratives, and dream new dreams – even when the particular companies they lead fail in the more narrow, traditional sense. Whether and to what degree Tesla and SpaceX (and even Twitter for that matter) succeed matters much less than the fact that Musk has already shifted the paradigm for what's possible for human beings and the planet, a phenomenon I wrote about in my most recent post. Love him or hate him, believe in him or not, Musk’s contribution is that he has already imagined and helped bring forth a world where peer-to-peer digital payments are the norm, where space travel is accessible, and where the world's automobile fleet is in the process of becoming fully electric.
In his remarks this week, Musk pointed to something even bigger when he said, “I really want today to be not only about investors who own Tesla stock but anyone who is an investor in Earth.” While I'm not yet fully convinced, and there are certainly many Musk detractors, his most important contribution may likely be reimagining capitalism itself, where we can harness the power of free markets and, at the same time, make the world a better place for everyone. This is the real power of entrepreneurism.
I just finished reading Rebecca Henderson’s wonderful book, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire. I highly recommend it.
Hemant Taneja, CEO and Managing Director of the global VC firm General Catalyst, and the foreign affairs author and columnist Fareed Zakaria have written an excellent article in Harvard Business Review, “Geopolitics Are Changing, Venture Capital Must, Too.”
Generative AI is getting a huge amount of attention these days. Here’s a great tutorial on how to use Microsoft’s Bing AI.