Tonight is an important night for Elon Musk, Tesla, and the entire automotive industry. At a party that starts at 8:45 pm Pacific time, the company will hand over the keys to 30 of the more than 100,000 people who pre-ordered the Tesla Model 3, at $35,000 the company’s first affordable electric car.
You may think this event was a long time coming but you probably don’t realize just how long. Neither did I until our friends at Business Insider pointed it out. Musk first announced his plan to build an affordable electric vehicle in a 2006 blog post. Back then, he wasn’t even CEO of Tesla. He called his post “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me).”
“My day job is running a space transportation company called SpaceX, but on the side I am the chairman of Tesla Motors and help formulate the business and product strategy with Martin [Tesla founder Martin Eberhard] and the rest of the team,” he wrote back then.
Then he went on to describe his master plan:
As you know, the initial product of Tesla Motors is a high performance electric sports car called the Tesla Roadster. However, some readers may not be aware of the fact that our long term plan is to build a wide range of models, including affordably priced family cars. This is because the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.
With that in mind, he posed two obvious questions: “Are we really in need of another high performance sports car? Will it actually make a difference to global carbon emissions?”
The answers to those questions, he acknowledged, were no, and not much. But, he said, that missed the point. Any brand new technology has a high single-unit cost at first. But that was just part of the master plan. Tesla’s next car would would be a “sporty four door family car at roughly half the $89k price point on the Tesla Roadster, and the third model will be even more affordable.”
OK, so he didn’t get the prices quite right. The Roadster was followed by the $57,400 Model S and the $80,000 Model X. Still, more than 10 years ago, he knew exactly where he was ultimately headed, and he got here.
His ability to carry out a master plan reminds me of Jeff Bezos‘ adage, “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.” Bezos is another very long-term thinker who started out with an online bookstore but knew from the beginning that he wanted to sell just about everything.
It also mattered that Musk was ready to risk everything to make his vision come true. In late 2008, Musk poured his entire personal fortune into Tesla and SpaceX. His only worry at the time was whether it would be a better strategy to pour his entire fortune into only one of them, to give it the best chance of survival. Preserving some or all of his fortune by avoiding this personal risk does not seem to have even figured in his thinking as a remote possibility–even as the Great Recession came close to taking both companies down.
So ask yourself: What do you care about so much that you would keep working toward a single vision for more than 10 years? And what do you care about so much that you would risk your own financial safety to keep it alive?
If you have an answer to that question (whether it’s a startup, a job, a creative endeavor, or something else), that’s where you should focus your passion.
Musk’s new goals include boring tunnels under major cities where cars can be whisked along, avoiding traffic, and building the first colony on Mars. Both ideas sound a little crazy, and yet with his tenacity and ability to plan far ahead, I wouldn’t bet against him.