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Kevin Rose Interviews Elon Musk (allthingsd.com)
151 points by olivercameron on Sept 7, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

I can't think of a better role model for engineers than Elon Musk. Some good stuff from this video:

1) Doesn't want to speculate on Hyperloop before he's sure it can exist

2) Freely admits he was too shy to talk to anyone in the Netscape lobby when he went there fresh out of college looking for a job

3) Doesn't read a lot of general business books. Instead reads auto-/biographies of scientists and entrepreneurs.

Plus, he likes Burning Man (I love it but it's not for everyone) and casually mentions he had the idea for a "super-sonic vertical takeoff and landing plane" there. In comparison, I just got back from BM and my only work-related idea was that I should really put some more effort into my work.

So far I haven't heard any stories about him being an ass either, which is very reassuring for those of us who don't want to be like Steve Jobs. Even in this interview he seems reluctant to reveal too much information about people he didn't like working with.

I just wish people like him were more attracted to politics. I wonder if it's because nobody would elect people like Elon Musk or because those people avoid politics.

In the book "The Paypal Wars", an account of the almost complete history of Paypal through the eyes of one of its employees, Elon Musk is painted as a stubborn, semi-ass. According to the book, when he was assigned as CEO after the merger, he wanted among other things, to replace the Paypal brand with the X.com brand. The whole company saw this as a bad idea because a lot of people knew and trusted friendly Paypal but not weird, porn-sounding X.com, but Elon apparently didn't care and just wanted "his" brand X.com to be the main look of the company, even after a lot of discussions and metrics showing this could end the company.

He ended up being replaced as CEO after a vote because of this whole debacle.

It's the only description of Musk that I've read in which he is painted in a negative way. Keep in mind the author might be biased against Elon because Elon was CEO of X.com which was "the enemy" of Paypal.

Here's what Elon Musk has said about the book:

The only negativity in recent years was due to a book called The PayPal Wars, written by a sycophantic jackass called Eric Jackson. This guy was one notch above an intern at PayPal in the first few years of the company, but gives the impression he was a key player and privy to all the high level discussions. Eric couldn't find a real publisher, so Peter funded Eric to self-publish the book. Since Eric worships Peter, the outcome was obvious - Peter sounds like Mel Gibson in Braveheart and my role is somewhere between negligible and a bad seed. However, to his credit, Peter didn't realize the book would be as bad as it was and apologized to me personally at a Room 9 board meeting at David Sacks's home in LA.


Thanks for this contra-point! Interesting to see Elon reply to this description. Personally I have more reason to believe EM than Eric, but still, as always the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

as always the truth probably lies somewhere in between

"The Truth Lies Somewhere in the Middle": Does It? http://politics.ryanrenn.com/truth_in_middle.htm

There are some less than flattering accounts of Elon Musk. I personally haven't yet seen a reason to subscribe to his cult, except that he's put money into some worthwhile ventures. In fact the paranoid part of me assumes that a fair effort is being put into his public image which could account for some of the more ridiculous superhero worship that seems to surround him.

As far the stories there's the one about how badly one of the original Tesla founders was fucked over. I don't have time to look it up but it is ugly. He also insulted some blogger who asked critical questions, replying with "your mom" and stuff like that.

I have no idea one way or the other but be critical of how things are portrayed, particularly if they seem a little too good.

(EDIT: Here's a link about the story mentioned: http://green.autoblog.com/2007/12/02/martin-eberhard-comment...

There's a more detailed account somewhere which includes some very petty maneuvering by Tesla, like removing Martin Eberhard's name from the list of founders and badly damaging his founder's edition Roadster before delivery, but I didn't find it on a quick search)

I'm bewildered by the hero worshipping of Elon myself. Heck, he may even be a complete fraud. It wouldn't surprise me if he is.

> I just wish people like him were more attracted to politics. I wonder if it's because nobody would elect people like Elon Musk or because those people avoid politics.

I'm starting to think that I'm OK with the great scientists and entrepreneurs not dabbling in politics. I'd rather have a world where politicians keep doing what they're doing, so long as they don't ruin everything, and entrepreneurs keep doing the same. But maybe this is just a phase in my own thinking.

More succinctly, Mr. Musk would have a much lesser impact as POTUS than as himself in his current role.

> More succinctly, Mr. Musk would have a much lesser impact as POTUS than as himself in his current role.

There's no way to know for sure, but I'm curious about your reasoning. I'm not sure if I'd even agree with you. A technology and science focused president could do a lot of good, not least of all changing the mindset of people. Of course it'll be hard to get anything done with all the bipartisanism and opposition but that's a separate issue.

> Of course it'll be hard to get anything done with all the bipartisanism and opposition but that's a separate issue.

That's actually my point though, which is purely pragmatic. In a world where we don't have to account for politics, sure, I'd love to see what would happen if scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs were to govern. In a world where most of the time in government seems, to this observer, to be spent politicking, I'd rather see people like Mr. Musk doing his own thing.

Jimmy Carter was a nuclear engineer. But a lot of people didn't end up liking what he did. Some still say that he ruined the country. I'm not knowledgeable enough to know what he should have/have not done, but I know a lot of people that despise the man.

After stating that, I still would like to see more engineering types in leadership positions because engineers are more data driven. However, most engineers are too busy building things to run for office.

Out of character for a scientist? You mean, besides Werner Heisenberg, Freeman Dyson, Francis Collins, Richard Smalley, and Donald Knuth? This meme needs to die.

Nuclear Engineer? From his Wikipedia I wouldn't really categorize him as a scientist. It also says he was really religious, which is also out of character for a scientist.

Woodrow Wilson was an intellectual (though not a scientist) and he was president.

Keep in mind the president's cabinet members probably consist of many scientists and this is probably sufficient for advising and keeping the president knowledgeable on issues.

Obama's cabinet:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Chu - Nobel prize in physics - Secretary of Energy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Blank - PhD in Econ - Secretary of Commerce

Probably more scientists on board.

Woodrow Wilson was a disaster, and quite the anti-intellectual towards subjects that lent themselves towards one correct answer. Some quotes of his: "I don't let facts cloud my opinions". "The natural man despises mathematics". Also, his Treaty of Versaille was the main cause of WWII. I have no idea why he is revered as a president.

EDIT: After brushing up on a little ww2 history, it seems as though I've attributed too much blame to Wilson. He pushed a liberal approach towards Germany, the French delegation pushed for harsh reparations, and he lost out.

Did Carter show anywhere near as much leadership in pushing the limits of technology as Admiral Rickover did, though?

There is a nice scene in the film Before Sunset where the two main characters are discussing the fact that the female lead, Celine, is working for an NGO. Speaking about what she sees around her:

I see it in the people that do the real work, and what's sad in a way is that the people that are the most giving, hardworking, and capable of making this world better, usually don't have the ego and ambition to be a leader.

Is there a biography of Elon Musk? I saw a few on amazon, but they don't seem to be well reviewed?

I know he's still young, but given his influence and intrigue, I would buy a solid biography of his in a second.

its too early in his life to have a real biography. there are so many untied ends.

Competence in science and engineering doesn't equate to competence in politics and governance.

...at least not in the modern American political system, dominated by lawyers. China apparently has a lot of engineers (by training) in its high offices.

I'm getting to the point where I'd prefer a government run by engineers, scientists, doctors, astronauts, etc. rather than one run by politicians, lawyers, bankers and oil executives. Imperfect? Perhaps. Lesser evil? By far.

I think the problem lies in attraction. Politics is such a dumpster fire that only the most egotistical, self-absorbed and driven type A's are inclined to seek political roles.

But that's the cynic in me.

He's made comments about how the U.S. taxes are too low - albeit just in passing. Seems like he's not one to shy away from making political statements every now and then.

Ugh the same freaking questions for Elon.

Jeez can't someone ask him something new and different.

One I want to know is why he created Zip2 when he has always wanted to make an impact on the world? What was his thought process at the time? Did he think he'd make some quick money and move on or did he really think zip2 would change the world?

IANEM (I Am Not Elon Musk), but in a world where most news and media organizations were NOT online... getting them online could be world changing. Can you imagine if the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, etc were still only delivered to your doorstep once a day?

That is pretty world changing.

Hmm that's true. I never thought of it like that. I wish someone would ask him about how he gauged the opportunity for his earlier ventures.

And his core operational and strategic steps in starting a startup.

Kind of puts in perspective what we are all working on/aiming for. Think a web app is hard, try building a car company or going to space. The dude is Tony Stark.

Not sure if you're aware, but the Tony Stark character from the IronMan movie was actually based off of Elon Musk!

Edit: source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk#Interests

Most of the interview is old info that won't surprise anyone following Elon's career. The info on "Hyperloop" starts at around 18m20s into the video and is very brief.

Tube with Hydrophobic inner surface. Liquid filled. Accelerated by solar energy, Storage solution is simply kinetic.

Liquid accelerates until the solar input meets equilibrium with the (extremely low) energy loss through friction with the surface.

Ride the flow dude!

"Actively seek out and listen very carefully to negative feedback" Great line from a great guy

Cool interview, I wish they would have gone more in depth. A Mixergy interview with Elon would be great.

I've always been most fascinated with people who start car companies. It's always been something that I would love to do as an entrepreneur and auto enthusiast but creating a car company has it's obvious barriers to entry.

@ 15:30 Where Kevin asks Elon why other auto manufacturers make crap car designs.

I've always wondered about this and it's interesting that Elon states that most body styles cost (relatively) the same. Anyone have a further explanation for this?

There was a TED talk[1] product design, or designing for manufacturing and distribution. I think the points were that:

1) These concept designs don't work that well in real conditions, are hard to manufacture or don't have a support network

2) People actually expect and want "regular" looking cars. The speaker made a example of hospital equipment which has to look fancy and complicated, because otherwise people won't trust it (and therefore, buy it).

I guess Tesla can work around the first point since, they're a new maker and don't have any previous investments, which allows them to try new ways of doing things.

They're pretty good at the second point as well, since don't make or sell "regular cars" anyway. Tesla Roadster is not an average car, it's a high-end sports car for techfreaks and I think the prospects for the sedan is also pretty much in early adopter audience.

[1] http://www.ted.com/talks/timothy_prestero_design_for_people_...

I hypothesize that it's because design is expensive, and the other manufacturers are unwilling to pay to design "low-end" cars.

Maybe to give people a reason to buy high-end cars?

The advice about having a mindset of looking at the world via first principals rather than through assumptions and analogies was a great insight.

Musk then elaborated nicely, saying that people use the assumption that batteries have always been expensive so they always will be expensive. A better way to look at the problem is to check the London spot price for the individual battery components; cobalt, aluminium etc and deriving a price from that.

Are there books or resources where I can train this 'mental muscle' of looking at the world through first principals?

I should mention that don't have a physics or engineering background myself.

Such an inspiration to product engineers. He's very unique to be in so many new industries and execute so well, all focused on the product. With that, to be so level headed and ship focused without the hype. Elon's products are his marketing, first principle design is hard to beat. He was inspired by the US to come here and we need more like him to complete the cycle. Tesla as the company name is very fitting to the individual that started it.

I saw him say on twitter that hyperloop is not a vac-tube as most have speculated https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/224406502188916739. In this interview he says it could go as fast as the concord jet but on the ground and wouldn't need tracks.

Any ideas what he may be describing?

:/ mostly vac-tube speculation. I'm hoping someone has some other ideas.

He says the hyperloop is kind of electrical, ground level, supersonic concord plane.

So maybe it is a kind of bullet train riding on the shockwave. But he must confine this shockwave somehow(if he want´s supersonic at ground level with out neighbors burning it down) , maybe with a tube?. Maybe this tube could provide the support for the solar panels, stabilize the flight of the "train"(using the shockwave to steer it?) and storage the energy as a kind of capacitor... This way you don´t need an actual very expensive sealed tube with vacuum in it , just some metal plates with enough form to deflect(and mute) the waves once the "plane" passes...(and serve as capacitors too).

I am guessing all this with just one sentence so it must be way off :).

Thanks to spaceX and Tesla he has more knowledge now of electrical engines, electricity storage and transport, high energy aerodynamics, etc... it must be something that combines all that somehow..

That's roughly where my mind was going too.

You'd still need a safe way to stop the vehicle in the event of an earthquake and rupturing of the path down which the vehicle flies.

If the hyperloop has some flight capabilities it could lift off from the tube(at supersonic speeds it would be easy), then deploy parachutes at a safe altitude, or ignite some rockets (like the scape system of the dragon capsule), or use some kind of electromagnetic braking (maybe the most probable). I am really looking forward for the day he makes it public!.

He mentions discussion about aerodynamics, so vacuums came to my mind too.

Kevin has come a long way in terms of interviewing since his interview with Trent Reznor. Nice job Kevin.

This is unfortunately the same as every other interview. He has regurgitated all of this information a million times... I would love to see an interview that goes a little deeper.

What were the biographies he mentioned?

Why does the link lead to AllThingsD ?!?!?!?!?

either point to the YouTube video itself http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-s_3b5fRd8

or to the show page at http://foundation.kr

Don't give News Corp the traffic it doesn't deserve.

Hyperloop solar-powered high-speed land travel project will help in expanding boundaries of Silicon Valley. I know it will take long time but will be a great thing for now-in-highschool kids.

Damn it, I thought of Charlie Rose. Who is this Kevin blow-hard?

As has been pointed out, he founded Digg.

Here's a Charlie Rose interview: http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10550

He founded Digg.

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