Tesla’s Stealth Advantage: Shared Mission

There’s been a lot written about the Model 3 and little more I can add about the car, but I’d like to share something I noticed at my first Tesla event last week: the incredible power of a shared mission.

Tesla’s Fremont factory is one of the world’s largest buildings, so it was no surprise that the Model 3 hand-off event was a 5 minute shuttle ride from where the guests first assembled. Twelve people rode in my shuttle, of which four earned their ticket to the event through their participation in the Tesla Referral Program, where Tesla owners receive credit towards their next Tesla purchase by referring a customer. In case you’re wondering, the other seven people were suppliers. The shuttle worked its way around the back of the factory past what seemed like an endless line of people wrapping around the building. My group wondered aloud where all the people had come from. We got dropped off on a black carpet next to a staging area for a ride in a Model S on the test track.

At 7:30PM, an hour-and-a-half before Elon Musk would take the stage, I took two Model S test rides with Spyglass Capital fund manager Jim Robillard, and talked to a wide range of Palo Alto-based Tesla employees. I started each conversation by asking, “What’s on your mind?” Each employee lit up, detailing their contribution to the Model 3, and why they believe it will change the world. Investors I spoke to were not concerned about the central bear case on the Tesla story, that the company will never make money and run out of cash. Instead, they talked about the importance of EV, Tesla’s head start in battery production, and Tesla’s mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

At 8:45PM, the event kicked off with Project Loveday finalists, named after Bria Loveday, the 11-year-old who suggested to Musk that Tesla should host a user-generated commercial competition. The quality of the commercials was impressive, requiring a ton of effort given the modest grand prize of an on-stage introduction at a future Tesla event.

At 9:00PM, Musk took the stage in front of 6,000 vocal fans – all employees. The long lines my shuttle bus had passed on the way to the event was Tesla’s manufacturing muscle waiting to get into the event. The crowd’s energy suggested the rank and file share the same passion about Tesla as the optimistic Palo Alto-based employees I had talked to earlier in the evening. The main screen briefly switched to a live feed from Gigafactory 1 in Sparks, NV. Same thing: a huge crowd of hand waving employees.

During my trip home from the event I realized that I had gone to meet a car; instead, I met a group of Tesla stakeholders on a shared mission to change the world.

As an analyst, I’ve always evaluated companies based on unit forecasts, product road maps, competition, profitability, and management teams. As a venture capitalist, I’ve added to that list culture and the level of shared mission. During my trip home from the event I realized that I had gone to meet a car; instead, I met a group of Tesla stakeholders on a shared mission to change the world. Tesla’s stakeholders include employees (all of which are shareholders from the management team to the custodians), Tesla owners, shareholders, Project Loveday participants, suppliers, and even an 11-year-old fan from Michigan.

I was reminded of the famous anecdote about President John F. Kennedy. During a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President Kennedy noticed a custodian at work. He walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?” “Well, Mr. President,” the custodian responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Tesla has this same stealth advantage: a shared mission at a scale greater than I’ve seen in my 20 years in tech.

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