Tesla Motors: How Elon Musk and Company Made Electric Cars Cool, and Sparked the Next Tech Revolution

The inspiration behind Tony Stark’s Iron Man business man persona, Elon Musk, is truly a fascinating and intriguing character.   I will confess that my first impression of Musk, was an eccentric rich play boy, who craved the lime light with no real substance – the technologies Paris Hilton.


I couldn’t have been more wrong in my initial view of Musk.  The man, immigrated from South Africa, cut his teeth in the early 90’s technology boom, first creating and selling Zip2 then more successfully, founding and selling PayPal.   The theme so far, Musk was a disruptive business man, challenging the conventional wisdoms within a particular industry sector.

He wasn’t finished yet.  The car industry, the space race and the worlds energy producers are all in his cross hairs and he’s making significant progress with each.

This book tracks the history of his motor company, Tesla Motors Inc., a company that has redefined the auto-mobile in the modern day age.   The media can’t heap enough praise on the infamous, “insane” Model S.   What made a company that just barely celebrated its 10th year, leap frog and leave every established manufacturer with their pants down?

The book retraces the steps, from the humble beginnings of attempting to create an electric car with the sexiness and practicality of a high end luxury car, shaking the classic “golf cart” view of an EV car.

You are taken through the various milestones of what it takes to create a modern day mass scale automotive company.   Musk has a 3 step program that is so far on course.   First create a limited run (expensive) car, to prove the market, shake out the initial findings and create a media buzz.   The Roadster (loosely based on the British Lotus Elise) was that first car that had a 2500 production run.   The next is to create a high end sedan, to compete with the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Lexus, and to use that to show case just precisely what an EV can do while catering to a practical and demanding audience.  This car is to bring the company to profitability and maintain a positive cash flow.   The Model S (originally named WhiteStar) more than ticked that box.   Finally, to create a mass appeal car, in the $30k price bracket, that can be bought by the average motorist; the Model X coming later (hopefully) in 2015.

Musk involved himself at every stage, micro managing some of the design elements, including the infamous reclining door handles.   He wanted a car that not only redefined the auto-mobile for the 21st century but had the performance of a super car, such as a McClaren F1 or Ferrari.   His cautionary tale to his team was to say: “DeLorean looked great, but had shitty performance”.

Tesla while an American built car, is more international than probably most realize.  The Roadster had a lot of help from Lotus (British).  Daimler (German) and Toyota (Japanese) are major investors and customers of Tesla, while Panasonic (Japanese) supply the batteries and a partner in the GigaFactory project.

But the story is far more interesting and intricate than quick sound bites.  Musk’s legendary energy (he apparently works 100hrs a week; saying he can do in 4 months what most people can only achieve in a year) affords him the ability to be active in not just one disruptive high tech company, but three; Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity.


This book is well written and very pacy in its narrative.  I completed the book in just two sittings as each page I turned, I was marvelling at the complexity of what it takes to bring around a revolution.   What Amazon done for shopping, Tesla is redefining what it means to design, build and deliver the next generation of automotive transportation.   But to limit Tesla to just cars is doing them a huge injustice; they are an energy company with many of their innovations in the world of battery power management.

Musk believes in the greater good, proving this, by open sourcing (a common term in the software industry from which he came) all of Tesla’s patents, for any company to come along and kick start their EV program.  Inspiring.

I came to this book to learn more.   I am the recent owner of a Tesla Model S car, and it literally takes my breath away each mile I drive.   When you drive the Model S you know you are sitting in a time machine, 20 years in the future.   Never did I think I would be driving a car daily, that can do 0-30 in 0.7 seconds, beating nearly every super car on the planet, with no production car getting anywhere near that.  

I had to know more on the story of this revolution and this book filled in a lot of the gaps.  I am far more appreciative of the sweat and effort it took to bring this car to the market.   I feel I am no longer driving an EV car, but taking part in a crucial part of history that will change how we view and interact with what we know today as the humble car.

The story is still unfolding.  The book goes up to the summer of 2014.   That is nearly a year ago now, which in Tesla years, is a lifetime away.   Much has delivered a lot since then, and Musk shows no sign of slowing down.

Looking forward to reading the follow up to this story.

Tesla Motors: How Elon Musk and Company Made Electric Cars Cool, and Sparked the Next Tech Revolution

[review] Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!

I am always fascinated at the history of companies, particularly those that we interact with on a daily basis.  Yahoo is one of the original pioneering internet companies that seems to be a poison chalice for any CEO that attempts to reform it back to its glory days.

This book, contrary to the title, is not all about Mayer and her fight to save Yahoo.  It is instead a history of Yahoo, the many board room drama’s it has faced, the near misses and numerous hits.   There is a number of chapters focusing on Mayer at Google and how she rose up through the ranks there.

I had the good fortune of meeting and chatting with Marissa Mayer a long time ago, after a talk she delivered on the design of the Google search page.  I was impressed by her nervousness that overshadowed her brilliance trying to break through publicly.   That was nearly 10 years ago and after reading this book, it looks like she still suffers from this nervousness.

The book is fast paced and well written, taking the reader through each episode of Yahoo’s beleaguered history.  I read this book, 341 pages, in one night, failing to put it down as each chapter kept my interest and excitement at how things were panning out.   I knew of Yahoo’s many failures (attempt to buy Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc) but what I didn’t know was the real story behind those.  Fascinating.

An example when Microsoft attempted to buy Yahoo, for 3 times the price of the stock at the time.  Too much pontification and posturing ensured the deal was destined for failure, including the creation of a “suicide pill” which would make it very expensive for any would be suitor to make big changes.

It voted to adopt a new severance plan for Yahoo employees where, if the company were to be acquired, any Yahoo employee who quit “for good reason” would get a large cash payout and a bunch of stock they would have otherwise had to stay in their jobs for years to get.

A “good reason” would be “any substantial adverse alteration” in the employee’s job over the two years following the change in control. Given that many Yahoos had very specific responsibilities and qualifications, many of them would have been able to walk with cash and stock after the deal.

What was fascinating for me to learn was just how many CEO’s Yahoo went through that never knew technology – one never even used email!  This was ultimately the failure that lead Yahoo to be where it is today; two founders that never had the business ambition of Page/Brin. Got the sense they were never really that passionate about the business.

Yahoo created the very industry that made it irrelevant.  Netscape, an early pioneer under Jim Clark/Marc Andreessen, had the decency to call it a day and realize it was no longer in the game.  Yahoo suffers the same fate, however, management have checked out, but HR haven’t been told so the payroll continues.

The sheer size of the company was staggering to learn, the amount of projects (400+) it was supporting, all with their own infrastructure and languages.  There was no standard.  No unifying business strategy.  An example was Yahoo Photos competed with Flickr (an acquisition Yahoo made) for many years.

The only reason that Yahoo is still in the game today, is due to a $1B investment it made in Alibaba (the chinese online marketplace company) a number of years ago.  This has resulted in Yahoo’s stock to be in excess of $37B.   This is a good problem to have, however Yahoo’s stock is trading high not because of what it is doing back at home, but how it’s investment in Alibaba is doing.

Mayer is having to make a big decision this quarter on what she is going to be doing with that investment as shareholders are itching for her to give back.

Mayer has a big battle in front of her.  She has made huge progress with Yahoo in the first couple of years since taking over.   Focusing on some of its flag ship products (mail, home page) and bringing in a focus on mobile apps (their weather one won an Apple design award last year).  She is running the company finally as a product company with a laser like focus of her time going over the smallest of details.

“This page is too busy. What you need to do is look at every font on the page, every font size. And every time you see a new color or a new font size, you add up a point. I want this page below five points.”

Moral overall is much higher, employees are far more engaged and resumes are coming in.

She isn’t without blunders so far though.  She hasn’t hired terribly well for those around her management team, with one costing Yahoo $100M.

The book is unfinished.  Mayer is only just getting started in Yahoo and while it is easy to quickly snap to judgement I believe there is more to come on the Yahoo story.

[review] Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!