Elon Musk’s gamble on transparency is totally paying off

The more he gives away, the bigger he gets.

In 2006, before the Roadster was even available, Musk laid out his vision: electric cars for all. With its hellishly obvious title, “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (shh don’t tell anyone)” the message Silicon Valley’s rebel with a cause was sending was this: “You gonna try to steal this?”

Who was Musk daring? The naysayers? Industry experts? Other car companies? The answer is: who cares.

10 years after he laid out his exact MO, the affordable Tesla is here — and no one stole his idea.

In that now legendary post, Musk essentially published a basic roadmap, something that most companies go to great lengths to keep under wraps.

That 2006 post has resurfaced again as the first waves of affordable electric Tesla 3 pre-orders roll in, because people can’t help but marvel that Musk followed through on a promise he made ten years ago.

Musk did the exact opposite of what most businesses are afraid to do. He publicly stated his values, marked his territory and followed through with a bang.

The consistency, the transparency, the truly ludicrous Ludicrous mode — the people love it!

Why don’t more businesses do this?

No one’s going to steal your idea

What idea is so precious and earth-shattering that it has to be kept a secret?

According to Elon Musk, not a single one. Not even his own. In 2014, he took his mission a step further by announcing that all Tesla patents were now public.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

With this unprecedented gesture, Musk was putting out the bat signal: “My money isn’t on the ideas, it’s on the execution.”

By now, he had put all the following pieces in place for Tesla:

  • He publicly laid out his big vision — essentially aligning himself with a community of supporters, fellow climate activists, and future customers
  • He was positioning himself to recruit top engineering talent — his serious commitment to execution and craft counts as a major draw for the best of the best
  • He was paving the way for new markets — open source patents will accelerate the adoption of the electric car and charging stations

This is how Elon Musk turned Tesla into an unstoppable force — at least for now — despite the fact that he didn’t know what his final product would look like and despite not having a launch date.

With a solid strategy in the bag, the details can be sorted out later.

Musk’s strategy is a blueprint for company transparency

As that Musk’s 2006 “Master Plan” recirculates the web this week, Zenefits CEO David Sacks observed the following:

Can I take that a step further? Musk steamrolls the argument against company transparency.

He gave the public the most exciting parts of his plan, correctly calculating that an investment in transparency would pay off in dividends. It has.

And that didn’t mean giving it all away — there are internal details we will never see. He didn’t even have to promise specific features or a launch date. Nowhere in there did it say that these would be shipping by 2017, as we’re now told they will be. Way back in 2006, that didn’t matter.

What did matter was this:

He picked a problem he wanted to solve and made a basic public product roadmap outlining the route he was planning to take to create incrementally cheaper, better versions of an electric car.

He left the details fuzzy, giving himself the time and flexibility to learn from previous efforts and to listen and respond to customer reactions and competitor movements.

He didn’t promise any launch dates, giving him the freedom to delay the launch so he didn’t have to compromise on his unrelenting standards. (He later attributed the delay to “hubris” — another example of radical honesty at Tesla.)

And then he delivered.

This week, Musk is giving us all something to think about.

Is he a daredevil or is he proof of an obvious way to build a business? It may not matter. If having a public product roadmap is a key to Musk’s success, he may have just handed us the future.


Originally posted on ProdPad’s Blog for Highly Effective Product Managers.

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