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Working with Elon Musk: Tesla co-founder JB Straubel says it's all about commitment and persistence
Posted on May 11, 2016 by Matt Pressman
After hearing the aggressive Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] forecast to achieve 500,000 vehicles produced by 2018, we were hoping to glean some insights when a top Tesla exec spoke earlier this week. According to Teslarati*, "Tesla CTO JB Straubel talked about building batteries at the Gigafactory during his keynote address at the Discovery 16 conference in Toronto... Straubel told his audience that Tesla is designing new manufacturing techniques and using new machinery invented and honed under his guidance to make its batteries. The objective is to reduce the unit cost of the lithium ion batteries that power Tesla automobiles as low as possible.”
Above: Tesla's JB Straubel at the Discovery 16 Conference (Image: Teslarati*)
We couldn't get video of the entire presentation, but, we did hunt down a good portion of Straubel's talk. What struck me in the video (see below, Part 1 at 2 min 58 sec) were his insights on Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In light of Musk's recent ambitious forecast, it's clear that Tesla Motors staffers are expected to perform at a very, very high level. Straubel emphasized this when discussing Musk's high expectations at Tesla.
Above: Tesla co-founder JB Straubel on stage at the Discovery 16 Conference (Source: Tesla Motors News; note: youtube poster states that "Part 2" video is not available)
When asked what it might be like to work for Elon Musk, Straubel replied, "Elon is a challenging guy. He is an interesting mix of incredibly challenging and incredibly difficult. He believes so deeply in what we’re doing, and everything he’s doing whether its SpaceX, SolarCity or Tesla. He has a commitment and a passion for it like no one else I’ve ever met. And he’ll put his actions behind it — he’ll work harder than everyone else and expect every single person in the company - no matter where - to be working just as hard as he is. So on one hand he’s inspiring, he’s a visionary, but he’s also a perfectionist and he can be a really difficult guy to work for as an employee. But it constantly makes people better. I’ve seen it for 10 years, almost 12 years now - the results are hard to deny.”
Above: Tesla CEO Elon Musk with co-founder and CTO JB Straubel (Image: Electrek)
When asked what someone can take away from Elon Musk's work ethos, Straubel answered, "Well I think commitment and persistence. There’s just no substitute for those things. You have to have that - just complete commitment - even in the face of almost certain failure. It’s a hard thing to explain, but, you have to have such a passion for what you’re doing that even though you know that failure is a much more likely outcome than any kind of success you’re just going to carry on. You’re going to persevere and stick to it until you physically can’t do any more."
Above: Elon Musk and the Tesla Model S (Source: Tech Insider)
Straubel's comments have been echoed by others close to Musk. "Diamonds are created under pressure, and Elon Musk is a master diamond maker," explains Dolly Singh, former head of talent acquisition for Musk's other company SpaceX. “He knows you will exceed your own expectations if he keeps the heat on. It's purposeful, and it's brilliant," she says.
Above: Dolly Singh, former head of talent acquisition for SpaceX (Image: Orange County Register)
And, how has Elon Musk (himself) described his own expectations? Musk says, "If you're joining Tesla, you're joining a company to work hard… the general understanding is that if you're at Tesla, you're choosing to be at the equivalent of Special Forces. There's the regular Army, and that's fine, but if you are working at Tesla, you're choosing to step up your game. And that has pluses and minuses. It's cool to be Special Forces, but it also means you're working your a** off.”
Above: A worker assembles a Tesla Model S at the Tesla factory in Fremont, CA; (Image Credit: Autoblog va Associated Press/Paul Sakuma)
To that end, in order to achieve the steep Model 3 production ramp ahead, Musk was emphatic that, "Tesla is going to be hellbent on becoming the best manufacturer on earth." He explained that this was now, "the primary focus of Tesla." Referring to manufacturing new hires, he mentioned that Tesla has some, "exciting announcements coming in the next few weeks." Indeed, it's likely we'll see the manufacturing equivalent of a Special Forces Seal Team Six unit coming in to accomplish the job. In any event, we'll keep you posted as these new hires are announced.