Basic Math

May 11th, 2017

“The basic math was pretty obvious, but despite it being obvious, no one was really doing it.” —Elon Musk at the 2016 shareholder meeting

Elon talked about his back-of-the-envelope calculation for the Boring Company at TED:

Current tunnel construction costs: $1 billion/mile x 1/4 (drop the cross sectional area) x 1/2 (simultaneous tunneling and reinforcing) x 1/2 (up to 1/4) (increase tunneling machine thresholds)

Potential construction costs: $30-60 million/mile

The math here isn’t hard. What’s remarkable is the clarity of vision. Visions are too often too broad, too generically altruistic. Everyone wants to “make the world a better place,” but broad vision statements are prone to convenient re-interpretation, as “leaf subsides to leaf”, and motivations devolve to profit.

It’s clear Elon sees companies as a means of societal change, and profits as fuel for change. So long as this clearly messaged to shareholders from the beginning (just like Bezos has been abundantly clear that profits are not something he considers important), it doesn’t necessarily mean shareholders will abandon you.

Some mission statements I’ve loved for their clarity:

Google: organize and make useful the world’s information. Tesla: accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. SpaceX: enable people to live on other planets. OpenAI: build safe AGI, and ensure AGI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible. Facebook: make the world more open and connected.

Sentry: help developers make their software less bad?