I’m weirdly excited about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop.
Co-founder and head of product design at Tesla Motors Elon Musk will reportedly reveal plans for the mysterious transit project on August 12 [UPDATE: here it is, the plan for a prototype that could zap you from L.A. to SF in an hour]. He’s called it a “cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table,” leaving the nerds of the internet to conclude that we’re talking about pneumatic tube technology (transport powered by compressed air). If Star Trek has taught us anything, it’s that TV can predict the future of innovation. So, I’m expecting the Hyperloop to be something like the pneumatic airtube on the Jetsons, or Futurama’s tube transport system. (@John_Gardi tweeted this diagram of what the Hyperloop could be and Musk responded, tweeting that it’s the “closest guess so far.”)
The barrier to implementing this type of project isn’t technology—people have already built vacuum-based transportation prototypes—it’s cost. If North American cities can’t afford to maintain basic transportation infrastructure, how are they expected to build super-fast vacuum tube transportation systems?
And this brings me to why I’m excited. Private involvement in infrastructure development isn’t new. But Musk is an entrepreneur. Like any successful entrepreneur, he knows how to raise capital and he wants to raise it to build his Hyperloop. Why? Because he sees a flaw in the existing system and he believes he can do better. It’s the kind of thinking that Indiegogo co-founder Danae Ringelmann says entrepreneurs need. “Start with what pisses you off,” says Ringelmann. “What’s wrong with the world that you want to fix?”
It’s exciting to see that spirit among a growing crowd of fledgling entrepreneurs who don’t quite get it. After his success with PayPal, Musk could have founded another internet company and created another small solution to a small problem. But he’s thinking bigger. The next major business opportunity, according to Musk, will be weaning the world’s mega-industries off oil. “Even if it weren’t an environmental issue, because of the scarcity of oil, we would eventually face extremely high gasoline costs and the economy would eventually grind to a halt,” he told the interviewers at All Things Digital when asked about his decision to build an electric car.
It’s this spark that has Macleans writer Chris Sorensen calling Musk “the coolest rich guy on earth.”
“Some say Silicon Valley is filled with big minds chasing small ideas,” writes Sorensen. “Instant messaging. Photo sharing. Mobile video. All are cornerstones of billion-dollar companies. But Musk wasn’t interested in any of it.”
It’s inspiring to hear about a tech entrepreneur with a grand vision, with ambition beyond building the next music-sharing app, or simply being his own boss. Of course, it’s also possible that he’s completely deluded; that nobody wants to buy an electric car or ride cross-country in a vacuum tube.
Either way, I still think he’s cool.
What do you think? Does a great entrepreneur have to have big, world-changing ideas? Leave your comments below.