Elon’s MasterClass in entrepreneurship

Musk is one of the most prolific entrepreneurs of our generation has started, led, inspired or invested in not just one business that grew to over a billion dollars in value but at least four (Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity). In addition, he’s also currently incubating ideas with, Hyperloop, Boring co, Starlink, and Neuralink (each having similar scale potential).

There are four key aspects that make him very different from a typical leader:

  • Clarity in vision
  • How he solves problems
  • How he leads
  • How he engages both with customers

Elon’s not perfect and there are certainly lessons to be learned from some of his missteps but I’m going to focus on four key areas that every entrepreneur should study:

Clarity in vision

Many companies lack a basic vision and mission statement and many that do have a vision statement don’t use it to run the company. Let’s look at the clarity of the mission for Tesla and SpaceX’s:

Accelerate the world toward sustainable energy

Tesla Mission Statement

Note that it says nothing about electric vehicles, batteries, solar, cars or trucks. Its clarity in purpose gives the company long-term direction on the purpose of their products and services.

This is true not only of Tesla but also of Space X…

Make life multiplanetary.

SpaceX Mission Statement

It doesn’t talk about rockets, mars, astronauts or satellites. It’s focused on the long-term goal of where the company is going, in this case to Mars.

The clarity in vision helps as an internal north star but it can also help the business grow, attract talent and position itself among a crowded field of competitors.

Elon went further than just the mission statement and also publicly outlined what he described as the “Master Plan,” explaining in public how he would go step-by-step to move closer to his vision.

Build sports car
Use that money to build an affordable car
Use that money to build an even more affordable car
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

Don’t tell anyone.

Elon Musk – 2006 in Tesla blog post

I can’t find a single other public company that has so clearly outlined its vision and how it’ll get there. The clarity in vision and mission give Tesla and SpaceX an edge because it both attracts the right talent and it gives all employees more clear direction in terms of “what’s right,” for the business. This allows the business to move faster at scale in the right direction.

Solving problems on first principals

The notion of first principals is breaking down a problem to it’s most basic elements. Musk’s background in physics helps him in this respect but it’s applied to multiple aspects of his businesses.

Musk explains that assumptions about the costs of batteries could be broken down into the chemicals that compose a battery and the raw costs of those chemicals.

Rather than asking what is possible from a business standpoint, he asks what is possible from a physics, chemistry, mechanical perspective. This gives him theoretical maximums and minimums and allows him to challenge his respective teams with the bounds rather than the market competition. This has allowed him to push the state-of-the-art on solar, battery production, rocketry and other technologies.

Leadership Style

He sets aggressive deadlines for his teams ensuring that his companies are always working on the tasks that most directly lead to results associated with those deadlines. Tight deadlines take advantage of Parkinson’s Law.  The idea behind the law is that: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for completion.” Even though these deadlines are often missed the deadline itself forces focus and prioritization and critical decisions that are often lacking in companies that set far out deadlines.

Musk welcomes competitors and competition. He’s expressed the willingness to go head-to-head with Ford, VW, Porsche, and Boeing. While some leaders shy away from competition Musk leans into these scenarios as it challenges him to produce the best products and technologies.

Working with Customers

Musk interacts directly with customers on twitter often engaging and inviting critics to complain directly. While he’s been criticized for this, it does give him a direct view into how customers view his products and where the business needs more attention.

Many CEO’s and leaders don’t provide visibility or direct engagement leaving such tasks to customer support or marketing departments. Direct engagement requires vulnerability on the part of the CEO (you need a thick skin) but the positive aspect of this engagement is that he’s able to keep multiple divisions and departments accountable for the quality that he’s looking for.

Lastly, Elon Musk likes to have fun. He injects fun and fun features, jokes, easter eggs and space balls references into his daily interactions, he doesn’t take himself too seriously even though he works incredibly hard. This sets a tone for both employees and customers in terms of what to expect from the products and the company in terms of fun.


Apple User Experience

Apple has struggled on the UX design front over the last few years. You can see some of the problems in both the hardware and the software across a number of products but I’m going to go deep on just one feature that you use every day the lock screen…

The iPhone lock screen and it’s overall design was part of the original launch of the iPhone, but the simplicity of the original design has eroded over the years.

The original design was:

  • Hard to trigger by accident
  • Simple and intuitive (even for a baby)
  • Could be done with one hand and taking the phone out your pocket couldn’t cause an accidental gesture
  • There was nothing to confuse you

As the iPhone grew in popularity there was a lot of interest in having more functionality quickly available. The iPhone was the most popular camera and quick access to the camera was added to the lock screen in iOS 6.

All the way through iOS 8, there were two primary gestures… Swipe across to unlock and a new gesture to swipe up to get the camera. The camera was hard to trigger by accident and gave a hint if you tapped it.

In iOS 10 things started to get more complicated.

  • The home button had become a fingerprint reader
  • The home screen was now the primary way to view notifications and act on them.
  • Apple was also experimenting with HandOff allowing you to launch or hand off applications from your computer to your phone.

That brings us to iOS 12 & 13. With the elimination of the home button, FaceID, 3D Touch, Control Center, Widgets and Notification Management… the functionality of the home screen got confusing and the original simplicity and vision were lost.

Apple introduced gestures from every edge of the screen and even used 3D-Touch to overload additional actions. The obvious on-screen gestures were gone and in it’s place were a large collection of ways to access secondary functionality.

  • The time is harder to read – thinner font
  • No on-screen instruction or obvious visual area to drag to unlock.
  • Camera no-longer bounces to show the direction of camera bounce/hint.
  • If you drag up to show notifications, you can’t drag down to hide them.
  • If you drag right you end up in widgets (unused by most people)
  • If you drag to the left you get locked in the camera area with no obvious way to get out

None of these things is a show-stopper but combined they clutter the simplicity of the original design. While the new design has more features it’s not necessarily better for the majority of people. While it adds features that 5-10% of folks may care about it complicates the experience for the other 90%.

When Apple originally released the iPhone they also released the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). Over the years the HIG has gotten diluted and much of the advice on simplicity, legibility, texture, and usability has been diluted or removed.

As Apple continues to grow and evolve, I’m hoping they re-focus on the simplicity and elegance of the user experience. While there’s no doubt that Apple has been successful from a financial perspective the quality of their products have been declining. I’m hoping Apple’s able to re-focus on the core experiences and bring back the simplicity and delight that made the first generations of the device so magical.

design startups

How to Sell Design

We all know design is important but if your a designer trying to grow your design business, or you’re an entrepreneur trying to buy design services, you could be selling yourself short.

We all know that design is a key product differentiator:

  • Well designed products and software can be sold for a premium.
  • Products that are designed to be easy to use have fewer customer support issues and higher satisfaction.

But if your a designer trying to sell the value of your designs you may often hear that design is too expensive or that things like research seem unnecessary steps.

Designers and entrepreneurs aren’t always speaking the same language. While we know design is valuable, designers often have a hard time explaining or selling this value.

Three key principals:

#1 – Don’t Sell Design

When I first started my business I would try to sell the value of design. The problem with this is that no one wants to buy design. They don’t. You don’t want to buy the design for an iPhone, you want the iPhone. Most people don’t separate the value of design from the thing itself.

We were designing products, websites and mobile apps and similarly, the founder and entrepreneurs didn’t want the design of an app or a website they wanted the outcome, the result.

Design is just one of the ingredients that goes into building a product, but typically the person buying it is interested in the product, not the ingredients.

And as an entrepreneur, try to be specific about the results you’re looking for. Results can be based on metrics such as conversion, retention, bounce rate… Or it can be based on aesthetic qualities: professional, friendly, quirky, stark, colorful…

  • Do you want something easy to use?
  • Do you want it to look friendly or attractive?
  • Do you want thoughtful designs for the setup experience, the error experience or more.

Often times design isn’t just what happens on the screen, sometimes it’s the decisions of the business itself.

#2 – Don’t sell the design as a phase.

It’s common for designers to propose the incorporation of design as a discrete step in a larger project. Try not to do this.

Design work tends to happen through the entire continuum of a product life-cycle so if you propose a discrete phase you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your customers. If design issues can be introduced late in a product life cycle they can also be corrected. By treating design as a continuum you’re less likely to be without a designer when you need one.

Secondly, phased design means your designers will have less or sometimes no overlap with your engineering team. Great products are the combination of design and engineering and it’s only through shared time that hard problems get solved. If you sell your design as a phase you’re creating a scenario where it’s easy to cut or trim the phase and end up with something functional but not usable.

#3 – Great Design is about solving business problems

When showing your work, it’s about outcomes and benefits more than the pixels on the screen. You’re selling yourself and your team. You’re building trust and at the end of the day you’re selling your ability to deliver on specific business results.

Your character, charisma and ultimately your confidence are key to solving a design problem.

The ways things look and feel are important but put as much or more emphasis on your ability to drive business metrics.

personal finance

How to negotiate a raise

Over the last ten years, I’ve hired hundreds of people and the vast majority of people don’t know how to position or negotiate their salary. This puts them at a significant disadvantage.

Getting a fair market salary is a key step to freedom for both financial independence and entrepreneurship. Key steps:

  • Negotiate from a position of strength (if you can)
  • Use positional negotiation. This means you negotiate the position, not the specific number.
  • Negotiate not just the salary but all other aspects of the offer.
  • Don’t discuss your past salary. It puts you at a disadvantage for getting to a fair outcome and it may be illegal for the employer to ask. 17 states explicitly ban this.
  • Get to a Win-Win. Negotiation of salary is about finding a fair market value. Look for opportunities to increase your value to the organization, not just your salary.