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August 16, 2013
I was as excited as everybody else to see Elon Musk release the full Hyperloop plans on Monday. San Francisco to LA in half an hour sounds like sci-fi (and already, there are naysayers), but serious researchers are behind these plans. I’m not an engineer myself, but I just don’t believe that Musk would take a haphazard approach to anything he does. That’s not his MO.
But in the hubbub about the Hyperloop, you might have missed this: Elon Musk is not building it. As he explained to Bloomberg Businessweek: “Down the road, I might fund or advise on a Hyperloop project, but right now I can’t take my eye off the ball at either SpaceX or Tesla.”
Still, the American public and the business world are talking. What is it about these early-stage research specs that has us so fired up?
The Infrastructure Need
I’m convinced that Musk is attracting this much attention because he’s dreaming big – big enough to rethink our transit infrastructure. This doesn’t happen nearly enough.
When entrepreneurs look for new challenges, it’s easy for us to deprioritize the big problems (which are often infrastructural) in favor of smaller ones. The short-term logic here makes sense. We all like keeping our risks low. We all like avoiding complexity.
But when we all think this way, the big-picture outcome isn’t good. New infrastructure is exactly what the country needs, and not just in transit. We need to overhaul education, healthcare, etc. But in this case, Musk decided he’s not the right person for the job, and his shareholders should be happy.
Focus is Critical
As the leader of two other companies, Musk’s decision not to lead the Hyperloop project is clearly the right one. He’s dedicated to making his current projects successful, and he’s dedicated to the people who depend on them.
As I’ve said before, I believe focus is critical. The temptation to do more is enormous. It’s tougher than it looks to turn down opportunities. Staying focused takes guts and integrity, and it often distinguishes successful companies from failures. I see it in the companies I admire, like Apple – where they’ll spend years developing a single product, making sure it’s perfect before releasing it, and refusing to rush to market. That’s focus.
Why it Matters
The Hyperloop announcement was important to me personally because my company is also working on an infrastructure problem. ZocDoc is tackling the tangle of complexities we call a healthcare system and reducing them to a simple, elegant experience – a new way for patients and doctors to access healthcare. Creating new infrastructure is not a small job. The challenges are real, and they’re thorny enough to keep me humble, every single day.
That’s why we need to keep each other inspired, to keep thinking up big-picture solutions like Musk has.
The Question We Should Be Asking
When it comes to the Hyperloop, the most pressing question is “Who?” I want to see a leader emerge who is ambitious enough to build it and focused enough to succeed. Maybe it will turn out that the Hyperloop isn’t feasible. In that case, I want to see an entrepreneur step up to the plate and build something even better.
After all, Musk has made the project open source. There’s simply no excuse for not trying.
Featured on:Big Ideas & Innovation
Posted by:Cyrus Massoumi