The Tesla Model S, the iPhone, and 'The Innovator's Dilemma'

On Thursday, Consumer Reports named the Tesla Model S the best car they've ever tested. That is quite a statement considering they've been testing cars since 1936.

Josh Baer, founder of Capital Factory (and who invited me to be with The President and CTO of the United States on Thursday), was the first person in Austin to get one and he let me drive it the day it came in, back in November (or maybe it was December). I'm quite an auto nut, and I was stunned. It was like the first time I used the iPhone. I knew it would up the ante forever for the auto industry worldwide. I was also proud that it was happening here, with an American-born company (and the first new American auto company to have this good of financial results in 50 years).

I was lucky enough to see Elon Musk earlier this year at TED in Long Beach. I was sitting next to Adam Dell, who works with me at Austin Ventures, and we were stunned by his on-stage interview. He may be the best entrepreneur of this decade, simultaneously disrupting the auto, space, and energy industry.

Elon has fully embraced the lessons from one of my favorite books, The Innovator's Dilemma. If you haven't read this book, you will be able to understand how someone that is absolutely incredibly ambitious, like Elon is, can disrupt three established (and tired) industries simultaneously. This is actually the book that I recommend to most people interested in entrepreneurship because it gives you the confidence that you can do it. You go from thinking "someone has already thought of that before" to "this industry is vulnerable because of it's history and embedded money flow and it is time for me to disrupt it for the betterment of society (and to become successful as well)". As a matter of fact, often the less experience you have in an industry, the better. This is counterintuitive, and don't get this confused with the lesson in the book Outliers - the 10,000+ hours to master something does count. I'm sure that Elon has put in his 10,000+ hours and then some.

But if you don't come from an industry, you can really shake it up. You don't have the mental barriers that others do - the beat down that years of being in it give you of thinking "that just isn't possible". As a matter of fact, I was talking to a long-time auto executive at an industry conference and I asked him about the Tesla Model S. He pretty quickly dismissed it (it only travels so far, very limited production, etc.), just like I saw mobile phone executives quickly dismiss the iPhone when it first came out and I was asking them about it (it doesn't have a keyboard, you are beholden to Apple's ecosystem, etc.). But you do need to have the humility to quickly learn what you don't know, just don't let others tell you "that just isn't possible" (that indeed may be the key to disrupt the whole industry).

For further learning on this topic, I recommend you read my Lucky7 post on how to leverage your investors and advisors as well as my Lucky7 post on how to sell to the cool kids in an industry (that is most applicable to B2B, which is the area I know best, and you can read part one here and part two here). And this Lucky7 post on Steve Jobs, 1776, and Israel will give you the courage to ask for help. And, of course, readThe Innovator's Dilemma if you haven't already. These patterns happen time and time again because of human psychology, money flow, and the way we think about limitations (especially the more "experienced" we get in an industry).