by Will Schreiber

Big vision, little start

Elon gets credit for creating huge, new markets. But all of his companies started with existing markets.

Start: Put satellites in orbit
Someday: Colonize Mars

Start: Make an electric McLaren for people with private jets
Someday: Electrify transportation

The Boring Company
Start: Move people across big convention centers1
Someday: End traffic

Start: Make Parkinson’s more manageable
Someday: Blend with AI

After Neuralink’s recent demo, pundits focused on clickbait “Elon wants to put chips in our brains” articles. They ignored the most interesting part: there’s an existing market of people with Parkinson’s and other degenerative disorders who already embed electronics in their skulls.2 Can Neuralink improve those implants first, before they drill holes in all of our skulls?

I can’t think of another entrepreneur who’s been so consistently good at applying new technologies to existing markets. His companies’ massive missions merely linger in the background.

Zuckerberg and Oculus are taking the opposite approach. They’re building a new market for immersive VR. MKBHD pressed him on why he wasn’t addressing existing problems first. “We’re focused on connecting people,” he said.3 He’s not interested in other use cases.

Would it not be smarter to start with existing problems for VR? Perhaps surgeons or medical device reps virtually visiting operating rooms? Why jump straight to a non-existent market?

I often say, “You need $100 in revenue before you get $10,000,000 in revenue.”

This is the same class of problem.

Elon’s visions are in the clouds - literally. But his implementations always start small.

  1. This “tiny” project brought in $50 million for The Boring Company.