Never let it be said that Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk doesn’t keep things interesting.
The latest chapter of the saga that is Elon Musk? On Wednesday, in response to what he believes was of a wave of public criticism from the media (and prompted by a war of words on Twitter), Musk posed the idea of creating a ‘Yelp’ for journalism — a way the public can leave feedback about (and rate the credibility of) all journalists.
It’s not clear if Musk is really planning on adding such a venture to his list of projects; he probably isn’t. Whether he is or isn’t though, he’s got something of a point. The media loves to take aim at high-profile targets, and criticism certainly draws more readers in than praise does. He is, however, wrong about almost everything else.
And if Elon Musk really wanted to stop being a target, there are much better ways of doing it than threatening to rate and rank commentators.The media’s criticisms of him do not come from nowhere.
Some Advice for Elon Musk
Yelp Inc (NYSE:YELP), in case you don’t know, is an outfit that allows consumers to discover nearby businesses and read the public’s feedback about those enterprises. In other words, it’s like a web-based Yellow Pages, but with reviews. It’s also something of a ‘Wild West.’ Competing companies can and will fake bad reviews, and disappointed customers can often be grossly unfair.
Still, Musk’s point is well taken. The media can be annoyingly lopsided, latching onto and embellishing a mistake, and ignoring a success.
Gotta be honest though… Elon Musk isn’t helping himself one iota. If he’s really aiming to quell the harsh criticisms, he needs to change his own actions — not call on the internet to silence his critics.
What could he do differently to abate it? For starters, he could stop overpromising and underdelivering.
Case in point: The Model 3. In February of last year, Musk suggested Tesla would be producing the lower-cost electric vehicle at a pace of 5000 per week before the end of 2017. As of a couple of weeks ago, they weren’t even rolling off the line at a pace of 4000 per week.
Things happen, to be fair. Consumers, investors and even most journalists are actually quite sympathetic in that regard, realizing that Tesla is doing something that’s never been done. That’s mass-producing electric vehicles that look ultra-cool as well. Before Musk and Tesla, most EVs looked more like toys or go-karts, and were still in limited supply.
To add to the problem of overpromising, Musk’s bold predictions often surface right before the company has to raise another round of funding.
And it’s not just the Model 3 that’s made Musk a target. Throughout most of 2016 he was vowing to deliver between 80,000 and 90,000 vehicles. When all was said and done, the company only delivered 76,230 cars that year.
It’s not the end of the world. But, for a company with a stock that’s priced for perfection (inspired by a leader with a penchant for overestimating what can be accomplished in X amount of time), it’s difficult to understand how and why Musk continually sets investors up for disappointment.
It’s not just overpromising and underdelivering though. Elon Musk has also made some… misguided decisions in the name of publicity.
In February of this year, for instance, Musk’s SpaceX — a privately administered service that puts things in orbit around the earth — used a $90 million rocket to launch a Tesla-made electric vehicle, and nothing else, into space. Were SpaceX or Tesla in need of some publicity, it might be understandable. Neither needs publicity though. And if nothing else, send up some other, purposeful satellites with the launch that cost $90 million a pop.
Spending $90 million for (unneeded) publicity also undermines Musk’s claim that Tesla does not advertise.
And let’s not even discuss what a letdown the SolarCity acquisition, once-touted as a game-changer by Musk, has been.
The Last Word for Elon Musk
So, respectfully Mr. Musk, you don’t make it easy for the media to not be critical from time to time. You’re not critical enough of yourself sometimes… at least not until well after the fact, and not until investors have suffered. That’s what the media does. It tells the rest of the story investors might not be getting from a particular company.
For the record, most consumers and investors, and most journalists for that matter, like and respect what you’re doing for the world. You’ve mainstreamed electric vehicles. That’s huge.
You’ve also burned a massive amount of other people’s money in doing so though, and you’ve left behind a string of missed targets and misguided assumptions. The criticisms aren’t unique to you. They’d be made of anyone else who’d done the same.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.