Once again, it involves Musk cajoling, insisting, and begging Tesla employees to act in a specific, strange way--something some of us on the outside might call, totally insane.
Here's what we know about the email, plus why it matters, and why Musk's use of three short words displays just how crazy it must be to work at Tesla right now.
"No matter how small..."
I'm a Tesla fan. I think the cars are beautiful. But the company has staked almost everything on its ability to produce and deliver the (formerly) $35,000 Model 3 at scale. It's coming up short, demand is dropping, and it's burning cash.
Tesla raised $2.7 billion earlier in May, but it also posted a $700 million loss in the last quarter. It reportedly has about $2.2 billion left.
"This is a lot of money, but actually only gives us about 10 months at the Q1 burn rate to achieve breakeven!" Musk wrote to his employees, as first reported by Fred Lambert of Electrek. As a result, Musk said, it's now--
extremely important...to...examine every expenditure at Tesla, no matter how small....
That is why, going forward, all expenses of any kind anywhere in the [world], including parts, salary, travel expenses, rent, literally every payment that leaves our bank account must [be] reviewed....
"Reviewed," emphasis mine, apparently means either reviewed by Musk personally or by Tesla's brand new chief financial officer, Zack Kirkhorn. Kirkhorn will supposedly review and sign every single page of every document authorizing payment; Musk himself will read and sign one page out of every 10.
"This is hardcore," Musk added, "but it is the only way for Tesla to become financially sustainable and succeed in our goal of helping make the world environmentally sustainable."
"This is hardcore"
I don't care what industry you're in, if your business is bigger than a football team, it's borderline insanity for the CEO and the CFO to take on the role of an office manager, approving every single expense report.
Now, maybe it's hyperbole. Maybe this is like when I get exasperated and tell my preschool-aged daughter that if she doesn't stop bothering the cat, she won't be allowed to watch television again until she's age 12.
I know it's an idle threat. I think she knows it. But it at least it conveys that I think it's a big deal.
Similarly, it's a big deal for Tesla to cut costs. Last year, Tesla laid off 9 percent of its workforce; this year it laid off another 7 percent--another move announced in a 1:20 a.m. Musk email to all remaining employees. But it hasn't been enough.
And this move just reeks of mistrust and micromanagement. That 3-word phrase: "This is hardcore."
Highly committed, extraordinarily dedicated. Over the top obsessed. (We'll skip the pornography definition, but it's the same idea).
It's like, "Epic, dude." If you want to work at Tesla, you're going to have to be "hardcore."
I can't imagine a more bro-y way to express devotion. It tells you that, yes indeed, Tesla plans to do something crazy, that the CEO knows just how crazy it is but is doing it anyway, and that if you want to work at Tesla, you'd be better be on board with the crazy.
Elon Musk, Inc.
Actually, that's the whole underlying message. While it's easy to forget Musk isn't actually Tesla's founder (he came in as chairman when he led its first big investment round in 2004, and took over as CEO in 2008), he's been the constant.
Sure, there's SpaceX, and Boring, and a few other ventures, but Musk and Tesla are melded together the way few CEOs and companies are. There's Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, even Steve Jobs and Apple--and Tesla is 100 percent Musk.
So if you're going to be one of the roughly 45,000 people working at Tesla, you're betting on Musk more than anything else.
You're betting on the attention-grabbing CEO who reportedly works 120 hours a week, who sometimes sleeps in the factory, who dreams big and comes up with wildly innovative ideas, who tries to run multiple companies at the same time as if the laws of time and space don't apply to him, and who has a Twitter habit that gets him into a string of distracting legal messes.
You're betting that the playwright George Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
And you're betting that if Musk is crazy, he's crazy like a fox.
Sound like a good bet? Hardcore, man. I hope it works out for you.