For Tesla fans, it was a breath of fresh air to see good old Elon Musk on stage at the company's recent shareholders' meeting. Tesla stock had been in the doldrums, weighed down by the slow ramp-up of Model 3 production and a never-ending stream of pessimistic press coverage. Some also feared that some of Musk's recent public interactions, including testy comments on an earnings call and combative tweets, had damaged his reputation as a clear-headed visionary.

Musk's virtuoso performance at the meeting was like a checklist for any business leader who needs to respond to negativity: acknowledge your problems and explain how you're solving them; remind people of the great things your company is doing; and show them your personal passion and commitment. Some will find another lesson here (one which Musk himself may choose to ignore): make your case in person, in a measured and detailed way, not in snarky late-night tweets.

In a classic Muskian presentation, the Iron Man ran down the long list of big things that Tesla is doing: 10,000 Superchargers in operation, with a next-generation system in the works; Model 3 taking over the premium mid-size sedan segment; Tesla Energy expanding exponentially; a new Gigafactory to be built in Shanghai; a plan for Tesla-owned body shops; hints of a major battery breakthrough in the offing; the list went on and on.

Musk addressed the serious criticisms that the press has covered (injury rates at the Tesla factory, Model 3 build quality issues) and ignored the frivolous ones. As always, he injected a bit of fun, explaining how he added solar roof tiles to Gene Wilder's "Willy Wonka house," and teasing a SpaceX performance package for the new Roadster (which will feature rocket thrusters).

The day after Musk's show, Tesla's stock price shot back up over 10 percent. Most pundits attributed the turnaround to Musk's statement that the Model 3 production line is now cranking out 500 cars per day, and that Tesla expects to achieve the magic number of 5,000 per week by the end of June. But this was really nothing new--Musk had mentioned the 500-per-day figure earlier in the week, and besides, nobody trusts Musk's promises anymore, right? There was something else at work here.

What bean-counting financial writers can't seem to understand--but entrepreneurs must--is that Tesla's success isn't built on numbers alone (although the positive numbers are there for those who care to look), but on a strong belief in what the company is doing. There's an old saying in show business: if the performers on stage are having fun, the audience will too. Musk may not be exactly having fun (he described the Model 3 ramp-up as "the most excruciating, hellish few months I think I've ever had"), but he showed us how committed he is to Tesla's mission, and investors renewed their commitments as well.

Musk is an emotional man and, not for the first time, he got a little choked up when he said, "We're not perfect, but we pour our heart and soul into the product and we really care." Here's another old saying: It's not facts and figures that sell cars--it's emotion. As Musk repeatedly demonstrates, sometimes that's the way to sell a company, too.

Published on: Jun 11, 2018
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