It isn't hard to understand the secret to Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's success. It's very simple. But the fact that it's so simple can make it hard to believe.
And yet, while entrepreneurs are jumping on the cryptocurrency bandwagon and rushing out sketchy initial coin offerings (ICOs) to raise a few million for their ventures (really, Kodak? you too?), Musk did the same thing his way: by selling flamethrowers.
It's quite literally the Elon Musk version of a bake sale. But instead of baked goods, he sold a collectible to bake goods with. Maybe it's more like flambéing than baking, though.
Rather than look for investors or launch a blockchain (although he has joked about the latter--at least, I think it's a joke), Musk opted to raise money for his tunnel-boring startup, The Boring Company, by selling limited edition flamethrowers.
Yes, real flamethrowers that throw real flames, although not very far.
ATF says any flamethrower with a flame shorter than 10 ft is A-ok. Our design is max fun for least danger. I'd be way more scared of a steak knife.-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 28, 2018
At $500 each, the limited run of 20,000 fire tossers netted The Boring Company millions of dollars to put toward plans to dig tunnels better and faster. Tunnels that could one day alleviate traffic congestion or perhaps even play host to futuristic Hyperloops shooting us from place to place at near-supersonic speeds.
Musk raised all this money by taking an idea that sounds like a punchline, actually doing it, and quickly selling out, with little more promotional effort than a few tweets.
Flamethrowers sold out-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 1, 2018
So what's the secret? How does he do it?
It's just so simple. It's a truth you may have avoided admitting since you were a kid: The cool kids can do whatever they want, and they can get other people to do whatever they want them to do too.
Musk has managed to cultivate coolness and work it to his advantage like few other people in the public eye, and like almost no one else in business. Even the legendary Steve Jobs only managed to make a single company cool. Musk seems to do it at a whim because, in case you hadn't heard: He's freakin' Iron Man! How cool is that?
On the surface, Musk isn't cool in the sense that we learned on the playground or in the classroom. He stutters a lot when he speaks and carries on about the minutiae of engineering his companies' products. I've seen him speak in person and he himself does not project the cool charisma of say, Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey.
But pretty much everything Musk does is cool to those who follow him. From the moment he took his PayPal riches and started plowing them into Tesla and SpaceX, Musk began cultivating a very specific kind of cool: the coolness of conviction.
Similar to Jobs's "reality distortion field," Musk offers up unconventional solutions to conventional problems and then pursues them at all costs. This confidence in his convictions is undeniably cool.
He also manages to capitalize on this earned coolness by doing things like selling millions of dollars' worth of hats and flamethrowers because they contribute, literally, to strengthening Musk's projects and, by extension, his convictions and cool cachet.
It's a whole coolness feedback loop, in other words. Not to mention that, for a certain number of us who are pyromaniacs at heart, flamethrowers are just plain cool.