Tesla's share price rose to more than $880 in January, making Elon Musk the world's richest person. With a net worth of $195 billion, he now beats out Jeff Bezos by about $10 billion. But, according to billionaire VC Chamath Palihapitiya, Musk is going to get a whole lot richer. In fact, he could well be the world's first trillionaire if Tesla's shares rise to three times their current price. Palihapitiya believes that might happen. The reason why he thinks this could be a lesson for every entrepreneur.
Palihapitiya has a pretty impressive track record. Once a Facebook exec, he left to found the venture firm Social Capital. He was an early investor in Slack and Box, and helped make Virgin Galactic a public company. Why does he now think Musk has even greater riches in his future? Not for the reasons you might expect. It's not because Musk is a cult figure with more than 42 million Twitter followers, or because he's unmistakably a genius, able to teach himself nearly anything. It's not that he works ridiculously hard, or because he's incredibly driven -- even though these are qualities most VCs value in founders.
It's much simpler than that. It's because Tesla is working against climate change, Palihapitiya explained in an interview with CNBC. "The world's richest person should be somebody that's fixing or fighting climate change," he said. He's thought Tesla was a good bet for years, he said. "It's taken five or six years for everybody to realize the same thing."
Tesla, he says, is really a distributed energy company, which, besides cars, makes batteries, solar panels, and the Powerwall, a battery designed to store solar energy for later use. "They are figuring out how to harvest energy, how to store it, and then how to use it to allow humans to be productive," he said.
Tesla's P/E ratio is over 1,600.
Tesla's price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is greater than 1,600, even after the company's stock price dropped a bit when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked the company to recall 158,000 of its older cars because of a touchscreen issue that could compromise safety. Compare that with the S&P 500, which has a P/E ratio of 38.39 at this writing.
To many investors, that would suggest that Tesla shares are already overvalued. But Palihapitiya still believes the price will rise a whole lot more, and energy is the reason why. "The big disruption that's coming is to power utilities," he explained. "There are trillions of dollars of bonds, of boads, of capex [capital expense investments], of value sitting inside the energy generation infrastructure of the world, that is going to go upside down." When that happens, he said, "Tesla will double and triple again."
Palihapitiya predicted some time ago that the world's first trillionaire would be someone tackling climate change. "It very well could be Elon, but if it's not him, it'll be somebody like him. Because delivering clean energy, allowing the world to be sustainable, is an incredibly important thing that will be rewarded by markets and individuals."
Reducing climate change and mitigating its effects may be the greatest challenge facing humanity and Palihapitiya is likely right that businesses that effectively meet this challenge will see their value grow. How does that apply to your own business? What are you doing to try to address climate change? If you were doing more, would it add to your long-term value?