I made a huge mistake a few weeks ago. Tesla opened a new store near my home and I dropped in on their grand opening event for a test drive. The experience changed forever my conception of what a car could, and should, be. That wouldn’t be so bad, except for that fact that the $100k+ price tag places it hopelessly out of reach, for now.
I won’t try to explain all the details of my visit — it wouldn’t do any good. You wouldn’t believe me anyway. Some things need to be experienced, and a Tesla is one of those things.
“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.” -Morpheus
It’s been a long time since I’ve been floored by a product — knocked back on my heels by every aspect of the experience. Driving a Tesla is a take your breath away moment.
I’ve spent most of my life on product teams. Everyone who works on product teams knows they are supposed to deliver a winning product. Some measure that by revenue or profit, others by usage, and still others by how they stack up in the latest analyst rankings.
The common wisdom is that a breakthrough product has to be 10x better than the current solution. If it’s not, people won’t go through the effort of switching. The unspoken mandate is to avoid incrementalism. The problem is, most of us never pull it off. We get caught up in a twisted knot of feature requests and backlogs, never reaching escape velocity — engulfed by the whirlwind of the everyday.
Sometimes it takes a worthy competitor to force you to dig deep. To push yourself harder than you knew was possible. To find that top gear you forgot you had. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity, but pressure creates diamonds. If you work at a traditional car company, you can be sure you are getting sharper because of Elon Musk. The status quo is no longer good enough.
“The finest steel has to go through the hottest fire.” — Richard Nixon
Remember the first time you used an iPhone? That experience forever changed how you thought about your phone. A moment before, your Motorola Razr was state of the art — the best you could own. And then, in a flash, it wasn’t.
Nothing changed about the phone you owned. It still had exactly every feature it had a moment before. It was still fully functional, in fact it continued to be better than nearly every phone in existence, but now you knew. You had seen the future, and with that knowledge, you’d been forever changed. You couldn’t remove that splinter from your mind. The obvious future, once experienced, cannot be unfelt.
“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” — William Gibson
This is what happens when you drive a Tesla. Your conception of what a car can be is irrevocably shaken. A jilting snap, like the lurch of an earthquake — and now the world looks mostly the same, but it isn’t. Something’s changed. Every other car now feels like a horse and buggy.
“Electric cars are just better cars.” — Kevin Kelly
Here’s the good news. We will all drive Teslas soon, even if they are called Toyotas, Hondas, or Fords. Now that the future is in plain sight, no one can hide. Today’s high Model S prices have kept the automotive landscape in tact, but the electric tidal wave is coming. In 2017 the $35k Model 3 will arrive and every other car company will be forced to adapt or die a slow death.
We have seen this before. Flip phones are the past — smartphones are the now. Every phone is destined to be a smartphone. Apple may have led the way in merging phones and computers, but capitalism is ruthless, and companies feel no shame in fast following.
The mistake people make is thinking the fast follower is following the leaders like Apple and Tesla, but they have it wrong. The followers are following us. They are following the buyer — they are following the consumers who will demand cars that add new features over the air in the same way as your phone. Waiting until next year’s model for adaptive cruise control is so last century. A car that runs on dead dinosaurs? You mind as well try selling a corded phone.
If you are a product person, I encourage you to visit a Tesla store and take a test drive. It will remind you what breakthrough feels like. If you’re like me, it will inspire you to do better and maybe even strive to be the Tesla of your industry. To lead instead of reacting.