Another week, another departure
Two long-serving manufacturing executives have just left Tesla, joining a steady stream of high level employees deciding to look elsewhere for work.
I have written a lot about Elon Musk’s exploits in this blog and while I don’t agree with every move or tweet the man makes, it’s of little doubt to me that he is one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.
In a recent article I gave Tesla the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the criticism it has received for the bizarrely complicated body structure of the Model 3. It was my position that this reflected the need for flexibility – that it’s easier to make changes to multiple body panels where more established carmakers would use only one panel.
But this apparent exodus of talent from Tesla does suggest some disfunction at the company. Are the multiple panels a sign of disfunction not genius?
Does it matter?
It would be apparent to anyone (and definitely to anyone at Tesla) that building a car out of a patchwork of parts is less than ideal.
Tesla is taking a page out of the Lean Startup playbook, by releasing a product that that is not perfect, but people will nevertheless buy. They are producing a viable product, perhaps even a Minimum Viable Product.
Whether disfunction led to the patchwork or not, the decision to ship to an anxiously waiting body of customers was a calculated one.
A car is not an app. While most would shrug if they bought an app that was slightly buggy but then fixed with a patch later, a car is for most people a financially important decision and the car itself is a daily experience and vital to meeting commitments.
I think we will continue to see commentary about the build quality of early Model 3s paling in comparison to the product of established carmakers. More parts means more alignment issues, more leaks, etc.
Does this mean that Tesla’s reputation is in peril?
How do we do it? Volume!
Three things work in Tesla’s favour here.
First, the cars are still a joy to operate. The people who buy them treasure them for this reason. Those who bought the Model 3 already can safely be called early adopters and are probably accustomed to the idea that buying early means buying a work in progress. These people know that buying a cutting edge product and then feeling buyer’s remorse when the next product is better is foolish in an era of constant progress.
Second, Tesla doesn’t rest on its laurels. The cars will improve and the patchwork will be replaced with more optimized panels over time.
Third, and most importantly, Tesla is going exponential in its build rate, so not only are the more recent cars better built, they are more plentiful, and this trend should continue. This should dilute the strongest complaints from owners of early cars.
So what can we learn from this? Tesla rushed an imperfect but desirable product to market because its life depended on it. The first cars kept Tesla solvent while it ramped and there were first adopters willing to buy them, warts and all.
Progress and perfection rarely go hand-in-hand. If you or your organization intends to introduce an innovative product it’s not going to be perfect in its first iteration. You have to be a little thick-skinned about the criticism you are bound to receive.
If you insist on perfection and toil away on every detail without releasing a product, you are leaving money – and vital user feedback – on the table.