Three Questions About Tesla

  1. From a customer's perspective, what is the fundamental problem that Tesla is solving? Its value proposition seems to be, "The world's most sophisticated all-electric car." That's well and good, but what is the specific problem its leadership has identified that it is trying to solve?
  2. Assuming that its leadership has identified a specific problem, is the opportunity unlocked by solving problem large enough for Tesla to be a successful and profitable company in the medium-to-long-term, especially considering the unique challenges that Tesla faces as a business from a manufacturing, distribution, and infrastructure perspective?
  3. What is a realistic list of potential meaningful achievements for Tesla within the next 5-10 years? That is to say, what does successful mean for Tesla and how realistic is is that success will be achieved?

I am bearish on Tesla at present because I do not see clear answers to these three questions. I would love it if someone could help me to answer them.

The Power of One Feature

I listen to more podcasts than is probably healthy, and while Apple has done a good job building a full suite of podcast apps, there are a number of great third-party options that really excel in several different ways. Make no mistake: Podcasts on iOS is finally a solid app for basic listening and organization, but like most of Apple's apps, it's aimed squarely at the mainstream user. Indie developers have done a great job defining options outside of that band, both in terms of aesthetic appeal and powerful features.

I've used almost every major podcast app out there, including Instacast, Downcast, Castro, Pocket Casts, and now Overcast. With Pocket Casts' recent 5.0 release, it's leapt to the head of the pack in terms of design, usability, and syncing. It's a really spectacular app, and I almost feel guilty not using it every day. But despite everything that's great about Pocket Casts, I can't seem to leave Overcast behind. The reason? Smart Speed. Marco Arment's app includes a brilliant feature that, rather than just speeding up audio, actually slices out silent sections of the episode. The result is a fluid listening experience that moves by quickly without distorting the audio and harming the listening experience.

It's interesting to me that this one feature could hold me in this app when Pocket Casts really excels on so many other fronts. But in the world outside of that mainstream user band, individual features matters, and every user is going to weigh each of them differently. For all of its polish and refinement, Pocket Casts is lacking what has become the single most important value-add I look for in a podcast app. It just goes to show: not all features are created equally.

Why a blog?

I've spent a lot of years writing blog posts. I've taken almost all of them offline now, largely because I wasn't very confident that I'd said anything particularly valuable with them. Maybe that was a mistake, and maybe I'll put them back up at some point. At times, blogging felt like a release of pent-up creative energy. At other times, blogs were just a soapbox for me to get up on and yell at the world. When I started blogging back in 2005, a blog was the best way to do that. I'm not sure that's true anymore. Most people don't seem to think it is. Blogs aren't going away, but they are being obviated in some ways. No one looks at blogging and things "way of the future" anymore.

So why start blogging again? After so many stops and starts, you'd think I would have gotten it through my head that maybe it wasn't worth it anymore, that the function it fulfilled for me was now available to me elsewhere. Why a blog?

What actually got me thinking about writing online again was Twitter. I joined Twitter in 2008. I've tweeted over 25,000 times, and have almost 500 followers. Not gargantuan numbers by any means, but enough that I felt like I had a little bit of a platform and enough people listening to me that it might make sense to put my energy there. And there is still something compelling about the simplicity of Twitter as a publishing platform. It's a low-effort, high-reward system, where your only real goal is to be timely and concise. There's a lot to say for Twitter. Despite that, I've noticed that over the last year, I have shifted from being a creator on Twitter to being a consumer. I tweet with far less frequency than I used to. It wasn't a deliberate decision I made. I just stopped.

I think what's ultimately turned me off of Twitter is its unrestrained nature. Twitter has become the sort of noisy bar where everyone is shouting about their own thing, and the only way to hear what anyone has to say is to ask them to shout over the rest of the crowd. And inevitably, the people who shout loudest are the people whose opinions you least want to hear. I used to check Twitter to find people saying interesting things. Now, I just find it emotionally exhausting. It's become a giant collection of avatars loudly proclaiming their agreement/disagreement with whatever happens to be top-of-mind in that exact moment. It's become a way for people to associate themselves with causes; to define their identities in the eye of those they value; to indulge in our worst impulses instead of our best.

That's not to say that there's nothing good there. Twitter is still a great way of disseminating information, and there are a lot of people on it with interesting things to say. But because of the way it's changed over time, or perhaps because of the way I've changed, I'm much less eager to be a participant in the conversation. Instead, I've been content to just sit back and listen.

The reason I've turned back to a blog now grows directly from that. There are things that I want to say and ideas that I want to explore. I have no grand overarching vision for this space. It's just a collection of things that I want to think about. I'd just like to do them in a place that's a bit quieter and with more flexibility than 140 characters provides.

Why a blog? Because here, I can just say what I have to say.

Promise

The only thing I've ever really wanted to be is an author.

That doesn't mean it's the only thing I've ever tried to achieve, or that it's the only dream I've ever had. But my whole life, whenever I closed my eyes and tried to visualize what I really wanted to do, it always came back to writing books.

I'm twenty-eight years old, and have written short stories, plays, radio plays, poems, scripts, and now three novels. But I've never tried to publish anything.

Until something is published, it's a work in progress, which means that it doesn't matter if it sucks as long as it's getting better with each revision. But once it's out there, it's final, and you don't get to go back and change all the things you did then that you wouldn't do now. It's so hard to reach a point where you're comfortable walking away, when you can look at what you've written and say, "Boom. DONE."

Then the world gets ahold of it, and no matter how thick your skin is, it still stings when something you've worked to create gets savaged, or worse, ignored and left to die in the street. It's a horrible thought, to know that I've poured myself into something, and then to realize that no one cares, that no thinks what I created was worth my time or theirs.

But the failure in and of itself wouldn't be devastating. The real issue for me is that if I publish, and I fail, then I lose the dream of being a professional author that I've held onto for almost twenty years. And that's a devastating idea, especially when I consider the road I took to get to where I am today.

I'm a practically-minded guy. At college, I could have studied writing. Instead, I studied economics and wrote in my free time. After graduation, I could have gotten a low-effort job and poured myself into writing. Instead, I dove into a career that led me first to politics, then to business school, and now into the software industry. I kept writing. But I never even tried to make a career out of it. It was always too risky, too impractical, and if I failed and become just another overeducated underachiever, no amount of "Well, at least I tried!" would have made up for the fact that I'd set myself back by years.

Still, I can't help but wonder what might have been. I can't help but question those practical, reasonable choices I made. But I can't go back and change all those things I did then that I wouldn't do now.

So I kept my writing a hobby and pursued another career path. And while things are going well, I still have that dream in the back of my mind, that dream that says if I write that one great thing and push it out into the world, and enough people like it, and enough people buy it, then I'll be able to justify writing another, and another, and another, that I'll be able to make enough money to live the life I want to lead and provide for my family by doing the thing I want to do. And that's an inspiring dream, because it pumps a bit of extra hope into my life that I think everyone should have. You have to have these things to keep you moving forward, even if they do seem fantastic.

I've dreamt of being an author my entire life, but I've never really tried to be one for fear of learning that I never will be one. And I know that's irrational. That's the power of fear. Fear is a trap you'll never be able to think your way out of, because there's no thinking to it. You know the way out. You can see the door. The challenge is walking through it, because you never really know what's on the other side.

I am terrified that if I seriously attempt publication, and if I'm met with rejection by a world that doesn't need one more book, that my dream will die. And it is such an intrinsic part of me that I don't know who I'll be when it's gone. 

But I've been working on my third novel for the last year. I've just completed the second draft. It's my third novel, but it feels like my first real one, the first one that I really had a hold of from beginning to end. It's pulpy and derivative, sure, but so are most of my favorite books, and I'm not ashamed of that. And it's got characters that I find compelling, and a scenario that I find interesting, and a world inside of it that's just slightly bigger than the book itself, and that gives me a little bit of confidence. It's the first novel I've written that's made me feel that way, and the first one I think I can be proud of not just for existing, but for being worth writing, and worth reading.

So I am writing this post, my first real post in many months and the first on this new blog, as a public promise to myself. No matter how scared I am, I'm going to publish this book in 2015. Whether or not anyone reads it, whether or not anyone likes it, I'm going to push it out into the world just so I can know that it's possible for me to publish a book and not die. And I realize that with that promise comes the risk of failure and of rejection. I'm not going to bank on a publisher taking a chance on me. I'm going to do this myself. I don't have to be a best seller, but I'd at least like to sell a few copies, to make a little money, and to know that at least a few people have enjoyed what I've been doing. And if that doesn't happen, that's going to hurt. 

There is a lot of work left to do, and I am scared to death of the possibility of being hurt when this is all done. But at this point, I'll take the hurt. The hurt is better than the fear, and I've been bound by my fears for almost two decades, since I first decided that this was what I wanted to do but gave myself reasons not to. It's time to stop living on fear's terms and start living on my own.