Tesla Special Events: Big Company Scale + Smaller Company Style
Tesla’s special events show a company culture that’s unpolished and direct. And that’s an important part of why the events work for Tesla.
You could argue that Tesla’s special events attract millions of YouTube views simply because the company is a disruptor. It’s abandoned all the assumptions
about how cars should be powered, built, marketed, and maintained. Plus it has solar panels, home batteries, AI, humanoid robots (in development)... and Elon Musk.
But even with all of those reasons to tune in, a Tesla special event is mostly just a slide presentation. And sometimes they last more than 2 hours.
I think people remain engaged with Tesla’s presentations because of the way Elon and his employees interact with the audience --and each other. We get the sense that these are authentic people, who actually do the work, and work together, like people in smaller companies.
And that really matters.
According to Gallup, trust in big institutions is declining. Today, small businesses are the most trusted institution in America. The percentage of respondents reporting “a great deal / quite a lot” of trust in “small businesses” is 68%. For “large technology companies,” it’s 26%.
Simply put, we're craving small business values, including:
Tesla’s special events are informal, unfiltered, and not-so-obviously rehearsed. They’re often interrupted by audience comments, questions and laughter. And they typically include a lengthy audience Q&A (with challenging questions), and invitations to work at Tesla.
Tesla uses their events to celebrate making decisions quickly and iterating. For example, at the first AI Day in 2021, Elon and a team of engineers spoke frankly about how initial attempts to develop the artificial intelligence necessary for autonomous driving weren’t working, and how they changed their approach. Other events have featured stories on how the team iterated to improve factory design. And battery design. At the recent Cyber Rodeo, Elon listened to audience feedback and quickly changed how new supercharger locations were chosen.
Yes, Tesla has a lofty goal of accelerating the world’s adoption of a sustainable energy economy. But the company uses these events to celebrate real world impact, instead of rigid idealism. For example, Tesla has open-sourced its patents and encourages competitors to improve upon the designs. Another pragmatic choice was designing their superchargers to be compatible with other automaker EVs. But perhaps most surprising, Tesla avoids demonizing the oil and gas industries, which are instead described as “necessary right now or civilization could not function.”
With a market cap eclipsing all of the top 5 automakers combined, Tesla could act like a big, powerful company. But it doesn’t.
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