I've watched a lot of handsomely paid CEOs get on stages for keynote presentations over the past decade, and none were as good as the one I saw Elon Musk give Thursday night in California as he introduced Tesla's new battery system. I'm sure many people will disagree — I mean, how can you compete with Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone in 2007 — but ultimately Jobs was selling a better smartphone. Musk is selling a better future.
I'm not saying Musk is going to succeed, or that you should go buy Tesla's battery. There are lots of ways to save the world and cut down on fossil fuels, and Tesla's plan isn't the first. I'm just happy to see a presentation that was genuinely exciting and inspiring — a sales pitch for a tech product that's honest, and not treated like the second-coming of Jesus. It's really obvious why so many tech reporters become jaded. Too many tech visionaries pretend like every footprint they leave is going to radically change everything and make the world a better place to live in. We get it. You made a slightly thinner phone from last year's model. You made an app that sends the word "Yo" to someone. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Dude's selling a battery and he still managed to be inspiring
Here's what I loved about Musk's presentation. First of all, it was short, clocking in at about 20 minutes. Musk didn't waste anybody's time. He used that time to present a problem of critical importance (eliminating humanity's use of fossil fuels), explained how it can be addressed, and offered a plausible solution in the form of a new product — one that's priced within reach of a lot of people and available to order. Amazingly, all of those things are actually pretty rare to see in one show. Tesla's presentation was inspiring, and Musk wasn't selling some fancy sci-fi trinket that has the benefit of Star Trek nostalgia. Dude was selling a battery.
But aside from all the technical details I enjoyed, what I liked most was Musk's humble tenor. His ambitions often seem scattershot and sometimes ridiculous, and he probably spends too much time worrying about killer AI, but tonight he seemed confident and focused. Most importantly, he spoke to the audience with a frank tone that didn't feel manipulative or canned. There were no overdone theatrics here, just an honest conversation about how a new product might solve a major problem. The humility and ambition don't just seem to be a show; Tesla has already opened some of its patents to competitors, and announced tonight that it would even open its Gigafactory plans to others.
Take notes, suits of Silicon Valley. This is how you do it right.