The Story of Building Tesla: With Marc Tarpenning of Tesla and Shernaz Daver of GV

Marc Tarpenning of Tesla told the audience of entrepreneurs at this year’s StartUp Grind Global Conference to think big. It means going to look for those problems that need solutions and focusing on the issues that have real meaning.

The Big Think Idea

And, that’s exactly what he and the co-founder of Tesla did. Looking back, Tarpenning is still in awe of how their think big idea is now a global company with many vehicle models and numerous plans for more thanks to its current CEO Elon Musk.

However, the think big had to start somewhat small. For Tesla, Tarpenning and his co-founder, it began in 2003 in a small office. They were looking for a product idea around sustainability. That’s when they decided to focus on the electric vehicle.

Looking for Investment Money

They went after investment money in 2004. However, not many were convinced back then that the electric vehicle would be possible or even wanted by consumers. However, Tarpenning’s own doubts about the autonomous car were solve when he viewed one in action in 2010. That’s when he realized that technology doesn’t seem possible until that moment shows you it is possible. Then, there is that thought you could have thought of that. It seems so obvious once the solution to the problem is right there.

Creating the Tech

And, in creating the technology for the electric vehicles that are now out on the road, some funny war stories emerged that add color to the story of building Tesla. During the conference, he relates how they learned better safety practices and stopped using the parking lot at their small offices after a battery disassembled itself and launched onto the roof of the offices. There was a major learning curve there.

The VC's in the Tesla

Then, there was the story of how they won over some venture capitalists after going for a spin in a test car they put together. It might have very well been the first drag race down Sandhill Road between a Lamborghini and the test vehicle for what would be the future Tesla. And, it turns out the future Tesla won so the founders also found themselves with some potential investment money.

Elon Musk

However, the best story may be when they pitched Elon Musk. Numerous other investment pitches didn’t go well because the venture capitalists just didn’t see how an electric car was possible. However, when they pitched to Musk, he was ready to get involved. Makes sense considering he was in the process of building space ships with SpaceX. He became a very supportive force and eventually took over as CEO in 2008 when the company needed leadership that fit the incredible things they were looking to achieve.

Fast Forward Ten Years

Fast forward to the current period, which is now 10 years on from Musk taking over. While both founders are no longer with the company, Tarpenning is one founder of Tesla who looks back fondly on the experience of building Tesla by thinking big and putting meaning to what he was developing. Besides the big idea, Tarpenning realized that it was critical to have supportive, visionary leadership like Musk delivered. Plus, it was a relief that all the customers were supportive and waited patiently for their vehicles that were years behind schedule.

Meaning and Solutions

Now, Tarpenning has spent the last nine years in education and politics, seeing how he might think big there. However, it may be the next chapter for Tarpenning as he considers other areas of interest where he could add meaning and much-needed solutions. Whatever that may be, it’s bound to be a good story just like Tesla.