Lessons from Elon Musk and the flamethrower business

30th Jan 2018
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What do you get when you cross a billionaire with the most outrageous ideas with the vision, dedication, and resources to make those ideas a reality? Two words: Elon Musk. The real world-Tony Stark/Zombie Defender set Twitter abuzz – errr...aflame? – over the weekend when he announced that he was officially selling flamethrowers (for pre-orders) from The Boring Company’s website. Twitter, of course, went nuts and at the time of writing this, Elon has said that he’s already sold 10,000 units (half of his total production stockpile of 20,000). For the blissfully unaware, what exactly is this flamethrower? Well, it looks a little bit like a science-fiction-inspired rifle and shoots flames powered by propane fuel up to about 2 feet (based on the demo videos on the website). Guaranteed to make you the life of the party, and keep off hordes of the undead in case of a zombie apocalypse!

The whole flamethrower thing started as a post in December when Elon started selling The Boring Company branded hats online for $20 apiece. Sales really took off, and Elon stated that if he sold 50,000 hats, he’d sell a flamethrower next. Everybody thought it was a great joke, and had a laugh and dismissed it – everybody, it seems, but Elon Musk himself. Now, just a little under two months later, the flamethrower is officially available and Elon has once again proven that you never, ever take him at anything but his word. Priced at $500 apiece (excluding taxes and shipping charges), the flamethrowers are expected to start shipping in spring 2018, and Elon Musk has once again proven himself to be the maverick genius of our times.

Whether you think this is incredibly cool (and have already ordered your flamethrower) or are one of the many many detractors who scoff at this blatant “marketing gimmick”, there is no denying the impact of Elon’s actions and words. He’s truly one of the biggest influencers of the modern age, and there are a few lessons everyone can learn from this whole saga.

Image: By Heisenberg Media (Flickr: Elon Musk - The Summit 2013) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Think out of the box

Elon is well-known for innovations and strategies that are often...unconventional, to put it mildly. All his companies – from SpaceX and Tesla to SolarCity and the Boring Company – work at the very cutting edge of development and progress. Elon recognises that to make breakthroughs at that level, it is important to constantly break boundaries and think beyond conventional limits. And you can’t get more out-of-the-box than selling flamethrowers.

This venture is definitely risky, and there’s still a lot of doubt and speculation about its true motives and final products. However, by boldly going where no one has gone before, Elon has not only managed to grab and keep attention focused on social media, he has also generated a high amount of buzz around his brands, a goal that everybody chases in today’s cluttered online world. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a digital marketing whiz or just somebody looking for ways to build your brand online, take a leaf from Elon’s book and think “beyond”. You never know which crazy idea might just turn into the next big viral trend!

Stick to your guns, no matter what

Given the sheer outlandish nature of this project, Elon would have been forgiven for deciding not to go ahead with it. In fact, most people would have probably told him it was a good idea to drop it. However, Elon being Elon decided to push on nevertheless, and while there is still a fair share of detractors, for the most part, his gamble seems to have paid off as a branding exercise.

When one embarks on the path of innovation and standing out from the crowd, there is no lack of people telling you it’s all a bad idea. However, you are the only one who truly understands your vision, and if you have confidence in its potential, sticking to it is the best service you can do for yourself. Sure, there is a lot of risk associated with taking the path less travelled, but if your passion, dedication, and perseverance are true, you will definitely end up with success.

No investment? No problem!

For a project (The Boring Company) that is essentially bootstrapped, Elon has already managed to raise close to $6 million ($1 million from the hat sales and $5 million so far from the flamethrowers) simply by leveraging his brand and regular everyday consumers. In a world dominated by investors and VCs, this is no mean feat, and even if this is not intended as a funding exercise for The Boring Company, Elon’s sales and marketing strategies are worthy of study and emulation. If you’re fretting about getting funding for your company, this should show you that knocking on the doors of investors and VCs is not your only option. Explore options for crowdfunding and other methods as well – money can come from a variety of places, after all!

So what’s next for Elon? When somebody asked him on Twitter when The Boring Company Jetpack was coming out, Elon responded with this:

We can only wait with bated breath.

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