Elon Musk has a knack for identifying problems, dreaming up solutions, and then throwing himself and his employees at both until a previously ludicrous idea becomes a working, odds-defying technology. See PayPal. See SpaceX. See Tesla.
The Hyperloop project, which proposes that a series of vacuum tubes enable commuters to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes, only benefits from the first two steps of Musk’s three-part process. He identified the problem (traveling sucks) and dreamt a solution (the Hyperloop) but has decided to focus on Tesla and SpaceX instead of this new project. (That Musk has found a way to make working on rocket ships and electric cars at the same time the sane option is a marvel unto itself.)
JumpStartFund, a platform meant to help ideas become companies by presenting them to “the crowd,” is hoping to finish the process on its own. Now it’s asking a simple-but-absurd question: Can the crowd replace Elon Musk?
Probably not. But it won’t be for lack of trying. The company is today announcing that it has brought on former SpaceX Director of Mission Operations Marco Villa and former President of the American Society of Civil Engineers Patricia Galloway to work on the Hyperloop project with anyone who answers its call for brilliant workers willing to work full-time for equity instead of a paycheck.
JumpStartFund CEO Dirk Ahlborn says that asking people to devote themselves to the Hyperloop project without pay isn’t crazy. (The people who ask people to work for free rarely do.) “Basically, it’s just like any other startup, right?” he says. “You meet with friends. You have an idea. You talk about it and work until you have a minimum viable product, and then you go out and talk to professional investors.”
The platform does offer contributors “advisory points,” which are then used to divvy up future revenues. It seems less like Kickstarter or Indiegogo and more like Quirky, a crowdsourcing platform that asks its users to conceptualize, identify, and help develop new products that are then worked on by Quirky’s team and sold to consumers — the main difference being that JumpStartFund is creating companies, not products.
Hiring problems aside, the Hyperloop is a massive undertaking — Quartz called it the “most difficult project Elon Musk has come up with.” JumpStartFund is taking the craziest idea from a man who helped develop digital payments, solar energy, space travel, and electric car companies and trying to develop it without that man’s involvement. So far as startup pitches go, the only thing that could be worse would be trying to raise millions of dollars to do Color right. That isn’t going to stop the company from trying, however.
There’s a reason why [the Hyperloop] can be done and achieved now. Is it easy? Absolutely not. It’s challenging in a very large way, because it’s a project that involves every single discipline in engineering, every single discipline in finance, and every single discipline in politics. The great thing is because of the fundamental way that we’re going to tackle this problem through the JumpStartFund platform and the community, we’re going to access and tap into hundreds or perhaps a few hundreds of minds that will be contributing and highlighting this problem.
Others have come out in support of the Hyperloop’s (mechanical) feasibility. Ansys, a simulation software maker whose product is used to design cars, planes, trains, and other vehicles, ran the Hyperloop’s specifications through its systems and found that Musk’s vision is “quite viable,” though it could use some improvements. But few doubted the Hyperloop’s technical specifications as much as they doubted Musk’s contention that it could be built in a decade without requiring any land purchases.
Quartz previously reported that the Hyperloop’s biggest problems — acquiring permits for noise, light, and vibration — would “still require plenty of time,” and that Musk’s proposed $20 fare is unreasonable, considering security measures and the requirement that the Hyperloop run at high capacity all day, every day. That’s where the “every single discipline in finance” and “every single discipline in politics” come in.
The Hyperloop answers the questions many of Musk’s other projects must answer — will making this be easy? okay, but is it possible? — before they’re ready to be taken seriously. But the answer to another question — is it plausible, especially without Musk at the helm? — will mean the difference between a successful company and a failed PR stunt meant to garner attention for JumpStartFund.