Elon’s Experience Sharing about Operating in Tough Times

Elon Musk gave an interview at a conference yesterday. A few friends who attended the conference texted me to suggest that I check out the interview replay. The interview touched on many topics, but the part about the macro environment for founders was most interesting to me. Here are a few takeaways:

  • Fundraising environment – Elon pointed out that things can change quickly. He shared his experience raising for PayPal. They raised $100 million in March 2000 when fundraising was easy—so much so that people wired them money without PayPal agreeing to take the investment or even seeing a term sheet. A month later, good companies couldn’t raise money.
  • Have capital – Have money in the bank so you have the runway you need to execute against your strategy.
  • Recessions aren’t all bad – If times are too good for too long, the result is misallocation of capital. Ideas that aren’t that great get funded. Because subpar ideas get funded, human capital is misallocated: people are working on things that aren’t useful to society.  
  • Watch your cash flow – Be aware of your cash position and how much is coming in and going out. Get to positive cash flow as soon as you can.
  • Tough times pass – Hard times don’t last. They will pass, and boom times will return.

Regardless of your opinion of Elon as a person, he’s a credible founder who’s built great companies many times. His views on navigating challenging times are worth considering.