Insights | 11.25.19

Innovators That I Admire – The Fearless By Rob Baum, CEO of TechFlow

When it comes to pursuing markets and opportunities, Elon Musk is fearless. He has broken into areas where barriers to entry are huge and foreboding. For example, Elon founded SpaceX in 2002 with $100M of his own money.  He saw an opportunity to innovate in a market that the engrained, much larger constituents did not see (reusable rockets!). And then look at Tesla… his passion for prolonging civilization through affordable and efficient electric vehicles ran against the beliefs and trajectory of the deep-rooted auto industry.

To me, Elon is the ultimate entrepreneur. He has leveraged his success and good fortune to start one business after another. He is a big idea innovator that has demonstrated a passion for being fearless in his pursuit of game changers. He is willing to upend traditional thinking and take-on enormous change.  Some people may think he’s crazy, but I think he’s courageous. He’s certainly been able to demonstrate that many of his ideas, no matter how far out there they may be, have been viable! And some have even inspired a fundamental shift in their respective industries. Elon has said, “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” I think it’s his vision for what can be that drives him to take these giant leaps where others have hesitated to move forward.

Elon’s more recent successes were certainly driven, at least in part, by the unique and powerful vision he had for each company.  They were positioned to solve complex problems that could have a significant impact on our world.  These strong vision statements allowed Elon to attract top talent to propel his ideas forward.  For example, Elon is not a rocket scientist, but he created a successful rocket company.  It is not likely that he was steering and designing the products, but he drove the implementation to the rocket engineers while ensuring the outcome supported the original vision.  His big ideas attracted top talent and then his business acumen and attention to detail ensured the vision was built into the delivery.

Elon has shown me that having a grand vision that others didn’t see, as long as it is grounded in the realm of the possible, can be a very powerful management tool.  Even if it feels like the odds are not in your favor, the believers and the hopeful innovators will follow you. And, while vision is important, a great leader also rolls up his sleeves and dives into the details to ensure delivery alignment.  I also know (heard the stories) how hard Elon works and how he puts in ridiculous hours (sleeves rolled up), so I know that sometimes you have to go way beyond the norm to be successful. Hard work is needed to deliver against the odds.

I have created a vision of doing things different at TechFlow that is supported by our desire to be “Always Ahead”.  Our Vision and Mission are about driving our employee-owners to think outside the box and leverage innovation in our solutions.  Being creative and designing a better way is fun and challenging.  As a result, we have been able to attract and retain top-tier talent.  I also, like Elon, love to roll-up my sleeves and take on any project or problem to ensure we develop a successful solution.   Finally, I have never been afraid or opposed to working hard.  When you work hard and generate success, life is fun.

Elon created the market for Electric Vehicles.  He created a software defined vehicle platform that can be enhanced through a software upgrade.  He designed a rocket that can be reused resulting in more affordable exploration of space.  His innovations around battery technology continue to revolutionize entire industries.  But, I think Elon’s greatest impact will be on the next class of innovators who embrace his fearless attitude about seeing a future that is different from what most people see and arming these new entrepreneurs with the courage to make it real.

I’m excited to see what he does next!

As for TechFlow, I’d like to think we’ve already had a positive impact on the markets we serve and that we will continue to do so. We may not make the humongous leaps that Elon takes, but we are driving change and building solutions that our customers didn’t even know were possible. As Elon pointed out, “When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars, people said, ‘Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet Henry Ford made, and it worked.” At TechFlow, while we won’t be replacing the horse(!), we’re also not afraid to think differently and drive innovation to do it better!