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Data Sheet—How Elon Musk Is Ruining His Own Reputation

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How is it that Elon Musk has traveled so quickly from slavishly admired disruptive visionary to widely ridiculed industry punchline?

Vintage Musk was the maverick who time and again showed others the future. He helped invent online payments at PayPal. He oversaw a team that built a gorgeous electric car without Detroit’s help. He led the way to commercial space exploration. He showed how the residential solar panel business could go mainstream. The list is endless.

Fumbling Musk’s list of screw-ups is equally long. He picks unnecessary and distracting fights with government regulators. One day he says Tesla will close all its showrooms. Then The Wall Street Journal reports that landlords have no intention of letting Tesla out of its leases. Musk next announces not all the showrooms will close after all. He declares production targets his factories can’t meet. Then he does it again. “We can’t help but wonder whether we’ve seen this movie before,” laments Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi about manufacturing timelines Musk has promised for the new Model Y hatchback.

At first blush, Musk is demonstrating all the attributes of a bright-shiny-objects manager, an inexperienced executive who chases fads either because they suit his whims or because they cover up existing problems. But Musk is no rookie. He has built real businesses.

Then again, his critics always said automobile manufacturing would be different. It’s a mass-production business that requires otherworldly attention to capital allocation, labor management, and regulatory compliance. With Tesla, Musk and his colleagues—it’s always important to remember this isn’t a one-man show, in good times and bad—delivered one of the great artisanal products of our day. Turning that into a global car company requires the types of skills that winging it simply won’t supply.


Digital reinvention is hard, and sometimes it goes horribly wrong. I highly recommend the investigative report about U.S. electronic health records in the new issue of Fortune by our Erika Fry and Kaiser Health News’s Fred Schulte. It shows how this failed digital reinvention became a matter of life and death.

Adam Lashinsky


Tragedy. All manner of online platforms grappled with fallout from the horrific mass shooting in New Zealand. Facebook, which the alleged killer used to live stream the attack, said it removed 1.5 million videos in the first 24 hours. YouTube moderators also worked to keep the footage offline. Reddit banned two of its most gruesome subreddits, r/watchpeople die and r/gore, after people shared copies of the video. And Valve’s Steam service removed more than 100 profiles that memorialized the gunman.

Good things come in small packages. In a Monday morning treat for Apple fans, Tim Cook tweeted a picture of himself using a new small version of the iPad. The revived iPad mini has an 8-inch screen, works with Apple’s Pencil stylus, and starts at $400. Apple also introduced an iPad Air model with a 10.5-inch screen starting at $500.

Prequel to the main event. Speaking of Apple, the company got dinged in its long-running dispute with Qualcomm over proper royalties for smartphone features. Qualcomm won $32 million after a federal jury in San Diego on Friday found Apple’s iPhone infringed on three Qualcomm patents. A potentially more significant ruling is pending from a federal judge in San Jose who heard the Federal Trade Commission‘s antitrust case against Qualcomm in January.

Prognosis unclear. Also on the Apple beat, the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans got to hear the results of a massive study on whether the Apple Watch is useful in detecting irregular heart rhythms. The results weren’t crystal clear—some docs said the watch produced too many false positive warnings—and the research was not done with the latest model that added a special feature specifically to take ECG readings, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Put it on my tab. The rapidly consolidating payments processing market is consolidating further. Fidelity National Information Services is acquiring rival Worldpay for $43 billion including debt. In January, Fiserv agreed to purchase First Data for $22 billion.

Dizzying. The Internet-from-space project known as OneWeb and backed by billionaires Masayoshi Son and Richard Branson raised another $1.25 billion of private capital to help finance its planned constellation of 650 satellites. OneWeb launched its first six satellites last month, but says it plans to loft 30 a month starting in the fourth quarter.

Take me uptown. Some ups and downs in the world ride hailing apps. Lyft is preparing to go public and hoping to raise $2 billion at a price that would value the company at up to $23 billion (some investors oppose the planned dual classes of stock, however). Meanwhile, New York-centered Juno is struggling after the city imposed new regulations raising driving pay and is now looking for a buyer, Quartz reports.


The availability of information and products on the Internet may be threatening the viability of the big brands of yesteryear. For one example, the sales of General Motors, Ford, and Procter & Gamble have plummeted as a portion of the entire U.S. economy over the past 20 years, according to brand consultant David Perell. In a long and winding essay, Perell explains his theory that a “process of decay” is slowly killing the brands that grew up in the age of mass-market TV advertising:

Among the top 100 consumer-packaged good (CPG) brands, 90 percent experienced a decline in market share in 2015. In the past three years, over $17 billion in sales has evaporated from the 10 largest U.S. packaged-food companies. As the balance of power shifts from broadcast media to the internet, advertisements to reviews, and big brands to small ones, the post-World War II consumer brand landscape can sniff its final days. To summarize: in the Mass Media age, standardized, brand-name companies, aimed at the broadest possible market, dominated the production, marketing, and distribution of products. For years they raised prices, grew revenues, and increased their advertising spend. But now, due to the internet, the Mass Media ecosystem weakens every day. With democratized manufacturing, unlimited shelf space, and easy-to-use advertising platforms, big mass-appeal brands are losing market share to a consortium of small, targeted, internet-native brands.


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One of the most visually striking parts of the new $25 billion Hudson Yards development in Manhattan is the 150-foot-high climbable sculpture called the Vessel. Critics are divided—some see it as little more than a feature for attracting hordes of Instagrammers. But that’s just the point of an increasing amount of new architecture. Designer Ryan Korban starts by thinking how his efforts will appear on social media. He tells Bloomberg: “We are building a brand, and it deserves to get as many eyes on it as possible.”