Thursday, August 16, 2018

Mark Cuban on Elon Musk and Tesla: "You're Investing in an Entrepreneur"

Well the long knives were certainly out for Tesla (TSLA) and its CEO, Elon Musk this week.

Wall Street, legal firms, the SEC, and media talking heads were all roused to action (or comment) over Musk's recent proposal to take the company private at $420 per share.

After floating the idea (via Twitter) of a private buyout of Tesla on August 7, Musk wrote to Tesla employees and shareholders about his vision for running Tesla as a private firm in a blog post entitled, "Taking Tesla Private".

Among the advantages of operating Tesla as a private firm (as well as the disadvantages of being a publicly traded company), Musk lists the following: 

"...First, a final decision has not yet been made, but the reason for doing this is all about creating the environment for Tesla to operate best. As a public company, we are subject to wild swings in our stock price that can be a major distraction for everyone working at Tesla, all of whom are shareholders. 

Being public also subjects us to the quarterly earnings cycle that puts enormous pressure on Tesla to make decisions that may be right for a given quarter, but not necessarily right for the long-term. 

Finally, as the most shorted stock in the history of the stock market, being public means that there are large numbers of people who have the incentive to attack the company."

In Elon's view, Tesla and its shareholders are currently weighed down by unfair attacks from short sellers and unscrupulous journalists. Going private would eliminate the distractions faced by fighting short sellers and may also reduce the high media glare.

Additionally, Wall Street's notorious short-termism and quarter-to-quarter view of a public company's prospects often clash with the longer-term vision of entrepreneurial company founders such as Musk.

Speaking to that point of entrepreneurial leadership, Mark Cuban recently shared his thoughts on Tesla and Elon Musk's vision in an interview with CNBC.


 
Leading off with his main point, Cuban reminds all of us that "when you invest in an entrepreneur, you get the entrepreneur!". An entrepreneurial founder is going to have a long-term vision for the company that a professional outside manager or CEO won't have.

When you think of the best, most disruptive companies of the last 25 years or more, you are invariably thinking of an Apple, a Netflix, or an Amazon. These are the company founders, people like Steve Jobs, Reed Hastings, and Jeff Bezos, who confounded the public and the Wall Street analysts early on with their unorthodox thinking and approach to running innovative, publicly-traded companies.

As Mark Cuban points out in his interview, "At one point everybody complained about Steve Jobs (who was fired in the '80s)... everybody complained about Jeff Bezos [no profits, no quarterly guidance]. Reed Hastings, same thing...

...Everybody complained about 'the fundamentals' of all these companies... these guys [founders], they don't cash out like me. They stay there because they're committed and dedicated. You've got to take the uniqueness of each person as part of what you're invested in."
 
On the subject of short sellers, Cuban added, "I would tell Elon that the shorts are your friend. The beauty of shorts is, if you have a great quarter and you do your job, they have to buy back their position [at higher prices]. Rather than getting upset about shorts, know that the more shorts you have, the more buyers you have in waiting."

Note: this point about Tesla shorts adding fuel to the fire was made here last year. 

Great entrepreneurs want to stick around for the long haul and tackle the issues their companies face. As Mark Cuban reminds us, founders like Musk, who "sleeps in the factory", are uniquely driven and have their own unique way of communicating with the public. That's part of what makes these entrepreneurial tech companies so exciting, so competitive, and ultimately, so successful. 

Disclosure: I currently own a very small amount of Tesla (TSLA) shares via the ARKW etf.

Related posts:

Tesla is Exciting... But Its Stock is Stagnant

Elon Musk: The Future We're Building at TED

Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO Interview w/ Charlie Rose