Tuesday 20 March 2018

Spaceman takes Enda for a drive in his Batmobile

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, right, and Elon Musk, CEO of space cargo and exploration company SpaceX and electric car company Tesla Motors, at a panel discussion on the main stage of the Web Summit
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, right, and Elon Musk, CEO of space cargo and exploration company SpaceX and electric car company Tesla Motors, at a panel discussion on the main stage of the Web Summit
Grainne Barron, of Viddyad, winner of the ESB Spark of Genius award
Phil Libin from Evernote is interviewed by Adrian Weckler
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

THE Taoiseach was like a hungry, determined little terrier with his gnashers around a particularly fine juicy bone.

Beside him on the stage at the Web Summit panel discussion was Elon Musk. Now, this entrepreneur is no ordinary run-of-the-mill billionaire – for anybody working in technology, he is an absolute superstar. He was the co-founder of PayPal, before he moved on to set up Tesla Motors which is producing fabulous, sporty electric cars that have motor critics drooling and manufacturers of gas-guzzlers getting anxious. And in between that, he founded Space X, the first private company to be contracted by NASA to fly cargo to the International Space Station and which is developing rockets for exploration of the stars.

Elon was a last-minute addition to the list of speakers at the RDS. Unsurprisingly, given his legendary status, the main hall in the complex was hot, excited and packed to the rafters.

With a dash of showbiz, the South African-born businessman arrived into Dublin a little late, and had brought a customised green Tesla car on the flight with him. He chauffeured Enda the few feet from the backstage area to the side of the podium in the sleek electric motor which is definitely more Batman than milkman.

The discussion, which was chaired impeccably by Mark Little, founder of Storyful, also included Shervin Pishevar, founder of finance company Sherpa Ventures. But all the attention was focused on Elon – a tall, quietly spoken, fresh-faced chap who looks younger than his 42 years and who was named by 'Time' magazine in 2010 as one of the world's 100 most influential people.

Elon admitted that he hadn't been to Ireland since he was seven years old and had wanted to revisit the country for some time.

"Keep coming back, we need you," interjected a smiling Taoiseach.

Enda then pointed out that Henry Ford had set up his motor company in Cork in the early 20th century.

"So if you're looking for a good base. . ." he angled to Elon as laughter and applause rose from the crowd who know a hustle when they see it.

But Enda hadn't finished his hard sell and doggedly persisted "If you want to come to Europe, we can compete with the best, so if you're going to do that, give us a chance and we'll give you a fair hearing and our workers will not let you down, believe you me," he said to more applause.

But it quickly became clear that Elon isn't the usual hard-headed Alpha male with a pocket full of useful platitudes. Little asked him why he didn't just stick to making money from commerce rather than pouring it into space technology.

"I guess the thing that motivated me was that I kept expecting that there'd be a manned mission to Mars, a continuation of the dream of Apollo," he explained. When it didn't happen, he thought that "maybe people had lost the will to do that, and I came up with this idea to do a mission to Mars to get people excited about space again. But I was wrong – there was plenty of will; it was about making sure that there is a way".

Gradually, the chat moved away from money and turned towards motivation, and how fear can prevent people from fulfilling their potential. Elon revealed the various risks he took with both Space X and Tesla.

This resonated with Enda.

"It's important to have a culture of not being afraid that something might go wrong or that something might fail," he said.

"When Irish people have gone away, they might try three or four ventures before they find something that actually works in the way they want. But in a confined island, the tradition is if it goes down, it's a bad mark against you, and that shouldn't be the way," he added.

Elon leaned forward.

"I've had fear of failure," he admitted, "but it didn't stop me," he smiled as cheers rose from the audience.

Then Pishevar joined in and agreed. "One of the things that I've realised is that fear is finite but hope is infinite. As Elon said, we are afraid of failure, but it doesn't stop us trying. I think the mentality has to be that failure is an option."

This wasn't the usual back-and-forth about how to make a few bucks, and was all the better for it. But it was clear that Enda had his mind on various handy uses for space travel.

"If you're sending that spacecraft off to Mars, I've a few people I could put on it for you," he assured Elon.

It would sure be a heck of a novel way to go about a Cabinet reshuffle.

Irish Independent

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