If it wasn't Elon Musk talking, it's safe to say no one would be paying attention to Hyperloop transportation. The rail system that Musk unveiled this week would travel at about 700 miles and hour and take passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. He says he could build the system for $6 billion in one year, less than 10% the cost of the long-planned California High-Speed Rail scheme.
It sounds like a ludicrous fantasy but venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson probably wouldn't bet against Musk on anything. Jurvetson's firm DFJ was one of the first investors in Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX, a company Musk founded in 2002. Forget goofy ideas like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic that's currently booking trips to suborbital space for $250,000. SpaceX plans to change humankind.
Once again the ambitions are out of this world and the man behind the scenes is Elon Musk.
"Elon Musk is a remarkable individual," Jurvetson says with considerable understatement. "[He's] the founder of Tesla and SpaceX and SolarCity (SCTY) and PayPal; all different industries and billion dollar successes. It's breathtaking just to think of him as an entrepreneur coming from South Africa to the United States and doing all of this."
SpaceX isn't a blueprint or PDF file. The company is approaching $5 billion in revenue backlog and has been generating cash for the last six years. Jurvetson says SpaceX is already a resounding success.
"It's a great business. They look to be the future of the U.S. space program," he says. "They're inspiring a nation and they're going to colonize Mars. They're literally going to make humanity a multi-planetary species. That's something you can't say about any other start-up."
For now SpaceX is sticking to the prosaic work of taking over NASA's old stomping grounds of launching satellites and shipping cargo and crude to the Space Station. Jurvetson isn't in the business of funding dreams. He's a venture capitalist and his record suggests he is very, very good at it.
Jurvetson worked with Steve Jobs at NeXT and later Apple (AAPL). He knew Steve Jobs, and in his view, Elon Musk is no Steve Jobs.
"Elon Musk is even more amazing as an individual. Imagine if Steve Jobs did everything he did and also revolutionized agriculture and commercial banking," Jurveston says, "that's the kind of thing Elon has done."
Musk doesn't tweak industries. He thinks in terms of how they should work then simply builds according to his vision. In that context a Hyperloop train is something Musk could doodle on a cocktail napkin and still make it work.
In the immediate future SpaceX plans to launch more, smaller satellites from companies like Planet Labs that would enable things like real-time monitoring of crops, volcanoes and hot spots like the Fukushima plant in Japan. "[It's] cloud services above the clouds, if you will," Jurvetson says, "this big data blanket of information about our planet to better monitor it, understand it and track what's happening."
It's a vision equal parts inspiring and horrifying. What's Elon Musk going to do next? From the sounds of it pretty much whatever he wants.
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