One person who’s confident about the company’s prospects is the author of the Forbes article that put it on the map, Bruce Upbin, who in May joined the company as its vice-president of strategic communications.* Pishevar, who has said that he expects there to be a working passenger hyperloop, somewhere in the world, by 2021, insists that the company is stronger than ever, and he shrugs off the suit, which is ongoing, as a speed bump he doesn’t spend much time thinking about. “I think this idea is bigger than any one person, including myself, and in many ways this is a movement, and anyone that begins to feel like they’re indispensable, or that they’re bigger than the idea, doesn’t fit the culture anymore.” He mentioned famous founder schisms at other tech companies. “The people that we sometimes start our journeys with are not the people we end the journeys with.”
But in Silicon Valley, traditional venture capitalists have for the most part steered clear of the company, finding it too speculative, capital-intensive, and long-term to meet their investing criteria. (An exception, Vinod Khosla, told me he was “only a token investor.”) “Most people thought it was not a scam but a fantasy,” says a seasoned Valley insider who knows the players and who allows that Pishevar’s enthusiasm is genuine: “He believes this bullshit.” The lawsuit hasn’t helped. “No one was taking it seriously. Now it’s like, Who are these clowns?”
“He reminds me of Voltaire,” says Kara Swisher, co-founder of Recode and a fan of Pishevar’s, referring to the philosophe’s ever-sunny Candide.“People get attacked and there’s war, and he’s like, ‘All for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.’ ” As we walked around the neighborhood near the company headquarters, Pishevar stopped to hand a few crumpled bills to a homeless man on a crate, and pointed out a retro typeface on the old Sears building. “When I look at cities now, I don’t see them in the present,” he said. “This is the decaying infrastructure of our existing cities. Years from now, none of this is going to be here. New cities are going to rise.”
Maybe the best thing going for hyperloop the concept — if not Hyperloop the company — is that Musk has not abandoned the idea. At last summer’s Code conference, a month before the lawsuit was filed, he said: “I think if the companies that are trying to make it happen now, if for whatever reason that doesn’t work out, then I think, you know, I’ll, I might do something myself in the future.”
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