From Surreal To So Real
May 12 2016

From Surreal to So Real

By Shervin Pishevar

You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful moment for the future to arrive. The late day sun was dipping behind the Sheep Range behind us, a breeze was picking up and out here in the Nevada desert 30 miles from the Vegas Strip, we were standing behind a chain-link fence looking at the future of transportation--a vision made very real.

On the other side of the fence was a 1,500-pound metal sled, a giant aluminum centipede, resting at the start of a 300-meter track. Under the sled and extending down its center for another 57 meters was a thin linear electric motor that, when juiced with power, would shoot the sled down the track. At Hyperloop One, the startup I cofounded in 2014, we call this rig the POAT, or propulsion open-air test.

Three. Two. One. Off it went. Zero to 60 mph in 1.1 seconds, before stopping into a big plume of sand. I was with a couple of site engineers and my cofounder and Hyperloop One’s chief technology officer Brogan BamBrogan. We whooped, high-fiving all around, and hugs. I had tears mixed with sand. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a hugger. (That’s me in the white pants.) We didn't know the control room team was going to zoom in. They had bet between themselves we would all hug after so they zoomed in to catch us in the act.

This was my preview of what the world saw on Wednesday, May 11: the first actual working component of the Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s bold idea for supersonic travel through near-vacuum tubes. There’s a lot of noise, hope and hype out there about what the Hyperloop could be and will be, but this metal sled absolutely grounds the idea in much-needed reality.

But what was surreal about the whole thing is how far we’ve come so quickly. Hyperloop One is now a team of 150 people in downtown Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but we were a handful of people in Brogan’s LA garage less than two years ago. And the entire POAT site was bare ground less than six months.

I’ve been lucky to have been involved in dozens of startups over the years, including lightning fast scale-up companies like Uber, but I’ve never seen a company move this fast. We’re living in an incredible window of time in human history, when teams of entrepreneurs and engineers can dream big and execute on their vision at an unprecedented scale. Private companies are now doing the things that nations used to do. 

There’s something about the idea of the Hyperloop that captures the imagination of ambitious engineers. The benefits of Hyperloop are clear: efficient, on-demand, safe, green and of course fast travel. But the idea of being on the ground floor of commercializing the next mode of transportation goes beyond the delivery of those values. We’ve had amazingly talented Ph.Ds quit their jobs, pull up roots and come join our team because they want to make it happen. Several of them have been living on the site for weeks because they want to make it happen. 

There's a quote from Theodore Roosevelt I had on my wall when I was in high school and college. I read it aloud to the more than 100 guests, investors and press we invited out to the desert to witness this historic moment, and dedicated it to the team.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Surreal, but so real. 

Shervin Pishevar is a cofounder and executive chairman of Hyperloop One.