Skip to comments.Tesla’s Elon Musk: “I Ran Out of Cash” - 0bama's Space Savior on Financial Ropes
Posted on 06/09/2010 10:35:26 PM PDT by anymouse
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk seems to have it all. The electric-car entrepreneur is the toast of Silicon Valley, Sacramento, and Tokyo after unveiling a plan to revive Toyotas shuttered NUMMI plant last week. And deal-hungry Wall Street bankers are angling to take his company public. Hes even a Hollywood star, with a cameo in the hit Iron Man 2 movie, said to be based on his life story.
The one thing he doesnt have, by his own admission, is money.
About four months ago, I ran out of cash, he wrote in a court filing dated Feb. 23, reviewed by VentureBeat. Thats a problem not just for him but for Tesla, where he is the lead investor and chief product architect, as well as CEO. Musks willingness to funnel his own cash into Tesla has for years sustained the faith of fellow investors and reassured would-be car buyers in 2008 when the companys finances were in perilous shape.
According to the filing part of his pending divorce case from sci-fi novelist Justine Musk Elon Musk has been living off personal loans from friends since October 2009 and spending $200,000 a month while making far less. Musk confirmed this in an interview with VentureBeat.
Tesla, likewise, is dealing with its cash flow problems by borrowing money from a friendly source the United States government, which has eagerly backed cleantech startups through a Department of Energy loan program. Tesla burned through $37 million in cash in the last three months of 2009, according to amended S-1 documents, filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission in preparation for its IPO. Tesla slowed this burn rate in the first quarter of 2010 to $8.4 million, but only by drawing down part of a $465 million loan from the DOE, while reporting a net loss of $29.5 million. Teslas sales were flat year-over-year in the first quarter, but declined precipitously in the U.S., according to a former Tesla executive.
Now, Toyota has agreed to buy $50 million in shares at the time of Teslas initial public offering if it manages to go public before Dec. 31. But for now, the company doesnt have access to that promised cash, and must pay $42 million to buy the NUMMI plant in Fremont, Calif., from a Toyota-General Motors joint venture.
Only one thing is certain: Teslas not getting more money from Musk.
Divorced from his fortune
Musk was Teslas first investor, and he kept the company afloat until recently through round after round of funding. After a Tesla employee leaked word in October 2008 to a reporter that the company was down to its last $9 million in cash, Musk promised to personally refund car buyers deposits if Tesla couldnt deliver the vehicles a promise he made in the pages of Car & Driver. At that time, those deposits which Tesla calls reservation payments were an important source of cash for the company.
And throughout Teslas history, Musk has used his entrepreneurial legend Zip2, sold for $305 million to Compaq; PayPal, sold to eBay for $1.5 billion to bolster his credibility as a technology executive. Musks personal take from Zip2 was a reported $22 million, much of which he invested in his next startup, PayPal, netting $160 million when eBay bought the online-payments startup. According to filings in his divorce trial, he had roughly $48 million in income from his investments between 2005 and 2008. But he sunk much of that money back into Tesla, as well as his other enterprises, the space-exploration concern SpaceX and solar panel finance startup SolarCity.
His finances were not always so strained. In other documents filed in the divorce case, Musk reportedly made $9,551,753 in 2008 and an average of $17.2 million a year from 2005 to 2008. As of Dec. 31, 2008, he also had extensive holdings in venture capital and private equity partnerships, ranging from Softbank Technology Ventures to Charles River Ventures to Clarium Capital. These partnerships, however, tend to be highly illiquid investments: It can take months to get out of them because you have to find a sophisticated buyer willing to bear the risks of a private sale.
As he ran low on cash, a contentious divorce in which his ex-wife, Justine Musk, is seeking a sizable chunk of Musks holdings caused him more financial problems. Justine Musk is asking a court to rip up a post-nuptial agreement she and Elon Musk signed in March 2000, which could in theory lead to much of his holdings being deemed community property. While theres no telling how the case will turn out it has already gone to appeal more important is the protective order the court has slapped on Musks holdings in Tesla and his other illiquid assets. These include his stakes in private equity funds. He wont be able to sell significant holdings without first getting permission from his ex-wife. And he has also been ordered by a court to continue paying her legal fees for the duration of the lengthy appeal process.
Refueling Teslas cash
Musk still owns roughly a third of Tesla some 81 million shares out of approximately 250 million outstanding, according to the companys filings. But keeping his ownership stake that high has come at a cost. In November 2007, in order to wield enough voting power to oust Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard as CEO, he converted 8 million of his preferred shares into common shares. Two months later, Musk participated in a bridge loan to rebuff a separate effort by VantagePoint Venture Partners, a significant investor, to lead a deal that would have seriously diluted Musks control. VantagePoint partner Jim Marver left Teslas board as a result. From the perspective of Musks board allies, the move steadied the company at a time of significant employee turnover and potential loss of morale. (A VantagePoint spokesman declined to comment on Tesla board matters.)
The moves kept Musk in control of Tesla, but it also meant that his stake kept getting diluted in subsequent financing rounds. (Preferred shares often hold anti-dilution rights, but common shares typically do not.) And there were many subsequent rounds, including a highly dilutive convertible debt round in 2008. The first sign of trouble came last fall, when Musk, for the first time, did not participate in a financing round for Tesla.
The company has not disclosed Musks lack of financial liquidity or the potential implications of his divorce case in its filings only that it is highly dependent on Musks services. Tesla has also begun reimbursing Musk for his private-jet flights, an expense he previously paid out of pocket. And while Tesla pays Musk only a minimal salary, its board awarded him 6.7 million stock options in December 2009 the first time he has taken this kind of equity as compensation. It seems that Musks compensation from Tesla has increased since his personal finances became an issue.
A matter of disclosure
Should Tesla have mentioned all these facts in its S-1 filings? Eric Talley, a professor of law at Berkeley and co-director of the Berkeley Center for Law, Business, and the Economy, notes that Section 11 of the 1933 Securities Act requires that companies registering to go public not make materially misleading statements or omissions. But its far from clear whats material in these cases, he said: Its not a black and white rule.
A longtime observer of the company thinks the state of Musks finances is worth disclosing. Its up to the courts to decide, but this feels like material information, said Dallas Kachan, managing partner of Kachan & Co., a cleantech research and analysis consultancy which follows Tesla.
The easiest way for Musk to get out of debt to his friends and settle accounts with his ex-wife would be for Tesla to go public and for Musk to unload much of his stake. After an IPO, his shares of Tesla would become a readily sold asset except for the protective orders in his divorce case and a requirement of the DOE loan that Musk hold onto a certain percentage of his shareholdings until some time after units of Teslas forthcoming Model S start rolling off the NUMMI assembly line.
Asked to comment on whether Teslas disclosures so far have been adequate, John Heine, deputy director of the Security & Exchange Commissions Office of Public Affairs, said his agency does not comment on companies with pending registrations to the press. Ricardo Reyes, a spokesman for Tesla Motors, has previously said the company had no plans to revise its filings with the SEC to reflect the possible impact of Musks divorce as a risk factor.
Should the company have said more? Perhaps, argues one observer.
Transparency is thought to be a good thing for the operation of capital markets, said Talley, the Berkeley law professor. Bare compliance with SEC rules isnt enough.
Here are the documents detailing Musks finances:
Electric car ping.
“Now, Toyota has agreed to buy $50 million in shares at the time of Teslas initial public offering if it manages to go public before Dec. 31.”
Ahhh... now we see the cost of peace for the Obama Admin to get off Toyota’s back. This is called a bribe or really extortion.
Of possible interest.
didn’t this company get something like $300 million from the Stimulus Bill??
Just think you can lease one of these cars for a mere $1,658.00 a month for 3 year contract! God I hope they sell a lot.. In this economic climate?
I dunno, Tesla has always seemed to me to be the automotive equivalent of VaporWare.
In other news the Falcon 9 rocket performed flawlessly. But I know that’s not material to your post. /s/
One sure way to a small fortune is to start with a large fortune and invest in space enterprises.
I can't believe so called intelligent people are actually discussing Tesla as an viable business proposition.
It sounds like Mrs. Musk, like Tipper Gore, finally got tired of living a lie.
I feel bad that Tesla’s name is on this mess. These guys are third graders compared to Nicoli Tesla.
Tesla was a very great scientist. He put his money where his mouth was, and on occasion attempted to put J.P. Morgans money where Tesla’s mouth was. But you have to recognize him for who he was.
These Tesla motor people are jokes.
What he means to say is that in a world of paper money, he can not find enough private suckers to willingly ‘invest’. So, like some Willie Green boondoggle, he flees to gooberment were they hand out money borrowed from the Chinese to be paid upon the backs of children.
Rest In Peace, old friend, your work is finished.....
If you want ON or OFF the DIESEL KnOcK LIST just FReepmail me.....
This is a fairly HIGH VOLUME ping list on some days.....
The business viability of this outfit is clearly a matter of federal connections to the taxpayer teat, as well as to illusory cash-laden idealogues...rather than sound fundamentals.
Obama Justice is served....
“Actually when they develop a viable electric car they have the potential of really kicking ass accelerating”
The problem is there are no viable electric cars. There may be viable niches, but there is no mass market for this product that can stand alone without massive subsidy.
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