Gene Berdichevsky was only the seventh employee hired at electric car giant Tesla. As a lead tech in the battery department, he played a big part in the initial success of the company, helping it grow into the $40 Billion juggernaut it is today. However, it wasn’t until Gene took off on his own did he find his largest success with his own startup, Sila Nanotechnologies.
While Berdichevsky’s success has been astronomical, it has not been without problems. In fact, if you ask Gene, the bigger the problem, the better.
Now you may be reading this thinking “Problems? I don’t want any problems!” If that’s you then keep reading, because this is something that every single entrepreneur needs to understand.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, at some point you are going to want someone to give you some of their money. Whether you are selling a product or offering a service to clients, the success of your business depends on convincing others that what you are offering is worth spending their money on.
You will quickly find that one and only reason people ever spend money is to solve a problem. Why? Because people value their money highly, it takes serious motivation for them to agree to have less of it. This means that to get them in a buying mindset, they must be so agitated by something that relief from that thing is more valuable to them than their money.
Solve Big Problems. Make Big Money.
For Gene Berdichevsky and Tesla, the first big problem was batteries catching on fire. That’s a pretty huge problem when you’re trying to build electric cars! However, Berdichevsky says this is when he truly learned his lesson about attacking the biggest problems he could find. He says that by going after huge problems instead of smaller or medium-sized ones, he was able to attract the best talent to work with him.
In a recent interview, Berdichevsky says that “a lesson that a lot of entrepreneurs can learn is to make sure you’re solving something that’s really, really big and worth solving.”
Originally from Ukraine, Gene spent much of his childhood in Russia before moving to Virginia with his family. He later attended Stanford University in California, receiving two degrees.
Gene considers himself lucky to have been raised in a family of entrepreneurs, learning many lessons from seeing his father start several small businesses of his own. Brainpower was not in short supply in the Berdichevsky household, with both of Gene’s parents being software engineers with experience working on nuclear submarines!
Perhaps a rebel at heart, Gene stayed away from his parent’s career of software engineering, instead opting to use his talent for math and science as a mechanical engineer. It was not long into his tenure at Stanford that Gene joined a Solar Car competition team.
The Solar car project, in which the students designed a solar car for a marathon race across the country was what Gene needed to propel him to the next level. This was his thing, he loved the building and most importantly, the problem-solving. He says that seeing this machine that he built come to life is what ultimately energized him.
Gene’s Work With Tesla
A year before finishing college, Gene got his job with Tesla. They came a long way together. Gene says the first battery he built for them was just a bunch of laptop batteries superglued together!
From the 10 People working there when Gene started, it grew over 30x in just four years. Tesla is now worth over $40 Billion and hires over 45,000 people.
At Tesla, he saw that you need to be willing to do things that nobody else thinks are possible. This requires a mindset of solving problems yourself, not simply hiring someone else and telling them to do it.
Going out on His Own
Gene was never happy working for someone else’s company. He says the moment he walked into his job Tesla he already had his gears spinning. “How do I start my own company? How do I build something like this?” For Gene, entrepreneurship was an obsession.
However, it was not easy, even with his engineering background, there is lots more to running a successful company than batteries and electricity. For several years after leaving his job at Tesla, Gene worked at a venture capital firm, reviewing investor proposals. He says that seeing so many of these helped him identify what investors are really looking for before they invest.
What is the lesson here? Too many people think business success happens overnight. Even a genius like Gene needed years of observation and learning before finding success on his own.
After years of watching and planning. Gene Berdichevsky approached venture capital firms with an offer they couldn’t refuse. He and his partner could build the world’s best battery. Armed with patents and years of data, Berdichevsky made his pitch and secured over $295 million in funding.
This huge cash influx allowed them to attract some amazing engineering talent. The result is a material that makes batteries with 20% more storage without increasing weight. This solves some massive problems with phones, tablets, electric vehicles in more. As a result, Sila Nanotechnologies now has a valuation of over 1 billion dollars.
You don’t have to be a genius.
Okay, so we can’t all be math and science whizzes like Gene. But we can still learn the lesson in his story. Don’t run away from problems! Attack the biggest, hardest problem you can find and soon you’ll learn there’s no problem you can’t solve!