Tech equivalent of the OJ trial ?>

Tech equivalent of the OJ trial

Tech equivalent of the OJ trial

Hyperloop One is embroiled in a bitter fight between management and engineering.  Allegations in a lawsuit by the company’s chief engineer, if they turn out to be true, will likely derail the whole company.

Elon Musk’s idea to build a 700 mph transport system in a tube spawned two competitors to make the dream a reality.  The two companies, Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, could not be more different in their approaches.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is a technology commune.  It depends on volunteers and crowdsourced funding.  At its core it is a community of engineers who are working on Hyperloop in hope that their stock options will one day make them rich.  In the meantime, they work free and think themselves part of a movement.  They even have a company song.  The company is led by a pair of enthusiastic, charismatic pitchmen who have assembled a team of 540 engineers.  They have little to show in demonstrable technology, but a superior oeuvre of publicity.

Hyperloop One (H1) is venture capital backed venture.  It has assembled a paid team and an all-star cast of industrial partners.  The result of having real money to spend ($100 million to date) has produced a paid team of 175 and a public technology demo in the Nevada desert.  The H1 venture is demonstrably ahead of HTT.

It appears that H1 organized itself with the money interests on top of the technology team.  If the technology requirements were not as challenging, curing the current controversy would simply be a matter of hiring some more engineers.  But rocket scientists are not as easy to replace as code monkeys.

Hyperloop is rocket science.  Building a capsule that goes faster than an airplane in an environment almost as harsh as space is a tall hurdle.  Building a tube through earthquake-prone California mountains will be no small feat.

If H1 had treated its engineering team with the same respect that HTT did, H1 would likely have maintained its lead until the project reached its end.  That end may be a working Hyperloop or its abandonment as an impossible dream.  Right now, though, HTT is looking like a slow-but-steady entrant that will get there first.

If Brogan BamBrogen’s allegations turn out to be true, the investors in H1 will likely dismiss the top management of the company and reorganize it.  Those investors will not likely be interested in the $40,000 per month relation Shervin Pishevar had with a public relations professional.  They are likely to be interested that investors were coerced to invest in H1 through Pishevar’s other company, Sherpa Ventures.

When the investors discover they have been duped, one of them will step forward and lead a recapitalization.  That will require stepping softly amongst the team, so as not to slow the technology work.  The financial reengineering will be painful and public.

Management has responded swiftly to BamBrogan’s allegations.  It hired Orin Snyder, the Melvin Belli of the tech industry.  If BamBrogan’s legal team Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP has the stamina to withstand a flood of depositions and motions, the trial promises to be the tech equivalent of the OJ trial.

In any case, H1 is likely to lose focus as management spends its time worrying about the legal goings-on and employees kvetch at the coffee machine.  The capsule competition at the SpaceX test track is only a month away.  Whether H1 can make a presentable appearance there remains to be seen.

Punters might consider a couple quid backing the second place favorite HTT in case the favorite H1 stumbles.

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