Hyperloop One just made what was either a very smart move or a stupid sellout. The company has launched a strategic partnership with celebrity billionaire egomaniac Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.
The partnership includes a name change to Virgin Hyperloop One, which sounds terrible. The name conjures up images of a pathetic Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin rather than next generation technology. Perhaps we send the Hyperloop One team a few clips from that movie. Is this the image that we really want to be associated with cutting-edge transportation?
Although to be fair it should be pointed out that Virgin has a lot of transportation experience running trains and airlines in the United Kingdom. It also has the advantage of a high-profile celebrity chairman who has a lot of public exposure to counter a rival egomaniac Elon Musk. Branson is even finding new audiences on Shark Tank, America’s answer to Dragon’s Den this season.
Can Richard Branson really help Hyperloop One?
The $1 billion question here, is can Branson really help Hyperloop One? That remains to be seen because much of what Hyperloop does is far out of Branson’s experience.
As far as I know he and Virgin have little experience with moving freight or building infrastructure. Running an airline that takes off at and lands at airports that taxpayers finance for it is easy, which is what Virgin Air does. So is operating trains on tracks provided by the government, which was what Virgin Trains does in the UK.
Building and operating infrastructure will be far harder than that. It’ll also require vast amounts of venture capital and a high-level of government cooperation. There’s no indication that Branson can provide any of those things.
One has to wonder if a desperate Hyperloop One ran out of money and turned to Branson for help. This alliance might be an act of desperation to save the technology and the system on the part of Shervin Pishevar and Josh Giegel.
Better Partners Needed
Obviously, it would have been far better to partner with somebody like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates but Branson might be necessary for now.
Better partners would have been railroads, FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and UPS (NYSE: UPS) which have far more experience hauling freight. Fortunately the founders admit they are seeking other operators. Hopefully that means some experienced railroad or airline operators.
Hopefully this is not a publicity stunt, and Branson is serious about making Hyperloop work. The world needs this technology soon. Putting up with celebrity egomaniacs might be part of the price of progress in our crazy world.