Who Will Be The Next Mr Elon Musk?
Meet the six tech CEOs set to change the world in 2019
Mr Bryan Johnson. Photograph courtesy of Kernel
It’s a hard life being a tech CEO. Look at SpaceX visionary and electric car-maker Mr Elon Musk, who was recently fined $20million by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and forced to step down as the chairman of Tesla for ill-advised tweets regarding taking the company public. Or Mr Mark Zuckerberg, whose company Facebook is facing a series of allegations around the exploitation of its platform – and the data of its users – in the 2016 US election, Brexit, and more besides. Or indeed Amazon’s Mr Jeff Bezos – recently named the world’s richest man – who rarely goes a week without a new Twitter-borne threat from the current American president. But, all this said, as much as they find themselves in hot water, they possess financial clout and power like few since the days of the Rockefellers and Mr Jean Paul Getty.
Startup founders are the new rockstars, complete with the riches and supermodel girlfriends: everybody wants to be one, but only a few will succeed. MR PORTER has traversed the globe to discover the six up-and-coming tech CEOs it pays to keep an eye on – because what might sound crazy now is tomorrow’s bright idea.
Mr Pavel Durov
Photograph by Mr Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch
The company: Telegram Messenger
The vision: Mr Pavel Durov has had an eventful few years: once known as “Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg” after founding the country’s leading social-network service, VKontakte, he fled Russia in 2014 after a high-profile fight with the government over control of his platform. (They wanted him to censor the Kremlin’s political opponents; he refused.) Since then, Mr Durov has launched Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that has rapidly grown into one of the world’s largest – and most controversial. Russia and Iran have tried to ban it, even as it’s grown hugely popular as a way for people to communicate without worrying about prying eyes. But Mr Durov’s ambition is even bigger: to build the Telegram Open Network, a blockchain-based platform that essentially amounts to an alternative internet away from state controls.
Mr Travis VanderZanden
Photograph courtesy of Bird
The company: Bird
The vision: In the past few months, the world’s cities – from Los Angeles to Paris, Tel Aviv to Mexico City – have been colonised by fleets of electric scooters. The machines, from the California-based startup, Bird, are the vision of Mr Travis VanderZanden. If Uber and Lyft have revolutionised transportation on our roads, VanderZanden wants to do the same on our pavements – and given that he has worked at both ridesharing companies, he should know something about that. Bird’s growth has been astonishing: it is the fastest company to reach a valuation of $1billion. Much as users love it, Mr VanderZanden – like his former boss at Uber, Mr Travis Kalanick – has had a less-welcome response from some cities, which have banned the product. Nevertheless, as Uber and Lyft have proved, change is not always simple and doesn't necessarily follow a linear path.
Eccentricity: Like Mr Musk and his former employer Mr Kalanick, Mr VanderZenden tends to push at the boundaries of the acceptable. His previous employer, Lyft, sued him for breaching a confidentiality agreement (the dispute was settled out of court), while the city of Santa Monica also filed minor criminal complaints against him and Bird for acting without a license (he settled that one, too).
Mr Bryan Johnson
Photograph courtesy of Kernel
The company: Kernel
The vision: Artificial intelligence is rapidly moving from science fiction to science fact. Consider: AI will soon be able to do everything from answer your phone calls to make your iPhone snaps look as though they were taken by Mr David Bailey. Mr Bryan Johnson’s company, Kernel, has a solution: it is working on creating brain-computer interfaces to let us one day merge our consciousnesses with machines. That’s the big vision – in the short term, Kernel is focused on developing brain-imaging and feedback technology that could be useful in neuroscience and the treatment of brain diseases. He’s not the only one: Mr Elon Musk has co-founded Neuralink, a company exploring similar technology; Facebook and the US Military’s DARPA research arm are also working on the idea. It’s a few years away, but Mr Johnson has a track record of success, having sold his previous company, the mobile and online payments platform Braintree, to eBay for a reported $800m in 2013.
Eccentricity: In addition to being an avid climber, Mr Johnson is a published children’s author.
Messrs John and Patrick Collison
From left, Messrs John and Patrick Collison. Photograph courtesy of Stripe
Age: 28 and 30
The company: Stripe
The vision: In 2017, two brothers from Ireland became the world’s youngest self-made billionaires. You may not have heard of their company, but you’ve almost certainly used it: Stripe enables online payments for some of the world’s largest companies, including Amazon and Facebook. Sounds boring? Maybe. But consider this: in 2002, eBay bought the world’s then-hottest payments company, PayPal, for $1.5bn. PayPal’s cofounders included Mr Peter Thiel, the prominent Facebook investor, and one Mr Elon Musk, who used the money to start SpaceX and buy Tesla. With the Collisons’ personal stakes in Stripe estimated at more than $1bn each, it’s worth watching what they decide to do with it.
Eccentricity: Both Collisons were boy geniuses; when Mr Patrick Collison wanted to graduate from school early, he went through a two-year test-taking process in 20 days, acing all 30 tests. (He celebrated by running a marathon.) Both brothers are enthusiastic pilots in their spare time: they have licences and a number of planes.
Mr Lei Jun
Photograph courtesy of Xiaomi
The company: Xiaomi
The vision: If you want to find the next world-changing tech company, look to China, not Silicon Valley. The CEO of Xiaomi, Mr Jun, has helped the company – which primarily makes affordable yet fully featured smartphones – grow to become the world’s fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer. But he has much wider ambitions: as an investor, he has stakes in many of the country’s most ambitious tech companies, including Chinese Tesla rival Xpeng. And he’s not ruled out building a space company of his own. He is like an old-school mogul in that sense, with broad interests and a lot of money to explore them in the pursuit of profit.
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