Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche


Has Hyperloop One Sold Out?

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.

A new Virgin America Airbus aircraft “Fly Bye Baby,” named in honor of the SF Giants and painted with a beard across the aircraft nose — a nod to the facial-hair friendly hometown champions. The SF Giants World Championship Trophy departed on the aircraft on Thursday, January 17, 2013 from San Francisco International Airport to New York as part of the Championship Trophy Tour. The Championship Trophy traveled in a First Class seat onboard and commercial travelers were invited to take photos with the trophy in-flight.(PRNewsFoto/Virgin America)

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.

It remains to be seen if Pishevar, another egomaniac, can live with Branson. The imbecilic lawsuit he and Brogan BamBrogan engaged in last year casts serious doubt on that relationship’s future.

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.