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Tesla’s original team, where are they now?

Out of the 5 founding members of Tesla motors, only two remain with the company; of course the now famous Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, Chairman and Product Architect, and JB Straubel, Tesla’s Chief Technology Officer. But the three expatriates; Marc Tarpenning, Martin Eberhard and Ian Wright, were instrumental to the founding of Tesla and although they left the car company, some in better terms than others, it is interesting to learn about what they are doing now. Unsurprisingly, most of them are still in the EV business.

Tesla was the brainchild of Martin Eberhard. Eberhard, an engineer, met Marc Tarpenning when he came to visit Wyse Technologies, where Eberhard worked. The pair became quick friends and often got together for dinner parties or to play Magic: The Gathering. They started doing consulting work together and eventually, in 1997, they founded a business, NuvoMedia, a company developing eBook readers. Three years later, they sold the company to Gemstar-TV Guide for $187 million.

A few years later, wanting to take advantage of developments in battery technology, they started Tesla Motors.

Ian Wright was the first to join Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard in their quest to create a great electric car without compromise. He was also the first to go. He left Tesla only one year after joining Marc and Martin. His main responsibility at Tesla was to manage the relationships with the two main partners of the company; Lotus Engineering and AC Propulsion.

Since leaving the company, Wright founded WrightSpeed. WrightSpeed develops and installs electric powertrains on trucks. The company aspires to rid the trucking and parcel industry of gas guzzling engines. 

The company is already supplying FedEx with electric powertrain retrofits. Wright also has his eyes on the garbage truck industry. He says that an average truck burns ~14,000 gallons of fuel per year for ~$55,000 and that WrightSpeed’s powertrains could save truck operators up to $35,000 per year for each vehicle.

Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning

Tarpenning and Eberhard left Tesla in January 2008 after Eberhard was ousted as CEO. The year before, Eberhard himself brought up the idea of finding a new CEO to manage the growing company and the board agreed. But after an unfruitful search for a replacement and more difficulties at Tesla, the board decided, without consulting Eberhard, to demote him and bring in an interim CEO, Michael Marks.

Both Eberhard and his friend Marc Tarpenning, who was VP of Electrical Engineering at the time, left the company. One more CEO later, Musk took over after having to lead yet another round of investment in the company and there began his reign as CEO of Tesla Motors.

Eberhard and Tarpenning went on to do consulting work and mentoring. In 2010, Eberhard was working on EVs for Volkswagen. More recently, the pair invested in BRD Motorcycles, which then changed its name to “Alta Motors“. The company is the maker of the “Redshift”, a fully electric motorcycle. Marc and Martin invested in their last round, which raised $4.5 million.

Also other Tesla alumni that weren’t founders, but were important contributors to the company at an early stage, are still active in the electric vehicle industry. Bernard Tse was Vice President and a board member at Tesla from 2003 to 2007. He went on to found Atieva in 2007.  The company is working on a “breakthrough electric vehicle”. They are still in stealth mode and not much is known about the company, but they are expected to reveal more details in the coming months.

Malcolm Powell was working for Lotus when Tesla approached the company to develop the Roadster. Six months later, he switched side and headed Tesla’s collaboration with the British car company. Powell became VP of vehicle engineering for Tesla, a position he held until 2008. He was part of the “old guard” under Eberhard’s tenure as CEO. Powell also went on to do consulting work in the EV industry. More recently consulting for Tevva Motors, a company developing electric range extended trucks.

Tesla Motors will be 12 years old this summer. During those 12 years, Tesla employed and are still employing a lot of talented people. Before Tesla, Musk founded Paypal and former Paypal employees and founders have since founded multiple successful companies such as LinkedIn, Youtube, Yelp and of course Tesla and SpaceX. These people are sometime referred to by the affectionate nickname “Paypal Mafia“. I think Tesla might be on its way to eventually create the “Tesla Mafia”.

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  1. Dafty Punk - 8 years ago

    Musk came on a year after the company was founded. He was the first major investor. While I wouldn’t call him a “founder” per-se, his money (and later leadership) definatly put the company on the path to where it is today.
    Still, Tesla wasn’t his idea to begin with.

    • Fred Lambert - 8 years ago

      You don’t need be have the idea to be a founder. I state in the article that Tesla was the brainchild of Martin Eberhard. Following Eberhard leaving Tesla and suing Musk and Tesla, a judge ruled that Musk was so instrumental to the founding of Tesla that he could be considered a “founder”.

      He was officially instated as a founder by a court ruling.

      • Dafty Punk - 8 years ago

        I guess.. Then again, think of it like this: You start a company, and incorporate it. After slaving away, busting your ass for a year working on your dream, your first investor comes in, takes over and then forces you out, would you consider him a founder?

      • Fred Lambert - 8 years ago

        Trust me I get your point, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Tesla was incorporated in July 2003. Musk was the first “non-seed” investor in April 2004. During those 10 months, Tesla had nothing but a business plan. They didn’t have a car or anything. They used the T-Zero from AC Propulsion. They really started doing work when Musk got in and you could say that if Musk wouldn’t got in, Tesla would have never happened. That’s why he got a ruled as a founder.

        “Forcing” Eberhard out was unrelated to the “founding” of the company, but had more to do with the state of the company in 2007-2008.

  2. wewa - 8 years ago

    Typical story.
    Similar things happened at Apple, and Microsoft.
    Beg, borrow, steal.
    That is the modern startup way.
    Or as Jobs famously said, “Good artists copy…” and you know the rest.

  3. Zach - 8 years ago

    I was interested to find out what Tarpenning is doing. No word on that? Anyhow, very interesting article. Thanks! 😀

    • Fred Lambert - 8 years ago

      Thanks. Tarpenning has been consulting and doing talks. He also invested in Alta Motors with Eberhard.


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