Newcomer Podcast
Peering Over the Edge of Death (with Jon McNeill)

Peering Over the Edge of Death (with Jon McNeill)

I talked to Jon McNeill about when Tesla came close to bankruptcy, the investment firm he co-founded, and his experience blitzscaling Lyft.

Behind the headlines, Jon McNeill has been a key operator and board member across many of the companies that you read about.

He was the president of Tesla. Then, in February 2018, he left to take the role of chief operating officer at ride sharing company Lyft.

At Tesla, he worked desperately to get the company to sell enough cars to hit Tesla’s sales targets. With the rest of the executive team, he said, “We were arm and arm to do the impossible.”

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“For more than two years we operated the company and we just had a quarter’s worth of cash,” McNeill said, recalling a period that Elon Musk has said put the company on the brink of bankruptcy. Tesla was manufacturing vehicles out of tents.

“For sure, bankruptcy was a reality,” McNeill said. “When you’re peering over the edge of death, creativity starts to happen in really unique ways.”

After Tesla, McNeill helped take Lyft public. But his tenure at the company lasted less than two years. His vision conflicted with the ride sharing company’s founders.

Today, McNeill sits on the board of General Motors, CrossFit, and Lululemon — to name a few.

In 2020, he helped found the hatch studio DVx Ventures, which has spun up seven startups so far.

I brought McNeill on the podcast because I wanted to know whether the high-cash burn, blitzscaling model embraced by ride sharing companies like Lyft could survive in the new normal with non-zero interest rates and falling tech stocks.

“I think blitzscaling is appropriate when interest rates are zero, when capital is free,” McNeill told me. “If people are going to hand you free capital — then you make different decisions and there was an era,” he said, “where capital was free.”

But McNeill argued the bliztscaling playbook isn’t going to work anymore.

“You could go out to burn capital to acquire customers in a business that didn’t have its economics figured out yet. And ride share was a good example of that. And you could burn through a lot of investor capital because basically every time you raised it didn’t cost you much in terms of valuation.”

But McNeill told me, “When interest rates are non-zero, I don’t think blitzscaling is appropriate because you can’t afford the cost of capital.”

I asked him, “Can companies escape blitzscaling?”

“Yeah, they can but they have to have super talented leadership to do it.”

He pointed to his old rival Dara Khosrowshahi as one such leader.

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Newcomer Podcast
A podcast about Silicon Valley, hosted by newsletter writer and independent journalist Eric Newcomer. Listen in for interviews with the dealmakers and builders who matter. Subscribe to for summaries of the episodes plus tech industry news, scoops, and analysis.