Hyperloop travel is the brainchild of several high profile innovators, including Elon Musk, who envision a “fifth mode of transportation.” Its goal is the high speed transportation of people and goods in capsules, inside of tubes being propelled by motors and air compressors. Several companies have come forward to explore this technology and make it a reality—but one in particular, Hyperloop One, is in danger of losing its way, falling victim to an all too familiar communications trap—allowing distractions from its core mission.
Since its conception, Hyperloop One has raised more than $90 million in working capital (on a project that will require multiple billions) to develop a Hyperloop route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It has made progress, employs a team equipped with over 100 engineers, and has also developed a construction plan with the Summa Group and the Russian Government to create another Hyperloop in Moscow.
Hyperloop One is also in the midst of a bizarre lawsuit, one that will join in history’s other peculiar “family” filings (both the plaintiff and defendant are current and former Hyperloop One executives).
So with a potentially revolutionary prototype and global support (but a lack of sufficient funding), the co-founder and former Chief Technology Officer Brogan BamBrogan has sued the company—making some rather sensational allegations.
BamBrogan’s suit against his former company include claims of breach of fiduciary duty, violations of labor laws, wrongful termination, breach of contract, defamation, infliction of emotional distress, and assault.
BamBrogran, however, missed a few takeaways from the “Innovators Guide to Suing Former Co-Workers” handbook.
First, his accusations against his company have diminished any chances of having the Hyperloop managed by people who share his same vision. The easiest way to make a corporate change is from within the company. Now that BamBrogan is on the outside looking in, there is no way for his vision to be molded into the future of Hyperloop One.
Second, BamBrogan has no economic gain from a lawsuit against a company in a fundraising stage. At the current state of the lawsuit, Hyperloop One is in a position where money is only being spent, not being made. A fight as big as a corporate lawsuit is more valuable when there is truly something worth fighting for. He could have taken a lesson from Snapchat’s Reggie Brown. Brown waited until 2013 to sue Snapchat, his former company, claiming he came up with the original concept and mascot. While Brown felt he wasn’t given a fair chance by Snapchat, he also knew seeking a legal remedy against a developing prototype would not benefit anyone financially—but a successful company surely would.
Now in the other corner comes the remaining executives at Hyperloop One, weighing in with a counter lawsuit, offering a rebuttal to every accusation that was thrown their way.
Just as Hyperloop One had a golden opportunity to take full advantage of shaping the direction of the media, they instead played the same card as BamBrogan, and chose to deviate from the prototype production and become immersed in the legal side.
The company blog and media clips pages offer a great picture of what they want their corporate image to be—but the legal filings, news coverage, and internet chatter tell a completely different story.
Publically arguing over if a rope was a lasso or noose is a loser for all involved. Making an issue about how much the communications pros are paid is another (shameless plug for our profession—but relevant here all the same.) Name calling will make headlines but damage all sides—even when the insult is a “slightly below average engineer.” Mud cannot be thrown without everyone getting dirty.
Hyperloop One had the upper-hand from the moment BamBrogan sued them. They could have taken the high road, focusing on the research and development of their sought after product. They could have kept quiet, restructuring their next executive order and deciding how to restore their image. Instead, Hyperloop One executives deviated from the business side and committed themselves to being involved with the legal side—arguing “facts” that have nothing to do with that fifth mode of transport.
Now Hyperloop One has transformed into a battle of the lawyers, instead of Musk’s brainchild with the power to change the future for transportation.
Arguments that escalate to legal action are likely to arise – but when issues are allowed to become distractions, both sides lose—but more importantly, innovation loses too.