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Lessons From the Previous Generation's Flying Car Frenzy

Silicon Valley always feels like it’s a few years away from world-changing breakthroughs. Driverless cars will whisk us around in three to five years. Drones will start delivering packages by 2020. Ride-hailing apps will eradicate car ownership in a decade. 

If your startup or giant technology corporation isn’t on course to change the world in the very near future, why is it worth billions of dollars? This is the source of most ambitious narratives in the tech sector. And nowhere has this been playing out longer than in the wacky world of flying cars, the subject of

this week’s Decrypted podcast.

Flying cars really fire the imagination with sci-fi visions. So I took a closer look and stumbled upon Paul Moller, who probably has the best claim to be the inventor of these dream-like vehicles. I won’t give the podcast away, but it’s about his life-long quest to make a working flying car. For much of his time on earth, Paul hoped – and sometimes predicted – his inventions would fly and sell in a few years. Now there’s a fleet of new startups trying to build similar technology, and setting ambitious goals, so I wanted to see what lessons could be gleaned from Paul’s experience.

Here’s a big one: It may take many lifetimes of personal and financial sacrifice before flying cars are a real thing for regular people. Not your typical Silicon Valley narrative.

Paul got the idea when he was 11, and the guy’s 80 now. He made millions of dollars on other businesses, just so he could plow the money back into his flying car dreams. This is eerily similar to two newer entrants.

Driverless car pioneer Sebastian Thrun started a flying car startup called Kitty Hawk recently. But his LinkedIn profile says “CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation April 1958 – Present.” “Kitty Hawk is making my childhood dream come true…Excited that we are hoping to produce a commercial version by the end of 2017,” he writes.

Then there’s JoeBen Bevirt, a former student of Paul’s. He’s in the midst of plowing a fortune he made elsewhere into his own flying car startup, Joby Aviation. “I’m following in Paul’s footsteps, much to my wife’s chagrin,” Bevirt said with a wry chuckle.

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