Elon Musk sells $5m in flamethrowers to fund tunnels
Boring Co took orders for 10,000 units of the $500 device by Monday and hopes to sell double that
Anyone tracking the number of businesses Elon Musk is involved with can add one more to the list: merchandise. Specifically, a flamethrower. His tunneling startup, Boring Co, started selling a branded weapon online over the weekend.
Thanks to the billionaire’s efforts at promotion on Twitter and Instagram, Boring Co had taken orders for thousands of the $500 flamethrower by Monday. The total now exceeds 10,000 units, worth $5 million, said a spokesman for the company. Boring plans to sell 20,000 flamethrowers.
Mr Musk embraced the unusual nature of his supervillian-esque side business. He joked on Twitter that the weapons would help in a zombie apocalypse but that he is not secretly raising an undead army to generate demand. He changed his Twitter bio to Zombie Defender.
The danger of selling a fire-emitting device and the light-hearted way the Tesla tycoon is treating the topic raised questions about whether it is a joke and the legality of selling such a weapon online. The company says it is serious.
Boring was founded in 2016 to satisfy Mr Musk’s ambitions to build underground transportation systems. The company began digging a 30-foot-wide test tunnel in Los Angeles a year ago and is talking with officials there and in Culver City, California, about extending the tunnel to West Los Angeles. Last year, Boring obtained a permit to begin digging under a stretch of a Maryland highway as part of a potential hyperloop, a high-speed transportation concept using tubes. The hyperloop would ferry people between Washington DC and New York City.
The East Coast tunnel would likely be a years-long, multibillion-dollar project requiring approval from multiple jurisdictions, including the US capital. City officials there have met with Mr Musk’s team and say they’re open to “exploring options that improve mobility for residents and visitors to the nation’s capital,” according to a spokesman for Washington’s Department of Transportation. Boring has said it is not seeking government funding.
In the meantime, Boring is peddling merchandise. Last year, it sold 50,000 navy blue baseball caps with the company name stamped above the visor at $20 apiece. That generated $1m. At the time, Mr Musk promised on Twitter that if the company sold 50,000, it would start selling flamethrowers.
He has used unconventional techniques to raise capital in the past. For the much-anticipated Model 3 electric car, Tesla took $1,000 deposits from customers to reserve a spot in line to buy one. Boring is largely financed by Mr Musk himself, according to executives making the presentation at the Culver City council meeting last week. They said the company did not depend on hat sales for revenue.
Personal flamethrowers are not classified under federal law, so regulating them falls to states. In Boring’s home of California, permits are only required when flames shoot at least 10 feet. Boring said the blaze from its device does not meet that threshold.
Still, a flamethrower of any kind is not exactly safe. Perhaps that is why buyers can spend an extra $30 on what Boring describes as an overpriced fire extinguisher. “You can definitely buy one for less elsewhere,” the website explains. “But this one comes with a cool sticker.” Mr Musk said the company has sold about 3,000.
Updated: January 30, 2018 08:51 AM