Elon Musk’s Hyperloop system is estimated as costing millions of dollars per square mile to build.
But the startup Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), which is planning to soon break ground on a Hyperloop test track, has found a pretty effective way of keeping costs down: The company doesn’t pay any of its employees, including its CEO Dirk Ahlborn.
Instead, all employees work for at least 10 hours a week during their off-hours from their full-time jobs in exchange for a stake in the company. Under this model, the company currently has a team of over 400 people and several industry partners working on the Hyperloop, Ahlborn told Business Insider.
While unconventional, HTT’s model has enabled the company to attract some of the best talent because people can keep their day jobs while also working for HTT when they can, Ahlborn said.
“We are working with almost everybody who is interested and wants to join us and receive their part of the company,” Ahlborn said. “We have amazing team members with amazing backgrounds from psychologists and lawyers to people who worked on Mars Rover and that were part of the Manhattan Project…We are probably the largest startup, depending on how you define startup, in the country or in the world.”
Ahlborn launched HTT in 2013 through his other company called JumpStartFund, which is a crowd collaboration platform that lets HTT share its progress with the public and attract potential investors. Employees still use the platform as a way to share their progress.
While the company’s model of working for equity continues, Ahlborn said as the company makes progress its business model will begin to evolve.
Earlier this year, HTT secured land to build a five-mile track in Quay Valley, California and plans to break ground in 2016 for a public opening by 2018. The company estimates the track will cost $US100 million. While it’s trying to raise money for the project via the JumpStart Fund, it’s also planning to try other ways of paying for the development.
The company is looking to bring in more strategic partners and is also looking at sponsorship opportunities as a way to fund development of the, Ahlborn said.
HTT will also host a public offering early next year in the form of a Dutch auction, a method that will give potential investors a better chance at getting in at a low price. But the offering isn’t really aimed at raising money for Quay Valley as it is giving more people access to the offering, Ahlborn said.
“We have plenty of big partnerships and plenty of interest, so money is not the issue,” he said. “We want to give our community the opportunity to be a part of the initial investment. Doing a public offering is the only way for us to let our own team members that obviously know what is going on invest and participate.”
While Ahlborn said he knows HTT’s model is unconventional, he said it continues to grow and that in the coming months the company will reveal more details about partnerships and progress it has made in getting its Hyperloop system off the ground.
“More than anything this is becoming a movement,” he said. “Anywhere we go people are just excited and people want to be a part of it.”