- Business Insider spoke with 42 Tesla employees about what it’s really like to work for one of the world’s most ambitious and controversial companies.
- Current and recent salespeople from TeslaEnergy – the division formerly called SolarCity – told us the company often left them confused about important matters.
- Their unconventional compensation structure changed frequently, they said.
- And they were given shifting, if any, timelines for when products would be available for delivery.
In May, a Tesla regional sales director in California gave a presentation to a group of energy salespeople and spent 30 minutes filling a whiteboard with their questions, some of which were concerned with how much products cost and when they’d be available, a former Tesla Energy sales manager who was at the meeting told Business Insider.
But then the sales director didn’t answer any of the employees’ inquiries.
Instead, he told the workers that their questions concerned matters that were out of their control and that they should really just focus on the “controllables,” the former sales manager said.
The director then said he was going on vacation for the first few weeks of June and would see everyone when he got back.
On Monday, June 11, Tesla began laying off about 9% of its workforce, including this sales manager.
The move caught the manager by surprise. Tesla had been investing in new training for energy salespeople, so when he was told to clear his schedule that Monday, he thought he was getting good news, he said.
Meanwhile, when the sales director returned, after the layoffs, he came back to a promotion to general manager.
Business Insider spoke with current and recent Tesla energy salespeople who said they often felt confused or in the dark about the health and direction of the company and delivery timelines of products for customers – and even about their compensation structure.
Tesla’s ‘ugly stepchild’
While its electric cars get most of the headlines, Tesla sells energy products including commercial and at-home batteries, charging units for Tesla vehicles, and solar roof tiles. And, like Tesla’s cars, the demand for some of these products has outpaced Tesla’s ability to manufacture them.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even boasted that Tesla’s energy business was the future of the company.
Employees said they loved the company’s mission to boost sustainable energy use. “I think it’s encouraging and fascinating how invested people really genuinely seem to be in the company,” one former salesperson told us.
Some described themselves as avid Tesla fans who jumped at the opportunity to work for the company, but later felt that the division wasn’t treated internally as a priority.
One said he felt as if Tesla considered its energy division an “ugly stepchild.”
“You don’t feel wanted,” a current salesperson in California said. “You don’t feel secure.”
On the one hand, we heard from some sales managers that the compensation was excellent and the hours could be great.
“I had a lot of flexibility,” one former sales manager told us. “I was able to hang out with my kids a lot more often. They gave me a car – they paid for the gas in my car. So there were a lot of benefits of the job that I enjoyed. I was making $US130,000 a year working maybe three hours a day.”
On the other hand, many salespeople said they put in long hours and were frustrated by shifting requirements to earn commissions.
Some companies base sales commissions on monthly achievements. Tesla pays commissions based on the quarterly achievements. At the time of the layoffs, commissions kicked in when salespeople hit 12 to 14 sales during a quarter, and the quarter ran through June. By laying them off before the quarter ended, some people complained they weren’t given the chance to finish earning their commissions.
“I’ve been working my butt off 80% of the quarter to reach my final contract objectives, and I haven’t been given the full quarter to do that. Will this be prorated? No. Tesla doesn’t make exceptions,” a former sales manager said. “So I’m going to get paid nothing in commission according to that comp plan for this quarter.”
Tesla said salespeople who did hit their quarter’s quotas before the layoff occurred were paid their commissions.
Read more: 70-hour weeks and ‘WTF’ emails:
42 employees reveal the frenzy of working at Tesla under the ‘cult’ of Elon Musk
Another unconventional choice is to have Tesla Energy salespeople drive gas-powered Chevrolet Sonics to the homes of prospective customers, although Tesla says it plans to eventually ditch the Sonics and issue Tesla cars instead. Until then, salespeople who work for the famous electric-car company deal with the embarrassment, and inevitable questions, of not driving electric cars for work.
“Every single time I would show up for a consult – and it happened all the time to all the energy advisers – customers would be, like, ‘What the hell, man? Why are you driving a Chevy Sonic? You do work for Tesla, right?'” a former salesperson said.
Tesla employees left in the dark on delivery timelines
If customers were interested in solar roof tiles or a home battery and asked when it would arrive, the timeline could vary depending on the month and their location, salespeople said.
They cited delivery timelines for the Powerwall, which allows customers to store energy from their solar panels or local electric grid for later use. The timelines ranged from two to 12 months, but the most commonly cited timeline, six months, was rarely met, they said.
Customers were more likely to wait over a year to receive their Powerwalls, and some would cancel their orders when installation timelines changed. During the second quarter, salespeople stopped getting bonuses or commissions for selling Powerwalls, which decreased their motivation to sell it.
“You don’t feel like you’re truly changing anything,” a former salesperson said. “You just feel like you’re getting ripped off, the customers are getting ripped off, you’re receiving excuses all the time. It’s just a mess.”
Tesla said that solar panel orders were delivered in four to six weeks, and a Powerwall ordered today would be delivered sometime at the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019, depending on the region. Tesla says it has plans to ramp up production in 2019, and says it hopes to reduce wait times to one month.
Tesla’s solar roof, which consists of a series of solar panels that resemble roof tiles, was an even bigger question mark, salespeople said.
Current and former salespeople said they either were instructed or chose to avoid talking about the solar roof with customers since they didn’t know when it would be available and were given little, if any, financial incentive to get customers to reserve one.
Tesla began taking reservations for the solar roof in May 2017, but the company has failed to give salespeople a clear, consistent timeline for when it would be available, some said. In that same month, Tesla said installations would begin that summer, but the first installations for customers who weren’t Tesla employees didn’t begin until April of this year.
“Those were unicorns, as far as we we’re concerned,” a former sales manager said. “There is no clear communication as to what’s going on with the roof.”
Tesla says salespeople in its stores do not actively sell the solar roof. Rather, salespeople help customers make a reservation for one as the company ramps up solar roof production at its factory in Buffalo.
Tesla declined to comment on the number of solar roofs it’s installed, but it did say it was ramping up solar-roof production and would increase the rate of production near the end of this year.
Have a Tesla news tip? Contact this reporter at [email protected].
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