Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla (two multi-billion dollar companies in the United States), always seems ahead of the business curve.
Is there anything this visionary entrepreneur can’t do? Musk has invented and invested in multiple disruptive tech companies.
He is a shareholder in Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Neuralink, The Boring Company, OpenAI, and Twitter. Musk is also the wealthiest man in the world, with a net worth of approximately $220 billion as of June 2022.
Elon Reeve Musk
Despite achieving copious success in business, life was not always smooth sailing for Elon Musk. Musk has failed just as much as he succeeded.
The difference with him, however, is he learned from his setbacks and kept going. Let’s look at the life of one who has scaled the heights of the business pinnacle.
The Birth and Childhood of Elon Musk
Elon Musk started his life in 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa. His father, Errol Musk, was a well-off South African engineer, while his mother, Maye Musk, was a Canadian nutritionist and model.
Musk was the eldest of his two other siblings, Tosca and Kimbal Musk. He lived and grew up with his parents in South Africa until their divorce in 1980. Kimbal and Elon chose to stay back in South Africa with their father, but Musk came to regret this decision later.
Elon Musk had a terrible upbringing in South Africa. He got bullied a lot as a child, and life at home was not smooth either.
He didn’t have a good relationship with his father. Musk attended Waterkloof House Preparatory School, and at one time, bullies beat him so much that he blacked out and was hospitalized. All this adversity at school and home forced Musk to find an escape. He chose technology.
At 10, Musk learned programming on an early home computer called Commodore VIC-20.
He became so good at it that he created his first video game, Blastar, when he was 12. Musk sold the code for this game to a computer magazine for $500. He later went on to attend and graduate from Pretoria Boys High School.
After graduating high school at 17, Musk packed his bags and relocated to Canada with his mother and two siblings.
He enrolled at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, where he took an undergraduate degree in business for two years. He met his first wife, Justine Wilson, at this university. The pair married in 2000, had five kids, and divorced in 2008.
The Adult Life of Elon Musk
In 1992, Musk moved to the United States and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He obtained a bachelor of science in physics with another major in economics at the Wharton School.
The highlight of his time at the University of Pennsylvania was when he and one of his classmates rented a 10-bedroom fraternity house and made it a nightclub. This venture was Musk’s first footing in business.
After graduation, Musk applied to Stanford University to pursue a Ph.D. in applied physics. He, however, dropped out after two days to become a technology entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. At this time, the internet was booming.
Silicon Valley was the place to be for any aspiring internet entrepreneur. Musk decided to try his luck in The Valley and co-founded Zip2 with his brother Kimbal using $15,000 from personal and external funding. Zip2 provided city travel guides to newspapers.
Elon Musk’s time in Zip2 was one of someone who’d just laid his first stone in entrepreneurship. He worked and lived in the office, going so far as to groom at a local YMCA.
Musk labored, alongside his brother, in Zip2 until 1999, when they sold the company to Compaq Computer Corp. for $341 million. Musk used his proceeds from the acquisition to establish X.com, an online banking company. X.com merged with Confinity, a fintech entity founded by Peter Thiel, to become PayPal.
Musk became the incumbent CEO of the newly merged PayPal but was later ousted while on his honeymoon with Justine Wilson. Peter Thiel became the company’s new CEO.
Fortunately for Musk, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion, and he made approximately $180 million after-tax from his 11.7% stake. He used all his proceeds from the acquisition to invest $100 million in SpaceX, $70 million in Tesla, and $10 million in SolarCity. He had to borrow money to pay for rent.
His friends even showed him videos of rockets blowing up to discourage him from starting a rocket company. However, Musk remained determined to explore space and eventually Mars. In 2002, he established SpaceX and hired engineers to build a rocket, which they named Falcon 1.
It took SpaceX six years to achieve its first successful spacecraft launch. The first three rockets crashed or malfunctioned during the launch.
However, each of the three failures brought Musk and SpaceX closer to achieving the goal of making commercial spaceflight a reality. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy until NASA funded them to service the International Space Station (ISS).
Elon Musk revealed during an interview that 2008 was one of his most difficult years in business.
He called it the nightmare year. Musk had just been appointed acting CEO of Tesla after the ousting of Martin Eberhard, the company’s founder, and the company was not performing well.
Tesla was burning through cash to cover expenses. At the same time, SpaceX had just suffered its third unsuccessful launch, and the company had only funds for one last launch. Musk’s marriage was also on the rocks, bordering divorce.
With bankruptcy knocking at the door of both Tesla and SpaceX, Musk had to either invest his last financial round in one company and let the other one die or invest in both and hope they both survive.
He chose the latter by splitting $40 million between both companies. Fortunately, the fourth rocket launch in November 2008 was successful. NASA also chose SpaceX as the winner of the contract to service ISS.
Musk’s most resounding achievements are his businesses. All his companies utilize breakthrough technologies to solve the world’s problems and make it a better place.
- SpaceX seeks to make commercial spaceflight affordable and make humans a multi-planetary species.
- SolarCity is expanding the use of renewable energy.
- Tesla seeks to make transportation more sustainable.
- OpenAI wants to develop artificial intelligence in a way beneficial for humans so that it does not become an existential threat to humans.
- Neuralink seeks to treat paralysis and other neurological orders by inserting a chip connecting brains to the outside digital world and other people.
As you can see, all of Musk’s companies have a core goal of helping humanity and making the world a better place.
Every industry leader has personality traits that encourage success. Here are a few of Elon’s:
We can see Musk’s bold personality when he founded SpaceX after everyone discouraged him from this idea.
The one thing that fuels Musk to work hard is his passion. He is passionate about his missions and his businesses.
Most of Musk’s businesses focus on solving an existential problem that he sees occurring in the future. He seems to be always ahead of the curve with his businesses.
Elon Musk prefers a direct management style. He doesn’t like dealing with a chain of commands and ranks.
He believes his companies should have a free flow of information across all departments and levels regardless of position.
This way, information flows faster to ensure the job gets done quickly. The direct approach also gives employees autonomy and the platform to speak out about an issue.
Lessons Learned From Elon Musk
There are many lessons that we can learn from the life of Elon Musk, but the three that stand out the most are:
- Think Big
Most of Musk’s ideas are grand. They are not built on problems one can solve in a year.
- Be Bold
As the saying goes, fortune favors the bold. If you want to achieve something, find a way to make it happen. Try not to give up because it’s difficult or because people tell you it’s impossible.
- Be Resilient
Like Elon Musk, you will face challenges and setbacks when trying to get your business or idea off the ground. Don’t let the setbacks discourage you from going for what you want.
Elon Reeve Musk is born in Pretoria, South Africa.
Musk creates a video game called Blastar and sells the BASIC code for the game to a computer magazine for $500.
Musk relocates to Canada with his mother and siblings. He enrolls in a business course at Queen University in Kingston, Ontario.
1991/1992: Musk transfers to the University of Pennsylvania to major in physics and study economics at the Wharton School.
Musk enrolls for a Ph.D. in applied physics at Stanford University. However, he drops out after two days and establishes Zip2 with his younger brother, Kimbal Musk.
Musk and Kimbal sell Zip2 to Compaq Computer Corp. for $341 million.
Musk establishes X.com using his proceeds from the Zip2 acquisition.
X.com merges with Confinity to become PayPal.
Elon Musk makes about $180 million as proceeds for the sale of PayPal to eBay. He establishes SpaceX.
Musk invests about $70 million in Tesla and joins the board of directors as chairman of the board.
Musk manages to save Tesla and SpaceX from bankruptcy. He gets divorced this same year.
Musk marries his second wife, Talulah Riley.
Musk and Talulah Riley get divorced.
Musk remarries Talulah Riley.
Musk and Talulah Riley get divorced again.
Quotes From Elon Musk
- “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” ~ Elon Musk
- “I’d rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.” ~ Elon Musk
- “If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.” ~ Elon Musk
- “People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.” ~ Elon Musk
- “It’s very important to like the people you work with. Otherwise, your job is going to be quite miserable.” ~ Elon Musk
Books are another excellent way to learn more about the life of Elon musk. Naturally, books take a lot of research time, and effort you’ll get a lot more out of a book than you would an article if you’re interested some of the books about Elon Musk Include:
- Elon Musk: The Life, Lessons & Rules For Success
- Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century
by Tim Higgins, Will Damron, et al.
- Elon Musk: The Life, Lessons & Rules For Success
- Elon Musk: A Biography of Billionaire Entrepreneur Elon Musk
by Robert Hanson
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