Billionaire, electric cars, Mars—these are a few things that are bound to come to your mind when you think of the name Elon Musk. There are so many people who don’t think some of his ideas will ever become a reality, which I don’t necessarily agree with. He has some eccentric thoughts, but that’s exactly how you become successful. Success isn't an average phenomenon, so you can’t be average and hope to be successful—that’s simple physics and philosophy.
People like him work a lot—100 hours a week times 52 weeks a year times 20 or so years—that’s how you get to be something like him. Some have worked more and harder. Even Bill Gates has similar work ethics. Perhaps, to your dismay, Gates didn’t believe in vacations during his early years. So, when you work for those many hours and years, the synapses in your brain change. You become more rational. There was a time when Tesla wasn’t doing too hot, and one of the shareholders was trying to lead the company down the wrong path out of fear. Musk stuck with his goal and saved the company by figuring out a solution. And I think that’s one of the most important differences between people who are successful and those who aren't—successful ones keep pushing until they make it.
So, let’s dive into a list of facts and stories about him.
20 First Gig: Zip2
In 1995, Elon and Kimbal founded the Global Link Information Network, which provided local newspaper businesses with internet in the beginning and helped newspapers in designing online city guides at a later stage. The company was financed by a random group of angel investors and his mentor investor, Kouri. There’s a bit of drama in this because Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk states that Musk’s father gave him $28K for the company, but in an interview, Elon denied that to be true. A few years later, after more investment, the name of the company was changed to "Zip2." With a new name came a new team and new business strategy, and Zip2 went to a national level, instead of staying local. Zip2 was bought by Compaq Computer for $307M; Elon and Kimbal pocketed $22M and $15M, respectively.
19 Second Gig: PayPal? No, X.com
What you know as PayPal today was linked with X.com, Musk’s online bank. X.com was one of the world’s first online banks, and online banks, like X.com, were not bogus. They were FDIC secured, and Musk’s X.com was backed up by Barclays, a multinational bank, to give it credibility. In 2000, Musk’s bank merged with the biggest competitor, C Infinity, but Musk remained the biggest shareholder and served as the CEO. After the merger, the name "X.com" was eventually changed to the now-famous PayPal. He was kicked out as the CEO for wanting to move the company’s infrastructure to Microsoft Windows from Unix. Despite that, he remained on the board of the company, and when, a year later, eBay bought PayPal for $1.5B in stock, Musk received a hefty $165M.
18 Third Gig: SpaceX (Part I)
Remember the above entry about him being fascinated with books? Well, he was highly impressed by the lesson that "you should try to take the set of actions that are likely to prolong civilization, minimize the probability of a dark age, and reduce the length of a dark age, if there is one" (Wikipedia.org). That stuck with him, and after the PayPal endeavor, he wanted to land a miniature greenhouse on Mars. Needing machines that that could carry objects, he discussed the idea with a couple of Russian aerospace folks but was dismissed as being too naïve. He tried once more and was offered a rocket for $8M this time—but he thought that was too high of a price. On his way back to America, it dawned on him: Why not create these missiles. That’s how SpaceX came about.
17 Fourth Gig: SpaceX (Part II)
I kept repeating "SpaceX" but never discussed what it is. It’s an aerospace manufacturer that produces space rockets, independent of any governmental agency. SpaceX has done pretty well. How many people do you know who've created their own space rockets and stations and brought together all the associated scientists and development teams? Not many. There are probably numerous countries that don’t have any government-guided space-exploration institutes, let alone people. Launches have been successful so far, and he serves as the CEO and CTO of the company. The first rocket, launching in 2008, was liquid-fueled—the first privately funded rocket to be so. The company has since taken off, expanding its scope not only in the private world but also public; it has contracts with the US government and the commercial market alike.
16 Mercedes and Toyota Invested In Tesla
Let’s clear the air first—Musk didn’t invent Tesla. The company was already there, created by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. However, you associate Tesla with Musk. Why? Because he moved the company away from being a mere engineering project to a production-car company when he came on board in 2004. He invested a lot in the company from personal funds and eventually became the CEO due to his business acumen. But Tesla wasn't out of the woods for a while. There were many CEOs, CTOs and CFOs, and investors during its volatile early years. At some points, Daimler AG, Toyota, and founders like Sergey Brin and Larry Page bought some equity stakes of Tesla. It was only in mid-2009 that Tesla got the green light for a $465M loan, which it had requested from the United States Department of Energy.
15 Fifth Gig: Power From Hydrogen-Burning Star?
As you can see from the previous entries, Musk doesn’t sit too long before launching or expanding his existing business. Two years later, after taking control of Tesla, he started investing in SolarCity, a company co-founded by Musk and his cousin Lyndon Rive. By 2013, SolarCity had become the second-largest company in the solar-power sector in the US. Musk had a stake in SolarCity because he wanted to combat global warming, so he acquired SolarCity and made it a subsidiary of Tesla. Not many alternatives to carbon-producing fuels exist, so that was a solid decision on Musk’s part. The cousin seems genuinely interested in solar energy, which, in combination with Musk’s acumen, will take the company to a whole new level.
14 Sixth Gig: NY To DC In 29 Minutes. Need I Say More?
Here’s a fact: Musk is relatively serious about this awesome medium of traveling. The idea is to transport people in pressurized capsules. These things would be super fast, reaching NY from DC in 29 minutes. That would outdo any plane, train, or car that currently exists. The idea is fairly weak currently. There are a myriad of factors to consider. Which human would want to sit in a windowless (I guess this could be fixed with technology), gut-wrenchingly fast, earthquake-like vibrating “vehicle”? Not many at this moment. The stations for these things would be tiny—remember, air has to be moved out of the way of the capsule—and minute shifts in the ground would be troublesome. The idea is in infancy, but its future remains bright.
13 Seventh Gig: Musk Leaves OpenAI In 2018
Before diving into OpenAI, let’s discuss AI, Artificial Intelligence. The definition keeps evolving, as AI achieves the next level of success. It’s not too difficult to say AI has become synonymous with anything that humans can’t do. So Musk, being the technology-savvy guy he is, created this organization called "OpenAI," a company open to development with the help of others, for the furtherance and betterment of humanity. The company has a pledged endowment of a $1B. OpenAI was created to prevent other companies—and government entities—from becoming too powerful with this kind of technology. Before people could doubt the authenticity of his intentions, he removed himself from the board of the company. OpenAI is currently under the guidance of several business corporations and notable individuals.
12 Eighth Gig: Neuralink
I’d like to see how this idea unfolds in my lifetime. Neuralink, a neurotechnology startup, is an attempt by Musk and a few other key people to get humanity ready for the possibly inevitable intelligence race against AI. For real. While the company is in its infancy, the goal is big: to incorporate devices into the human brain, enabling us to learn and “sync” with AI. The whole notion may sound absurd to you—ahem, your reality, actually—but things like these aren't very far away. Think about it. Try telling someone from 50 years ago that you pay money to store your files online. That’s paying for storage space… where?
Anyways, it could also help people with diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, but it has a long way (>25 years) to go.
11 Diverse Family: Mother
Musk has a diverse family, with each member having a unique history and achievements. Let’s discuss his mother, Maye Musk, in this entry. Born in Canada and raised in South Africa, Maye was and surprisingly still is a model and dietician. Her modeling career has spanned 50 years, which has included her appearing in various magazines, including the all-time famous Time. She was a finalist in the 1969 Miss South Africa beauty competition. Her fame as a model is self-earned, leading her to appear on boxes of Special K cereal, in Revlon ads, and in a Beyoncé video. She runs her own business as a dietitian, having earned two master’s degrees. The woman is bold—she appeared nude, twice, on the cover of Time and New York for health issues.
10 Diverse Family: Brother
His brother, Kimbal Musk, is a restaurateur, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Kimbal has a goal of making “an America where everyone has access to real food.” As such, his work has been geared toward the food industry, with him being labeled as a “founding father of the modern food movement,” per Wikipedia. He's the guy who opened The Kitchen, which is famous for being one of the best restaurants in the US. His work goes a little more than that though, as he co-founded Big Green, a non-profit company that builds outdoor classrooms that teach gardening. Atop, he wields some influence over Tesla Inc., SpaceX, and Chipotle Mexican Grill as a board member. Notable is the fact that his Tesla Model 3—one of the first units—is up for grabs for the “Big Green” cause.
9 Diverse Family: Sister
His sister is also notable for some of her works, although not as notable as Kimbal and, of course, Elon himself. She’s an African filmmaker. She directed a couple of films, including Puzzled, The Truth About Miranda, and Cruel World. Most of these films didn’t impact the society significantly and were financed by Elon. However, there were a couple of projects—film Holiday Engagement and web series Tiki Bar TV—that have been moderately successful. The Tiki Bar TV is basically a video podcast, a “vodcast,” which became famous at that time. The novelty of Tiki Bar TV led it to be featured in Wired magazine. On top of the success of Tiki Bar TV, Tosca made a film called Country Remedy that won several awards.
8 Early Childhood = Being Bullied
It would be hard to find a kid who wasn’t bullied in his or her life in school—even the bully was probably bullied at some point. As the saying goes, “Monkey see, monkey do.” But Musk had a little more than his fair share of bullying. According to Musk, the bullies pressured his best friend to lure him out of hiding so they could beat him. He recalls: “For some reason, they decided that I was it, and they were going to go after me nonstop. That’s what made growing up difficult. For a number of years, there was no respite. You get chased around by gangs at school who tried to beat the [expletive] out of me, and then I’d come home, and it would just be awful there as well” (investopedia.com). Once, he was even thrown down the stairs and beaten unconscious by the bullies.
7 Early Childhood II = Reading
So, what did Musk do when he kept being beaten by bullies at school? He found comfort in reading and programming. He was an avid reader, reading up to 10 hours a day from the age of seven. It’s easy to blame it on our circumstances, family, lack of family, or literally anything—for, after all, an excuse can be made for and from anything—but the fact of the matter is that all of these successful people had to undergo a process from the beginning. Not a lot of us can say we read 10 hours a day. Most of us probably browse the internet for 10 hours a day, sure, but don’t do anything productive like he used to, at the age of seven. He was highly inspired by Issac Asimov’s Foundation series.
6 Early Childhood III = Computer Programming
As much as he enjoyed reading and drawing from books, he also became interested in computers from a very early age. Being infatuated with Commodore VIC-20 at the age of 10, which was basically an inexpensive home computer, he taught himself computer programming by the age of 12 years. This was a dedicated effort on his part. It wasn’t learning in the sense that a lot of us try to learn how to code on Codecademy by ourselves for a day or so; instead, he followed through, eventually selling a video game code based on BASIC to PC and Office Technology, a video game magazine. He made $500 from that deal. This is reminiscent of how a lot of other billionaires started out their careers—Warren Buffet also sold things in his childhood and made decent profits.
5 Education: Top-Notch
Whether it was the dedication from the early childhood—10 hours a day toward reading and the like—or his innate genius, he went to top schools. I think it was more of his childhood habits that led to his acceptance at top names: bachelors in physics and economy from the University of Pennsylvania after two years of Queen’s University. He then got accepted to Stanford for a Phd. in applied physics and materials science but ditched that two days after commencement to enter the business world. Of course, all these names are great, but they're not a must. There are various other successful entrepreneurs— Gary Vaynerchuk, for one—who don’t have a degree from a business school, let alone a top name, yet remain highly successful.
4 Wrecks His McLaren F1
Unless you’re a trained racing driver, you probably don’t want to say “watch this” while driving. That’s exactly what Musk did before he crashed his McLaren F1. He bought the car after making money out of PayPal and used it as his daily driver, which I think is commendable. He wasn’t a billionaire at that time, but he still used the fastest production car in the world as a beater. He was giving a ride to his PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel, when Peter asked him, “So, what can this do?” Musk didn’t know, and he tried to do a simple maneuver of changing lanes quickly, which resulted in the car being totaled—he lost traction. The car was insured. Luckily, Musk is never that impulsive when it comes to his business ventures.
3 Personal Life: Divorce. Divorce. Divorce? Divorce!
Musk met his first wife, a Canadian author, Justine Wilson, when he was attending Queen’s University. He was married to her for 8 years. During the early years, he used to give her his credit card to “buy and read as many books as desired.” He has five living sons from the author wife, who were all brought to life via in vitro fertilization. Then, he dated and married Talulah Riley, whom he divorced after four years. A year later, they remarried, only to file for a second divorce and withdraw the application later. All that was to be able to file for a terminal divorce in 2016. After that, he got involved with Amber Heard but broke up due to schedule. It’s been tough on the guy!
2 Net Worth: $20.8B
This one isn't a shocker but is a fact all the same. There are just north of 1,500 people in the world with at least a billion dollars. It’s a completely different world at that level. Perhaps I can help elucidate that via analogies. Everything is magnified at a scale of 10,000. A new $250K Lamborghini translates to $23.50 for the average person. It’s like you going to buy a new computer mouse on Amazon—not a big deal. $20,000 per night for a resort? That would be you spending $2 on a packet of gum. $10M jet? That’s like you thinking of buying a thousand-dollar drone—a bit expensive, but you can probably execute it with some planning. That’s how Musk probably afforded a million-dollar McLaren when he was a multi-millionaire.
1 Blue and Green Today, Red Tomorrow
He has plans of sending humans to Mars. You might think that’s crazy. But I think that just puts you in the category of Jim Cantrell—the guy who spat on Musk’s idea of sending objects into space 18 years ago. That seems like a very minute thing now, but it wasn’t back then. What’s so special about the Mars idea? Think about it. Isn’t that how it all starts? A person thinks of an idea and then society ridicules the idea. People think these ideas are “crazy,” but once you fully rise above your own thoughts, you realize other realities exist—but you’ve got to be able to outdo your own voice that always says “no” to anything out of your habit. His goal is to launch people into Mars by 2024, with arrival estimated in 2025.
Sources: Quora.com; Wikipedia.org