Elon Musk comes across as a superhero character to many people as a do-it-all guy. But Musk is no cartoon cutout and intends to be taken very seriously. He has made his mark in every single field he has touched – be it software, Internet technology, e-commerce, sustainable transportation, automobiles or even space travel.
From South Africa to the United States
From humble origins in South Africa to the coveted Bel Air LA address, Musk’s journey is one of curiosity, determination and the desire to pioneer and innovate to make the world better. As his mother Maye, the British model, dietician and businesswoman reveals, Elon’s seemingly introverted nature actually made her suspect that he was deaf, and might perhaps have been bullied at school. However, it appears that the seclusion gave him time to think about how to fix the world.
Elon moved to Canada at age 17. After his undergraduate study at Ontario’s Queen’s University in 1992, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania for his Bachelor’s in Physics, and a Bachelor’s in Economics from the Wharton School. By 1995, and the age of 24, Musk had three specific battlegrounds to conquer – the Internet, sustainable and renewable energy, and outer space.
How X.Com Became PayPal
Zip2 was Musk’s first venture which he set up with his brother Kimbal. The web software company created an online city guide for newspaper publishers. Four years later Zip2 was acquired by Compaq and Musk made himself richer by $22 million, receiving 7% of the sale amount.
That gave him the capital to cofound X.com, which began as an Internet financial services company. In 2000 X.com merged with security software company Confinity which ran PayPal, the money transfer service. The merger between X.com and Confinity was named PayPal in 2001 and Musk became its largest shareholder. The company became the world’s largest Internet payment processing company. When eBay acquired PayPal in October 2002, it was worth US$1.5 billion, and Musk received $165 million from the acquisition.
SpaceX and Affordable Space Travel
Musk had now entered the big league. His early businesses were worthy enough to attract huge prices when being sold, and he had become a millionaire. However, in an interview Musk revealed that he was disappointed that space travel hadn’t taken off much since the moon journey. There was no colony on the moon and there was no human sent to Mars. Space Exploration was still a far-fledged dream.
Musk seemed to realize that it was the cost, not the will, that kept the government and people from encouraging such attempts. He figured out that there had to be a way of doing things in a more cost-effective manner and hit upon the idea of reusable rockets.
Musk founded SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) in 2002 with the intention of presenting more affordable space travel.
Looking for Answers from Space
It would certainly have been unexpected for an Internet and ecommerce businessman to figure out ideas for cost-effective space travel, but Musk was never far from space. He recalls the time when he was around 15 years old and going through a period of “existential crisis”, when he read the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The book stated that rather than look for an answer as to why we exist, it would be better to rephrase the question- but to do that we needed to know the universe better. The better our understanding is of the universe, the more appropriate questions we can ask. That, and his belief that humans needed to go beyond earth to survive as a race, fueled the spark which eventually led to SpaceX.
Pioneering Achievements of SpaceX
The company’s Falcon 1 became the first liquid-fueled rocket funded privately to reach orbit on the 28th of September 2008. On the 9 th of December, 2010 SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft, the Dragon. On the 25th of May, 2012 it also became the first private company that sent a spacecraft (the Dragon again) to the International Space Station. On December 3, 2013, the SES-8 became the first satellite to be put into geosynchronous orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket. What’s remarkable about SpaceX is that it gets most of the components for its space vehicles designed, tested and fabricated in-house which has helped it provide among the lowest satellite launch prices.
Tesla Motors – Making Electric Cars Feasible
In 2004 Musk joined the board of directors of Tesla Motors – the electric automobile manufacturer. Under his supervision the company developed the Tesla Roadster which became the first ever production automobile to employ lithium-ion battery cells. It was also the first production electric vehicle boasting a range of over 200 miles or 320 km for every charge.
In March 2009 Tesla revealed the Model S, a fully electric sedan and one of the company’s most publicized products. Thanks to his out-of-the-box approach to electric power trains and his desire to make electric automobiles more affordable and mainstream, Musk has already been compared with pioneers like Henry Ford. For the first time since its existence, Tesla Motors posted profits in 2013’s first quarter.
SolarCity and Hyperloop
Musk’s next brainchild was HyperLoop, a concept for a high-speed public transportation system. He also designed the initial concept of SolarCity, America’s largest solar power system provider, of which he is also the major shareholder.
What Entrepreneurs Must Learn from Musk
Elon Musk’s colorful life is proof that there are virtually no limits to a person who has the will. In areas where Musk lacked knowledge, he compensated through exhaustive reading. He took two years to learn rocket technology before he could assume the role of CEO and Chief Designer at SpaceX- and that too by reading from books borrowed from his colleagues. Very few people know that it was the renaissance figure in Elon that inspired Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man.
Entrepreneurs also need to learn from the fact that each of Musk’s endeavors had the greater good of humankind as its primary goal. In June 2014 Elon Musk announced that he was opening up all the patents owned by Tesla Motors to competitors. As a true entrepreneur, he knew that patents were just a monopoly that stood in the way of innovation. From providing the means for secure internet transactions to building pollution-free automobiles and space travel at 10% of the traditional costs, his endeavors are truly shaping the world into a better place. And as he says, the innovation has only begun.