Elon Musk is the billionaire entrepreneur and business magnate responsible for co-founding the cutting-edge companies PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX, amongst others. Over the years, he has been compared to the likes of Steve Jobs and Henry Ford, and even Iron Man, with actor Robert Downey Jr allegedly modelling his portrayal of Tony Stark off of the SpaceX and Tesla CEO.
In September of this year, Musk became the third person ever to amass a fortune worth $200 billion. Understandably so, Musk is the idol and inspiration of many business leaders and entrepreneurs around the globe. But, how did Elon Musk become so successful?
The Inspirational Success Story Of Elon Musk
“I think it is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.” – Elon Musk
Elon Musk was born in South Africa in the early 1970s to a mother who was a nutritionist and a father who was an engineer. In an interview Musk recalls how, as a child, he saw little of his parents and spent most of his free time reading and messing around with projects, “I didn’t really have a primary nanny or anything,”
Musk says. “I just had a housekeeper who was there to make sure I didn’t break anything. She wasn’t, like, watching me. I was off making explosives and reading books and building rockets and doing things that could have gotten me killed. I’m shocked that I have all my fingers. I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents.”
From a young age, Musk became a fan of Isacc Asimov’s books, gradually inspiring his interest in futurism while his father’s career path cultivated his eye for design.
In 1997, Musk graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics, having transferred from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Musk financed his own university education, through a combination of scholarships, loans, and working two jobs alongside his studies.
After graduating, Musk moved on to a PhD programme at Stanford but made the decision to drop out just two days after the programme began to pursue his entrepreneurial visions.
Musk’s First Startup: Zip2
Zip2 was a company that provided online city guide software to newspapers, founded by Musk, his brother, and a friend. Despite its eventual success, the company took time to get off the ground and, in the interim, Musk struggled financially. He found himself sleeping on the couch in their startup’s office and had to shower and use the restroom facilities at his local YMCA.
However, despite the lows of the Zip2 endeavour, the trio soon enough found angel investors who backed the company as well as clients in the city. Various big-name news publishing companies such as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune saw promise in the startup and its useful city guide mapping software.
Elon Musk’s first-ever entrepreneurial venture sold for $307 million in 1999, earning him $22 million for his 7% share in the company when he was just 27-years-old.
“Starting a business is not for everyone. Starting a business – I’d say, number one is have a high pain threshold.” – Elon Musk
The Second Venture: X.com
Following the success of Zip2, Musk went on to invest the bulk of his earnings into his next venture, financial services company X.com, which he founded alongside Harris Fricker, Ed Ho, and Christopher Payne in 1999.
X.com was one of the world’s first online banks and deposits were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. By 2000, X.com had merged with Confinity Inc, a software company based in Silicon Valley. The merged company changed its name to PayPal, which eBay then bought in 2002 for $1.5 billion.
Tesla Motors And SpaceX
With eBay’s acquisition of PayPal, Musk could easily have chosen to retire, but instead, he chose to invest most of his newfound millions into two major separate ventures.
“My proceeds from the PayPal acquisition were $180 million. I put $100 million in SpaceX, $70m in Tesla. I had to borrow money for rent.” – Elon Musk
The first venture was Tesla Motors, an electric vehicle and clean energy company which Musk founded in July of 2003 alongside Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. In 2004, Musk made a $6.5 million investment in the company, becoming its largest shareholder and its chairman. In 2008, Musk became Tesla’s CEO and, the following year, the company began production of its first car model, the Roadster.
Musk’s second big venture in the early 2000s was aerospace company SpaceX, which he founded with the support of rocket engineer Tom Mueller. Originally, SpaceX was headquartered in a warehouse in El Segundo, California. By 2005, the company had 160 employees, each having been personally interviewed and approved by Musk. The goal was to revolutionise space transportation, with the ultimate goal of making human life multi-planetary. Despite a series of rocket launch failures between 2005 and 2009, in 2010, SpaceX became the first commercial company to ever send a spacecraft into orbit and return it safely to Earth.
Fast forward to September 2021, SpaceX successfully completed its first orbital launch of an all-private crew. Meanwhile, Tesla’s Model 3 became the first electric car to sell 1 million units globally and the company’s quarterly profits topped $1 billion for the first time. According to Forbes, Musk is currently the world’s second-richest man, with a net worth of $201.2B.
Elon Musk’s Enduring Success
Despite his immense wealth and global fame, Elon Musk is a man who continually strives for more, for bigger, and for better. He remains sharply focused on his vision for SpaceX: establishing a permanent human presence on Mars, with its Starship rockets transporting people to and from the red planet.
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.” – Elon Musk
And, in regards to Musk’s goals for Tesla, he has his eyes set on the production of 20 million vehicles by 2030 and hopes to expand into India, which could reach 10% of Tesla demand within the next ten years.
“If you don’t have sustainable energy, you have unsustainable energy. The fundamental value of a company like Tesla is the degree to which it accelerates the advent of sustainable energy faster than it would otherwise occur.” – Elon Musk