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Inside the Inventive and Entrepreneurial Mind of Elon Musk

When Elon Musk was in college, he figured three things would affect the future of humanity: the internet, sustainable energy, and multi-planetary life. He wanted to be a part of each.

elon musk

So how has he done so far?

Internet:

zip2: Helped bring media companies online. Sold to Compaq for $307 million in 1999.

PayPal: Changed how money was exchanged. Sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.

Clean Energy:

SolarCity: Public company worth a little under $1.5 billion. Will grow by 60% and be cash flow positive in 2013.

Tesla Motors: Worth over $4 billion. Successfully launched two all-electric vehicles (with charging stations). More electric vehicles in development.

Multi-Planetary Life:

SpaceX: Successfully launched a rocket. Recently earned a NASA contract.

The amazing (or scary) part?

Elon Musk is only 41 years old and still has lots more planned.

He has said:

“You want to have a future where you’re expecting things to be better, not one where you’re expecting things to be worse.”

A lot of people say and think about creating a better future, but Musk is one of the few who is working every day to make it happen.

It hasn’t been easy. He’s gone through difficult times. Changing the world isn’t easy. The year 2008 was particularly rough for Musk. SpaceX had its third launch failure in a row, the Tesla financing round fell through due to the economy, Morgan Stanley backed out of a deal with SolarCity, Tesla was in a lawsuit with former employees, and he was going through a very public and ugly divorce. All three of his companies were close to death, and his personal life was in shambles.

Then, in mid-2009, Tesla’s co-founder, who had been released from his position as CEO, filed a lawsuit against Tesla. It was settled a few months later through an out of court settlement.

He managed to pull through that turbulent time. His divorce is over, and all three companies are alive. Two of the companies will be profitable soon, and the other has earned a competitive contract with NASA.

Musk has put a lot of his own wealth into his companies. He’s put over $100 million into SpaceX, a little under $100 million into Tesla, and an undisclosed amount into SolarCity, where he is Chairman.

And while Musk does have a business degree, it’s not entrepreneurship that is his passion. He’s an inventor and engineer first.

He wasn’t planning to be the CEO of two companies. It just happened. He says:

“I think of myself more [like] an engineer, who, in order to invent the things I want to invent and create them, that I have to do the company as well. So I’m more reluctantly the CEO. It’s not my preference, actually.”

Being a CEO may not be his preference, but he has done a good job, nevertheless. He’s been in business for a long time and has shared some advice for entrepreneurs. We’ll get into that later.

PayPal

Before continuing, though, there’s one thing I’d like to point out: Calling Musk a “founder” of PayPal would be inaccurate. He founded X.com, which later merged with Confinity. Confinity was founded by Peter Thiel and Max Levchin. Out of this merger, came PayPal. They survived the late 90s dot com bubble by pooling their resources. PayPal went public in early 2002 and was sold to eBay later that year.

Musk is no longer involved in PayPal and has been critical of its lack of product iteration. Musk says that it could become the biggest consumer bank in the world; it just needs to take away the reasons people would withdraw money from PayPal. He also advocates reducing the fees, which would result in greater revenue because more people would use it. Doing this, fixing errors, and adding functionality could make the company “the financial services company that addresses everything a person needs,” according to Musk.

The Entrepreneur

Elon Musk has literally had success (zap2) after success (PayPal) after success (SpaceX) after success (Tesla) after success (SolarCity). How many entrepreneurs can say they’ve had this much success?

One could even argue that selling a video game at the age of 12 for $500 (he taught himself how to program at 10) was a successful accomplishment.

As you read this post, keep a few things in mind:

– He’s only 41 years old.

– All three of his current companies are valued over $1 billion.

– Many think he makes Steve Jobs look “like a kid playing with an electronics kit at home.”

So, first, let’s get into a little background on each of his current companies, what he plans for the future, and then we’ll end with the tips he gives entrepreneurs.
Tesla

The Roadster (no longer in production):
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