In year 2000, Silicon Valley and San Francisco was in a depression. The Internet madness has died down. Venture capitalists do not invest anymore because of the dot com bubble.At the time, Silicon Valley was only busy making click-ads. Twitter and Facebook were just starting out. Some say that the technology industry had failed. It stopped turning science fiction into reality.
Elon Musk was also part of the dot com mania. After finishing college, he made $22 million from Zip2. It was software like Google Maps. Zip2 was bought by Compaq in 1999. Musk invested his money to another start-up called X.com. It became PayPal. When eBay bought PayPal in 2002, Musk became even richer.Instead of staying in Silicon Valley, Musk moved out to Los Angeles. That is where he built Tesla, Space X and Solar City. His companies lead in the automotive, aerospace and solar industries. With rockets, electric cars, and solar panels, Musk transforms the future. In Elon’s world, reality and science fiction are rolled up into one.
Elon Musk is different from other technology millionaires because of his worldview. Musk said, “If we can solve sustainable energy and be well on our way to becoming a multi-planetary species…that would be really good.” Today, Musk Co. has thousands of employees. It has a net worth of $10 billion.
Musk’s Grandfather Joshua Haldeman flew his own plane from Canada to South Africa.He migrated with his whole family. They settled in Pretoria.But sometimes,the family would fly to Norway, Scotland and Australia.MayeHaldeman and Errol Musk were childhood sweethearts. Right after marriage, they had Elon. He was born on June 28, 1971. Errol Musk is a successful engineer. Maye is a dietician. They had two other children named Kimbal and Tosca.
At 5 years old, Elon showed high levels of concentration. He spent many hours reading. His favourite books are The Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy. When he ran out of books, he read two sets of encyclopaedia.Things went well with the Musk family. They owned the biggest home in Pretoria. However, when Elon was eight years old, his parents got a divorce. He and his brother Kimbal lived with his father. Elon thought that he didn’t have a happy childhood. His father was not a happy man.
The first time Elon saw a computer when he was 10. He got really amazed. He immediately asked his father to buy one. When the computer arrived, Elon spent three whole days to learn BASIC programming.Elon was very close with his brother Kimbal and cousins Peter, Lyndon and Russ Rive. They make homemade rockets and explosives. They also enjoy long train trips and play Dungeons & Dragons.
At school though, Elon had a very different experience. He was often bullied. There was an incident that really traumatized him. Elon was eating at the stairs.And then a boy attacked him from behind. He was kicked in the head and pushed down. Elon fell from the stairs. He got more punches.Elon was immediately brought to the hospital. He had blood all over. It took him a week to go back to school. For four years, Elon endured this situation. The gang would always go after him for no reason. Eventually, he had to transfer.
At 17 years old, Elon was eager to leave South Africa. He thought America would give him better opportunity. He was also interested in Silicon Valley. When his family got Canadian citizenship, Elon flew to his great escape.
Musk had a difficult time in Canada. He just rode the plane with no place to stay. It took him a while to find his relatives. For his 18th birthday, he celebrated with some neighbours and the relatives he just met. Musk worked odd jobs such as tending vegetables and cutting logs. Later on, Kimbal also arrived in Canada.In 1989, Musk enrolled at Queen’s University in Ontario. It is where he met his ex-wife, Justine Wilson. Justine stood him up for their first date. But Musk was persistent. Justine said, “He can sweep you off your feet.”
A lot changed for Musk in college. He still talked a lot about space and energy. His classmates would just laugh it off. Musk found people who share the same interests. Musk made extra cash by fixing computers. He also sold spare parts to his dorm mates.After two years, Musk got a scholarship. He continued his studies in University of Pennsylvania. He studied both economics and physics. At Penn, Musk found friends who have lunch and discuss physics. He also rented a frat house with a close friend. They would hold wild parties for $5 per head.
Musk wrote interesting business plans for his classes. One of them was entitled “The Importance of Being Solar”. He predicted that there will be a leap in solar power tech. Large solar plants will be constructed. He discussed solar cells and the compounds that can maximize their power.He also wrote a paper on ultracapacitors. They are battery cells which can store huge amounts of energy. They can recharge and deliver power 100 times more than other capacitors. Musk already thinks of electric cars and rockets.
His professors commended him for his concise analysis. Musk can tackle complex physics concepts. He also knows how to make good profit from them. He first thought of creating video games after finishing college. But Musk wanted a career that would have a big effect on the world.He would often dream about space, renewable energy and the Internet. They have great market potential. Musk also thought they would create significant change in the future. Silicon Valley is busy sharing baby photos. But Musk is working to save human race from annihilation.
Elon’s First Start-up
In 1994, Kimbal and Elonhad many road trips. They had the idea of a business on the Internet. Eventually, Musk became an intern in Silicon Valley. When he finished school, he and Kimbal started the company.Zip2 is the online version of the Yellow Pages. It is a directory and map of all business establishments. Elondid the website coding. Kimbal was responsible for selling the site.
Kimbal did door-to door sales. But business owners don’t understand what Zip2 is for. It took a while before they find an investor. Finally, a capitalist would take interest. He invested $3 million. Zip2 extended to newspaper classified ads. However, as the company got bigger, Musk was removed from management. He became chief technical officer. Zip 2 moved to a larger office. It also hired programmers to improve its codes. In 1998, the company would merge with CitySearch in a $300 million deal. City Search was a competitor.
Compaq bought Zip2 in 1999. The Musk brothers have turned their dot com idea into a reality. It wasn’t easy though. Elon Musk wanted to be CEO.
PayPal Mafia Boss
Musk turned from a Canadian backpacker to a multi-millionaire in a decade. He was only 27. All-in-all, he acquired $22 million. He bought a huge condominium, a prop plane and a sports car. Musk drove his McLaren F1 all around Silicon Valley.While an intern, Musk had the idea of Internet banking. He shared it with his seniors but they did not like it. In the 90s, people were hesitant on purchasing books online. No one wants to encode their credit card numbers on the Web.
Musk, however, was intent on creating this bank online. He invested $12 million to his new project. he called the online banking site X.com. One of his co-founders said, “That’s part of what separates Elon from mere mortals. He’s willing to take an insane amount of personal risk. When you do a deal like that, it either pays off or you end up in a bus shelter somewhere.”Zip2 was a neat practical idea. But X.com changes the banking industry. Musk enters a business backed with nothing but his passion. He thought that the bankers were doing everything wrong. He can do better.
As with Zip2, Musk pitched the company to venture capitalists. He made powerful speeches to encourage engineers to work for him.X.com became a legitimate finance service. It has banking license, mutual fund license and FDIC insurance. In November 1999, the site went live on the internet. Musk stayed at the office for 48 hours. He wanted to make sure things are running smoothly.X.com pioneered a payment system. The new payment system was called PayPal. It can send money just by entering the person’s e-mail. Within a few months, PayPal gained 200,000 clients. It’s a very convenient way to move money. Banks take days to process.
In March 2000, X.com merged with its competitor Confinity. Musk still own majority of the shares. The company name remains the same. But X.com and Confinity had a conflict. It is because of different cultures and decision-making. A group of employees planned to oust Musk They want to put Peter ThielfromConfinityas CEO.Meanwhile, Musk was having honeymoon with Justine. Right after landing, Musk convinced the board to reconsider. But it was too late. He was told that the company has moved on. Musk again lost power on the company he started.X.com was rebranded as PayPal on June 2001. Musk secured his role as company advisor. He invested more. He increased his stake as Paypal’s major stockholder. The dot com mania, however, was coming to an end. The other tech companies were in a hurry to sell.
Musk convinced the board to turn down offers. PayPal’s annual revenue rose to $240 million. It is a strong independent company which could go public. And then,in2002, PayPal got an offer from eBay for $1.5 billion. After taxes, Musk was able to take home $180 million. PayPal was able to survive the dot com bubble. It was because of Musk’s instincts at market and technology trends.The company also made a successful IPO despite the 9/11 attacks. PayPal became a winner even if the technology industry was down.
Mice in Space
In June 2001, Elon Musk turned 30. He moved on from Silicon Valley. Musk and his wife started over in Los Angeles. After PayPal, he had time for his dreams on space travel and rocket ships. There’s no better place to start than L.A.The weather of Los Angeles is good for aeronautics. Musk found people who have the same vision as him. He joined a group called Mars Society. It studies life on Mars. It has a project calledTranslife Mission. It is about a capsule that will orbit Earth. The crew of the capsule are mice.
Musk donated $500,000 for Mars Society and its project. He suggested that Translife Mission should extend all the way to Mars. One day, Musk was browsing the NASA website.But he became really disappointed. There is no definite plan or exact schedule for Mars exploration. Musk read books on aerospace. He hired talented engineers to plan the rocket ship. He studied the performance of low-cost rockets. The existing rockets produced by the Russians, Boeing and Lockheed are very expensive.They carry gigantic satellites. Musk thought of cheaper rockets which can be used for research and commercial use.
When eBay bought PayPal, Musk earned the hundred million dollars. He used it to build his rocket ship to Mars. In June 2002, Space Exploration Technologies was founded. Musk was joined by the Mars Society members and other space enthusiasts in Los Angeles.Musk was very excited for Space X. However, a tragedy happened in his family.Justine gave birth to their first child Nevada Alexander Musk. But within ten days the baby would die.
Justine and Elon put him to bed one night.Nevada slept lying on his back. The baby was sound asleep.But when his parents checked him, he wasn’t breathing anymore. The doctors said it was sudden infant death syndrome.When the paramedics came to revive him, the baby was already brain dead. He lacked oxygen. He was put on life support for three days. Justine held her baby boy in her arms when he died. She mourned openly. ButElon Musk firmly said he doesn’t want to talk about it.
Justine thought that it was Elon’sdefense mechanism. He picked up since childhood. She said, “He doesn’t do well in dark places. He’s forward-moving, and I think it’s a survival thing with him.” Musk focused on the rocket launch attempts of Space X. In the next 5 years, Justine will give birth to a set of twins and then the triplets. Musk said, “I’m not sure why I’d want to talk about extremely sad events. It does no good for the future. If you’ve got other kids and obligations, then wallowing in sadness does no good for anyone around you.”
In 2002, talented engineer J.B. Straubel bought a Porsche. He transformed it into an electric car. It was a time when there was no movement yet for clean technology. He tried to find investors for his product. For months and months, Straubel was rejected. Finally, he met Elon Musk.Musk was thrilled about the electric car. He brought in his own idea of batteries and energy storage. He agreed to give Straubel his funding immediately. Their partnership went on for the years to come.
Meanwhile, there were business partners. They were also interested in building electric cars. Their names are Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning from Northern California. On July 2003, they founded Tesla Motors. It was inspired by Nikolaj Tesla, the inventor of electric motor.Eberhard and Tarpenning pitched their company to Musk in Los Angeles. All of them shared the idea of ending America’s dependence on oil. Musk has always been an advocate for clean and sustainable energy. He became the chairman and largest shareholder of Tesla. Not long after, J.B.Straubel joined the company.
The team realized that the big car companies don’t actually manufacture cars anymore. BMW has its parts made overseas. Locally, the company only handles marketing, sales and final assembly. Gone are the days when Ford Motors worked with raw materials.Tesla Motors is determined to build electric cars from scratch. Musk and his team of engineers made the Roadster as prototype. The process, however, takes a lot of time, effort and money. As Tesla created its next product, Musk was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Pain, Suffering, and Survival
Elon Musk began to gain public attention since PayPal. The press love to talk about him. People are curious about this multimillionaire with a weird name. He is also known to put lots of money to electric cars and spaceships. Musk would hang out with celebrities and other businessmen.He puts on a good show. But Musk is actually having problems. It was with the finances of Tesla and Space X. The electric car prototypes and rocket launch attempts are eating up all his money. He was being ridiculed by the press for his failed products.
To make matters worse, his marriage with Justine is falling apart. They already have five children by 2006, a set of twins and a set of triplets. In 2007, Justine suffered from postpartum depression.Tesla has to recreate its prototype Roadster. Space X is preparing for the Falcon 1 launch. Both projects are consuming Musk’s time and money. He is busy with his companies 7 days a week. He almost never comes home. Justine felt she is just a trophy wife and not a partner. Musk filed a divorce on June 2008.
Justine expressed her feelings openly on her blog. She would post about Musk and the divorce proceedings. Bill Lee, an investor and friend of Musk, got worried about his mental state. He invited Musk to take a vacation in London. It was then that Musk met his second wife Talulah Riley. He was set up to meet the 22-year-old English actress. Riley accompanied Musk for the rest of his London trip. They would talk and have dinner together.
When Musk returned to Los Angeles, Riley followed after a few weeks. Musk told Riley that he already has five kids. He also told her that he’s having a divorce. But when Musk proposed to her, she still said yes. It was indeed a whirlwind romance.Riley got to witness Musk’s struggle with his companies. She said, “He looked like death itself. I remember thinking this guy would have a heart attack and die.” Space X lost millions from the failed rocket launch attempts. Tesla spent a lot for its prototypes. Both companies were getting bankrupt.
Musk had to sell prized possessions like his McLaren F1. He asked his investor friends to fund Space X and Tesla through the end of 2008. Some company employees even wrote some checks to help. Musk had to scrape money to cover payroll every week.Meanwhile, NASA was looking for a contractor to resupply the International Space Station. Musk did everything he can so Space X would get the contract. As for Tesla, he negotiated another funding from the investors. He also put in all of his remaining personal funds. He even sold some of his stocks in Solar City.
Fortunately, on December 23, 2008, NASA announced that it had chosen Space X to supply for ISS. The agency would pay $1.6 billion for a total of 12 flights. Musk was spending his holidays with Kimbal at Colorado. He burst into tears as the transactions proceeded.Elon Musk came to America with nothing. He lost a child and went through a very public divorce. He was on the verge of losing his companies and his entire life’s work. But Elon Musk endured. As one of his friends said, “What he went through in 2008 would have broken anyone else. He didn’t just survive. He kept working and stayed focused.”
After everything that Musk went through, Falcon 9 successfully made it to space. It would carry satellites for nations and companies. The rockets also deliver supplies for the ISS. Since Falcon 1, Musk has spent a lot of money for the perfect rocket ship. His engineers have worked and failed for years.At present, Space X launches one rocket a month. It has beaten its competitors locally and internationally. Other companies rely on foreign suppliers. But Space X builds the rockets from scratch. Furthermore, the cost per launch is the lowest in the aeronautics industry.
Musk and his team of engineers are looking for ways to make Space X rockets even better. The rockets are reusable. They can return to Earth. The engineers work so they will land back accurately on the launch pad. Space X became successful because of Musk’s attention to detail and hard work.Musk ultimate aim is to make space flights practical and economical. If there are many rocket supplies, it would be possible to make a colony on Mars. The rest of the aeronautics industry made space boring. But Space X continues to modernize its rockets and spaceships. Elon Musk keeps on finding ways to turn science fiction to reality.
The Revenge of the Electric Car
Tesla Motors began shipping the Model S sedan in 2012. The luxury car fully runs on electricity and can go 300 miles with a single battery charge. Its speed is 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. It has two trunks and a seat capacity of 7 people.Without the engine and machinery of oil cars, Model S runs almost without noise. It only has a battery pack and an electric motor on its rear. Model S is ahead of other luxury sedans on almost everything.
Inside the car, there is a 17-inch touch screen where the driver can access all car controls like adjusting stereo volume or air-conditioning. It also has a steady Internet connection for navigation or music streaming, Therefore, Model S doesn’t need a bulky dashboard that covers up car space.The driver doesn’t need keys or ignition button. Once seated, the sensor detects the weight of the driver and automatically starts the car. Furthermore, the Model S can be recharged for free at solar powered stations scattered along the highways.
To buy a Model S, the driver can walk-in the stores at malls or order online. Either way, the electric car will be delivered straight to your home, office or wherever. Since it doesn’t require tune-ups or oil change, Model S is low-maintenance. If it needs a repair, Tesla engineers will be the one to pick it up.Tesla went on to provide a smartphone app to accompany Model S. Through it, the car can be located from anywhere. With software updates, like faster recharge, Tesla has transformed the electric car to a gadget. As one of the earliest owners said, “It changes everything about transportation. It’s a computer on wheels.”
The Unified Theory of Elon Musk
The Rive Brothers grew up with their cousin Elon Musk in South Africa. Before the dot com bubble, they established the software company Ever dream. The brothers were looking for a new venture. Musk suggested that they get into solar energy. At the time, it was hard for consumers to buy and install solar panels. There wasn’t a guarantee that the panels would get enough sunshine on their houses. The Solar City was started by the Rives brothers in 2006.
The company had software to determine if solar energy source is compatible for the property. There would also be a team of Solar City employees to install the panels. Furthermore, the panels would be on lease on a monthly fixed rate. Musk is the largest shareholder in Solar City owning around 30%.After six years, Solar City became the lead installer solar panels in the U.S. From residential use, it has expanded its service for companies like Wal-Mart and Intel. Solar City went public in 2012. By 2014, its net worth reached $7 billion.
Musk realized that an hour of solar energy can provide for the world’s energy consumption for a year. The trick is to charge battery packs that can be reserved for night use and power outages. Aside from this, efficient solar cells should be used to turn light from energy. Musk made it all possible in 2014.The 3 companies began as underdogs in their respective industries. But because of Musk’s hard work, they became the best in their fields. In 2025, Tesla would have six cars available in the market. Solar City would become a major utility company.
Space X, meanwhile, would send weekly flights of humans and cargo to space. Its reusable rockets would circle the moon. They would go back to Earth and land exactly where they started. After the moon, the next target of Space X would be Mars. The unified field theory of Elon Musk is that all his companies are interrelated. Solar City provides the solar panels used for recharging electric cars. Tesla, meanwhile, produces the battery packs sold by Solar City. Space X and Tesla share knowledge on design and manufacture of their products. All 3 of them represent Musk’s meaningful worldview. He wanted mankind to have sustainable energy and to be saved from self-destruction.
Elon Musk may have experienced many hardships in life. He was bullied as a child and had a bad relationship with his father. He lost his first son and ended his first marriage.Musk almost lost everything. His companies became very close to bankruptcy. The press continue to plague him about his personal life and the failures of his company. But, ElonMusk keeps on going. He continues to work hard.
Musk is known to work on weekends. He encourages his employees to do the same. There was a time when he took a vacation with ex-wife Justine in South Africa. He got infected with malaria and had to stay in the ICU for ten days. Musk said, “I came very close to dying. That’s my lesson for taking a vacation: vacations will kill you.”