What Makes Elon Musk Great?

October 11, 2014
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Focusing on his business acumen, predominantly in regards to Tesla and SpaceX, we’ve written about Elon Musk here at Capitalist Creations quite a bit. But there is much more to the world-class entrepreneur than those two innovative companies. In this Bloomberg Risk Takers special, Musk is featured in both a professional and personal light.

For all you entrepreneurs and investors, I recommend taking the 45 minutes needed to watch this. It’s motivational and shows the human side to an entrepreneurial icon. The special should also make you question whether or not you are working efficiently at your own venture and if your goals are lofty enough; at least it did for me.

Pay attention to how Musk got to where he is today. Notice the challenges he faced and just as important, the sacrifices he made. Additionally, I want you to take note of how he describes the missions of his companies. His mission statements are quite broad and if accomplished, are worthy of Nobel Prizes.

 

Elon Musk’s Love for Reading

Musk grew up somewhat of a loner. As a consequence, at a very young age he fell in love with reading – almost to a point of obsession. It was from his passion for reading that he learned to overcome fear with logic (a critical ability for entrepreneurs to establish). For example, as a child he was afraid of the dark. After learning, by reading many books, exactly what darkness was (in his words “dark just means the absence of photons in the visible wave length”), he conquered that fear.

As a child, Musk read about sci-fi and action heroes, but as he grew up his topics of interest began to change. From software programming to rocket science, Musk began to realize that if he became an entrepreneur, he could apply some of his newfound knowledge in ways that could change the world. However, in order to become an entrepreneur, he would have to avoid the draft and get the heck out of South Africa, which was at the tail end of apartheid when he was a teen.

To avoid the draft, Musk left home and headed for Canada. He decided to bus from Montreal to Vancouver to see the country, picking up odd jobs along the way before landing back in Toronto.

While in TO Elon Musk attended Queen’s University and met his first wife. From there he went to Stanford, but admittedly skipped a lot of classes. Who can blame him, though? It’s hard to sit still and listen to lectures when you have rocket ships and internet programming on the mind.

After Stanford, Musk got into it, full speed. He rented a tiny apartment in Silicon Valley and started his first venture in the world of entrepreneurship.

Elon Musk’s first startup was an internet company known as Zip2. He literally started the business on a shoe string budget with his brother. Elon was the programmer and his brother would be the company salesman. Zip2’s mission was to bring newspapers and the phone book into the digital age.

At the time, people were still finding businesses by flipping through a phone book. And people resisted Zip2’s proposition, at least at first. Elon’s brother recalls one sales pitch turned bad, when a prospect threw a phone book at him and said “you really think you’re going to be able to replace this!?”

 

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
                    – Howard Aiken

 

No one said being a trailblazer was easy. Nevertheless, the two brothers made Zip2 work, eventually selling the company to Compaq in a deal worth roughly $340 million. Elon netted around $22 million from the sale. He was just 28 years old.

 

Great Entrepreneurs are Never Idle

Most of us would take some time off and travel around to tropical places after a closing a deal like that… but not Musk.

Despite Compaq buying Zip2, it was believed that Musk was left unsatisfied. He wanted to achieve more. Money wasn’t the motivator for him, however. He stated, my goal was to have a ‘profound effect’.

With that in mind, Musk took little time off after the Zip2 buyout before launching his next startup, which was known as X.com. This startup ended up merging with its competitor, Confinity. Together, they formed Paypal, which fundamentally changed the way payment processing is done today.

As the company grew to unforeseen heights, becoming the leading payment system in the world, Ebay was left with little choice but to take them out. The online auction giant purchased Paypal for a whopping $1.1 billion.

Musk was the largest shareholder of Paypal. He netted an approximate $180 million from the deal. At the time of that buyout, Musk was just 30 years old.

As was the case after the Zip2 buyout, Musk didn’t take any time off from launching his next startup. This time, however, his mission was truly ‘profound’. Musk started SpaceX in 2002. Funding it with his own $100 million, at the time that was his entire net worth, Musk’s goal with SpaceX was to take on the military industrial complex by making space rockets commercially viable…

We documented in previous articles exactly how Elon Musk launched and grew SpaceX and Tesla. Those two companies represent amazing entrepreneurial feats. However, there is much more to the Elon Musk story than those two innovative companies. Enjoy the special (above) from Bloomberg which documents Musk’s coming-of-age as a world-class entrepreneur.

Stay hungry,
Aaron Hoddinott signature

 

 

Aaron

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Like all of you entrepreneurs and investors out there, Aaron has been in the trenches. He is the founder of an influential online media and PR company. From oil wildcatters to mining prospectors, tech gurus to medical doctors, and even celebrities, Aaron has helped market and expand brand awareness for a diverse range of publicly traded companies ran by entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

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