Iron Man? No, More Like Innovation Man
The stories that have risen around him have grown to almost epic proportions, especially over the past few years as his triumphs and big ideas have continued to fill the popular press. The names of his projects and dreams of the future themselves sound like the names of video game characters or science fiction technology. The Hyperloop. Tesla. SpaceX. Oh, and a little thing called PayPal, too. The South African genius behind these ideas is a model of creative and combative entrepreneurship, refusing to accept no for an answer in any aspect of his work and daring to dream in ways that make the world around him marvel at his potential.
Elon Musk has a penchant for not only developing and introducing grand ideas, but also matching those ideas with an energetic and ambitious personality that does not allow for doubters, either outside or inside his gadget-crazy world. Musk has gone from relative obscurity to international fame and recognition in just under a decade, parlaying a starring role in the development of ubiquitous web payment system PayPal into a series of successful (to certain degrees) ventures. His auto company, Tesla Motors, which revolutionized luxury automobiles by rolling out the first desirable electric sedan on the market (that really works), is currently reporting record profits and continues to see its profile rise.
Elon Musk has a penchant for not only developing and introducing grand ideas, but also matching those ideas with an energetic and ambitious personality that does not allow for doubters, either outside or inside his gadget-crazy world
His commercial space-flight venture, SpaceX, is developing a variety of commercial space craft that seem ensured to bring recreational space travel to the mainstream sometime in his own life span. And finally, as if Musk didn’t have enough irons in the fire, the South African recently unveiled his idea for the “Hyperloop”, a next-generation idea for public transit that involves human-sized tubes utilizing the same air propulsion system seen in bank deposit machines. The future is certainly an exciting place in Musk’s world, but it’s worth taking a look at some of the experiences and decisions that helped lead him to the forefront of technological innovation in the 21st century.
Schooled to Be Innovative
Musk’s back story is certainly reflective of the man he is often compared to, the fictional Tony Stark of Iron Man fame. Born to a Canadian mother and South African father in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk was on his way early in technology. He developed his first computer game code, for a game called Blastar, at 11 and sold it for $500. From there, the entrepreneurial bug had bitten Musk badly. He fled military service in South Africa at 17 by moving to Canada, and after a few years in school there transferred to the Wharton School of Business to hone his entrepreneurial acumen. He received an undergraduate degree in economics, another in physics, and eventually moved to Stanford to try his hand at theoretical physics as well. Failing to latch on there, Musk and his brother decided to begin with a venture of their own.
The result, Zip2 (eventually known as CitySearch), became a boon to newspapers looking to easily organize, categorize, and find readers based on their location and zip code. The company entered into partnerships with heavyweights like the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, and when Musk sold his stake he walked away with $22 million. Never one to rest, from early years on, Musk parlayed his newfound money into a stake in X.com, an online banking system. Musk knew to continue looking for ways to innovate, and early in the tenure of the site he moved to acquire Confinity, which at the time was operating a little-known Internet payment system called PayPal. Despite disagreements between Musk and fellow X.com stakeholders, Musk stuck to his guns in identifying PayPal as the wave of the future. He stood by as other investors jumped ship, convinced his idea would fail, and steered PayPal toward the giant we know it to be today. When the service was acquired by EBay in 2001, Musk walked away with over $165 million in EBay stock. Talk about a good reason to stick to your guns and not let outside influences wear down your values.
The Future of the Present
Today, Musk’s personal international recognition stems more from the ventures he’s hoping to create than the successes of his past. While Tesla has proven to be a remarkably successful idea, gaining increasingly huge segments of the luxury car market share, Musk remains constantly in motion towards the next big thing. It may be, more than his intelligence or technical ability, the most valuable entrepreneurial trait he possesses.
In many ways, SpaceX might be as much Musk’s dream project as Tesla currently is (or PayPal was). The company, started in the early 2000s when private space flight was still a fantasy being kicked around by Google Labs, James Cameron, and the few others with enough money to consider it, has been awarded multiple NASA contracts for rocket and launch vehicle technology it has designed and produced. However, Musk and his colleagues have always stated that manned space flight and astronaut-focused vehicles were the main drive of his company. Currently, SpaceX has become part of a team of privately-owned companies in line to deliver materials to the International Space Station. However, as we have learned from Musk again and again, this is just the present. For him, as he stated time and again in the press, he hopes to place an astronaut on Mars in the next 10-20 years.
Elon Musk on Jimmy Kimmel
Innovate Like Musk
Beyond the fancy degrees and unique cultural background Musk draws on for his ventures and ideas, the skills and approaches he takes to his businesses offer lessons that can help us in our own businesses. Perhaps foremost among Musk’s admirable qualities is his ability to look further than most into the future, developing plans and timelines for projects that may seem unfeasible now (think about private space flight in 2001!) but that will turn heads much quicker than the competition. Aside from that, Musk refuses to compromise on innovation, not allowing outside influences or the huge list of challenges defer him from realizing dreams that, to many, have always seemed like science fiction. The man is a dreamer and a doer, in every sense of the phrase, and perhaps more than anything else that is the approach we should take away from Elon Musk to our own entrepreneurial ventures.
Go cash in on today,