Who is Elon Musk, you ask? Does the name PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX ring a bell? If it does, Elon Musk is the man behind those names.
First time I heard of Elon Musk was when I interviewed the founder of Smallstarter Africa, John-Paul Iwuoha, and he talked about how he admires Elon Musk and what he’s doing with Space X. I was intrigued and decided to check out this Elon Musk and Space X that John-Paul couldn’t stop talking about. I was impressed. So impressed that I started googling and reading everything about Elon just to know what makes him tick.
I’m still searching and reading. The literature on Elon Musk is massive. In the meantime, I’ve decided to share the important career lessons that we can learn from Elon Musk.
Elon Musk was born on 28 June 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa to a Canadian mom and a South African dad.
He was an avid reader during his childhood and at age 10 developed an interest in computing with the Commodore VIC-20. His knowledge of computer programming was self-taught at age 12, leading to the creation of the code for a BASIC-based video game called Blaster which he sold to a magazine called PC and Office Technology for approximately $500.
Elon Musk and his brother started a web software company in 1995 with just US$2,000 and called the company Zip2. The company developed and sold an internet based city guide for a newspaper publishing industry. Zip2 was later acquired by Compaq in 1999 for US$307 million in cash and US$34 million in stock options. Musk received US$22 million for his 7% share in the company.
In March 1999, Elon used US$10 million from the sale of Zip2 to start an online financial services and email payment company called X.com. The company merged with Confinity which owned PayPal, a money transfer service. The merged company i.e. X.com and Confinity was renamed PayPal and in October 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion in stock. Elon received US$165 million from this sale.
In May 2002, Elon Musk used US$100 million of his fortune to found Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX. SpaceX is a company that focuses on the development of rocket technology. It develops and manufactures launch vehicles such as Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets. In September 2008, Falcon 1 became the first privately funded rocket to put a satellite into Earth orbit.
SpaceX was, in 2006, awarded a contract from NASA to continue the Falcon 9 launch vehicle project as well as development of Dragon spacecraft to assist the International Space Station with the transportation of cargo.
Elon Musk is also the CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors. As at January 29, 2016, Musk owns about 28.9 million Tesla shares, which equates to about 22% of the company. Elon is also linked to other companies such as SolarCity, Hyperloop, OpenAI (a non-profit artificial intelligence company), The Boring Company, Neuralink to mention a few.
I can go on and on about Elon, his beliefs, successes, failures, obsession with putting humans on Mars (and space generally), love for technology etc. He’s even the inspiration behind Tony Stark of the Iron Man franchise. However, I want to talk about what we can learn from the career of Elon Musk.
Elon is a firm believer that talent always, always trumps an abysmal personality. He’s often quoted as saying “My biggest mistake is probably weighing too much on someone’s talent and not someone’s personality. I think it matters whether someone has a good heart.” So, once more with feeling: don’t hire jerks!”
Just looking at the brief background outlined above, the common thread you can obviously see is a man who works hard and works smart too. The effective combination of hard work, talent and working smart is one of the keys to achieving success.
The innovators such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t start out to make money. Yeah, the money came later but that was not their goal. Elon, in one of his interviews said, “Going from PayPal, I thought: ‘Well, what are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity?’ Not from the perspective, ‘What’s the best way to make money?’”
Persistent pays, no doubt about that. Do not give up no matter how hard it is or how many times you fail. On the other hand, it is important to know when to throw in the towel, admit defeat and focus your strength on other ventures. (Believe me, I still find it hard figuring out when to stop trying).
A lot of people have outstanding ideas that remain just that, ideas. The inventors and geniuses we know now and revere turned their ideas to reality. Are you doing the same?
Don’t forget to disturb the comfortable, wear your confidence proudly and never fail to question the status-quo. Great minds like Elon Musk didn’t go to where they are by playing it safe.