Elon Musk has become synonymous with his two biggest ventures to date: SpaceX and Tesla Motors.
With these companies, he’s helped us progress towards accessible spaceflight and given us one of the most intriguing and advanced electric cars on the market today.
It’s no wonder President Trump wanted his advice early on in his first term.
That being said, Musk didn’t start out with these dreams; however, his love of space and technology has always been present, as has his entrepreneurial insights and prowess.
TED Talk: Chris Anderson Interviews Elon Musk
Biography: About Elon Musk
The entrepreneur who has become anonymous with electric vehicles like the Tesla and space exploration, was born in 1971, June 28 in South Africa where he lived until he was 17. It was at that point he immigrated to Canada.
Eventually he came to the United States as a transfer student when he attended the University of Pennsylvania. Although he transferred from Queen’s University in Canada after two years, he graduated from UoP with an economics degree, as well as a degree in physics.
He started the Ph.D program for applied physics and material sciences at Stanford University but dropped out--after only two days for entrepreneurial pursuits.
For a drop-out, he certainly made it work!
Due to his immigration and student transfer status, Musk holds South African, Canadian, and US citizenship.
Shortly after he quit the Stanford Ph.D program, he co-founded a web software company called Zip2 that was later sold to Compaq for a whopping $340 million.
And that was in 1999.
A year later, Musk got his hands on what would become the world’s most popular money transfer service:
Founder of PayPal
Bet you didn’t know the man behind SpaceX and Tesla Motors started one of the largest, if not the biggest, online payment systems. That’s right!
In the very beginning, back in December 1998, PayPal was known as Confinity, which was a security software company. PayPal was developed as a method of money transfer within Confinity.
But then in March 2000....
Confinity merged with Musk’s online banking company, X.com, which he started after leaving Stanford University and making serious money from Compaq’s acquisition of one of his first companies Zip2.
The entrepreneur had a strong hunch that the money transfer software created by Confinity was onto something, and given his own forward-thinking optimism about the nature of the money transfer business--and his existing experience with online banks, decided to focus solely on PayPal.
When the money transfer service finally went public in 2002, it was listed at $13 per share and generated more than $61 million in revenue (1).
Not only did Elon show business savvy in his acquisition of Confinity and their initial PayPal software, he turned it into the go-to money transfer service used globally with his penchant for forward thinking and optimism for the future.
And speaking of the future…
Founded in 2002, SpaceX was the actualization of a dream shared by billions the world over: to live among the stars. Musk started the company because he wanted to revolutionize space technology--and because he just thought space was cool.
Sounds corny or made up, but given some of his other pet projects like the Boring Company “Not-A-Flamethrower, you really shouldn’t be surprised.
If you’re still not convinced of his desire to change the world, here’s a direct quote:
“When I was in college, I wanted to be involved in things that would change the world. Now I am.”
So how did one of the most successful spacecraft and advanced rocket ventures come about?
With a simple project called Mars Oasis.
In 2001 Musk came up with the idea and goal to land a miniature experimental greenhouse on Mars. You see, he wanted to reignite the public’s passion and interest in space exploration. Mars Oasis was designed to grow food crops on the planet.
That single project led to talks with some big names in aerospace and an effort to purchase intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from Russia to dig deeper into building a larger space exploration venture.
While it didn’t work out with Russia, Musk eventually realized he could just build what he wanted to buy, and do it affordably. Hence, SpaceX was born, along with the goal of establishing genuine a spacefaring civilization.
Did you know…
SpaceX was valued at more than $20 billion as of 2019?
If only NASA could have generated that kind of revenue…
But then again, SpaceX filled the gaps NASA left open when their direction changed within the last ten years. This made SpaceX unique in the private sector once it became the first private company to launch and return a spacecraft from low Earth orbit, which it did for the first time in 2010.
While NASA still has its mission, he’s given the world a huge opportunity to reach the stars in ways only science fiction has taught us to dream about.
Along with sending a Tesla into space and delivering goods to the space station, SpaceX is responsible for both the manufacture and launch of spacecraft and advanced rockets, making the company a shining beacon in the ongoing space exploration venture.
One of the man’s most important reasons for founding SpaceX was to lower the cost of human spaceflight by a factor of 10 (2).
While the numbers are still being worked on, he seems well on his way to bringing us a step closer to that reality.
Continuing his trend of getting involved with projects and companies with great potential, Musk joined Tesla Motor’s (now simply Tesla) board of directors as chairman in 2004.
While Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning were the ones responsible for financing and incorporating the company in 2003, Musk took an active role once apart of the board in the design of the Roadster.
Wait for it…
When the 2008 financial crisis struck and one of the original founders was booted from the company, Musk stepped up and assumed the role of CEO and product architect, which is a role he continues to fill to this day.
The neat thing about Tesla these days is that their focus isn’t just on building electric sports cars and four-door sedans. The company also sells electric powertrain systems to Daimier AG for many of their vehicles.
They loved the systems so much that Mercedes and Toyota, two companies held by Daimier AG, became substantial investors in Tesla.
Talk about rave reviews…
Staying true to his motto of wanting to change the world, Tesla’s patents were released to automobile manufacturers “to be used in good faith” in 2014. Musk made his patents available in the hopes of encouraging other companies to advance development of electric cars, alluding to his desire to reduce reliance on hydrocarbons and harmful emissions as fast as possible .
Although he continues to act as CEO of Tesla, a tweet and the lawsuit that followed it, saw him step down as chairman; and, both Musk and Tesla paid out $20 million a piece in fines over his tweet:
Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2018
It was the US Securities and Exchange Commission that took umbrage with the claim, stating it was false and misleading to investors, who the commission thought would be financially crippled by the news, particularly if it was untrue.
Even after taking his lashings and paying out a hefty fine, he publicly denounced the Securities and Exchange Commission on CBS’s “60 minutes,” stating:
"I want to be clear. I do not respect the SEC."
So take that, SEC.
Musk In the Media
It hasn’t just been the man’s innovations and patents that made him a recognized name in the media.
His many and varied ventures run the gamut from hyperspeed travel and AI technologies to commercial flamethrowers and advancements in solar energy technology and implementation.
Some would say he’s all over the place but you have to admit:
He’s getting things done and people are noticing.
Whether it’s all humanitarian or just for humor, Musk has received his share of condemnations from the media throughout the years; as well, he’s also stirred the pot a few times. And considering some of the circumstances, we kind of get it.
SEC Lights a Fire Under Musk Over Tweets and Gets Got
Beyond the open display of his lack of respect for the US Securities and Exchange Commission, he made no effort to hide his disdain for what he called “the Shortseller Enrichment Commission.” (3)
In fact, he openly mocked them the same year by tweeting a link to Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.” as a sly dig to illustrate his feelings on how things “went down” between him and the SEC.
His jabs at the SEC didn’t end there and we kind of love him for it, but you get the point.
Harambe: Remembering a Viral Legend
It should go without saying, but obviously a child winding up in the grips of potentially dangerous animal (regardless of whether it’s at the zoo or elsewhere) is never a matter to take lightly, as was the case when a 3-year old fell into a gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden on May 28, 2016.
Here’s a recap in case you’ve been sleeping under a rock:
The gorilla--after taking hold of and dragging the child around--was shot and killed by a zoo worker who feared the boy was in mortal danger.
Naturally, the situation garnered massive attention and plenty of commentary, with a healthy portion of controversy.
Regardless of the incident and who or what might have been to blame, unsurprisingly, the Internet unleashed a torrent of Harambe memes.
Even Vox had to write something about Harambe becoming 2016’s top meme of the year (4).
Cue Elon Musk’s entrance into music, with his single, RIP Harambe.
Love it or hate it, the fact that a man trying to take charge of putting us into space and who wants to make electric cars an accessible and affordable reality took the time to release a rap song about the fallen gorilla is impressive.
He clearly has a love of meme culture and a sense of humor, and anyone launching rockets into space kind of needs to have a lighthearted side. Space travel is intense so it’s nice that he can do something like this, no matter how random it might seem.
A Rescue Sub for Tham Luang Cave
Despite any “erratic” communications that might have caused the slight decline in Tesla’s shares and some public opinion that his efforts to help the children trapped in Tham Luang cave in July 2018 was nothing but an impractical shot for publicity, but one thing is abundantly clear:
Elon Musk is a regular guy at heart.
He gets excited. He gets angry. He says things he later has to apologize for.
He’s passionate about helping others and dreams big. Perhaps bigger than most of us can wrap our heads around, hence the many assertions that his efforts to construct a child-sized submarine and subsequent intent to aid in the rescue efforts were all part of some overpriced and elaborate PR stunt.
There was some additional back-and-forth between he and some of the rescue divers. Honestly, it seemed like everyone was invested in helping the kids, but there were just too many cooks in the kitchen.
All in all...
Form your own opinion of the guy, but don’t knock his quest to change the world for the better. He’s given the people on this planet a lot to look forward to. Some of it essential, some practical, and some just for kicks; but it’s the thought that counts, ultimately.
When you're someone like Elon Musk who puts a lot of thought into what he does, that’s certainly saying something.