In this edition of Learning from InvENtors, we’re discussing an inventor who really doesn’t need an introduction, Mr. Cool Billionaire with Rockets AND Electric Cars himself, Elon Musk.
Elon Musk is a serial entrepreneur from South Africa.
In a very short time, he has helped revolutionize the way we make and receive payments, how we get from point A to point B, our ability to navigate space as everyday citizens, and most recently, the way we power our homes. Yes, the journey from South Africa through Canada before finally arriving in California’s Silicon Valley had its fair share of twists and turns, but it seems Elon Musk still manages to land on top of the heap.
To infinity and beyond, the buzz around Musk lately has been caused by his advancements with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket – named after the infamous Millennium Falcon piloted by Star Wars’ Han Solo and Chewbacca.
Before heading to the stars, let’s look at the early beginnings that created Musk…
Elon Reeve Musk was born June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa, as the eldest child of three siblings. His father was an electromechanical engineer, pilot and sailor, while his mother worked as a model and dietitian. Elon became interested in computer programming at age 10 and received his first computer, the Commodore VIC-20. By 12, he had sold his first BASIC-based video game to PC and Office Technology magazine.
After moving to Canada in his late teens, Musk attended Queens University before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School for a degree in economics. A year later, he obtained a second bachelor’s degree in physics.
Entrepreneurship Bug Bites
Musk enrolled in Stanford University’s graduate program for a PhD in Energy Physics, but left after two days to join the internet boom. In 1995, he launched Zip2, a web software company, with his brother, Kimbal. After acquiring contracts with The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, among other papers, Zip2 was reformatted into an online city guide for the publishing industry. Then Compaq came a-calling in 1999 with plans for a buyout valued at $347 million. Musk was instantly catapulted to multi-millionaire status at the age of 28 years old.
Just a month later, Elon co-founded his next venture, a company tackling online financial services and email payment. X.com merged with Confinity and became PayPal. Yes, that PayPal, the money-transfer service that’s everywhere today. Global e-commerce behemoth eBay bought PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion worth of stock and everyone’s favorite wunderkind substantially added to his net worth.
Present and Future Endeavors
Musk joined Tesla Motors’ board of directors in 2004 after leading Series A round funding for the company. He became CEO and product architect after 2008’s financial crisis and the exit of original co-founder Martin Eberhard. Since then, he has helped usher in both the Tesla Roadster in 2008 and the four-door Model S in 2012. Both electric cars have transformed the industry by offering affordable options to curb America’s fuel costs. 2017’s mass market Model 3 retails at around $35,000 and has a range of over 215 miles.
From the road to the cosmos, Musk shouldn’t strike as someone who rests long on his laurels when faced with a new possibility. How feasible is it to find a way to Mars for the average American? Global climate control and the idea of an inhabitable planet are pushing some of the smartest minds we have to contemplate strategies to circumvent the problem. It should come as no surprise, then, that Elon Musk answered the call with a new business, SpaceX. SpaceX is trying to bridge the gap between NASA space exploration and Richard Branson’s rebrand of air travel with Virgin. First Musk just planned to grow food on the red planet, but then the thought occurred to him that he could go further – actual space travel.
Space Exploration Technologies, SpaceX, was founded in 2002. It develops and manufactures space launch vehicles, advancing rocket technology and the human imagination in the process. In 2006, Musk served as a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Rocket Falcon 1 became the first privately funded liquid-fueled vehicle to launch a satellite into Earth’s orbit. In another history-making turn, SpaceX became the first commercial company to berth with the International Space Station, thanks to its Dragon spacecraft. NASA contracts followed and Musk continued to hone his process of making reusable rockets to slash the price of space travel.
Back to Tesla, Inc. for a moment: Three years ago, Tesla acquired SolarCity, a solar energy services company run by Musk’s cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive. With that merger, Tesla became “the world’s first vertically-integrated sustainable energy company.” In 2017, it released the Solar Roof, an innovation in energy generation. According to Tesla’s website, “Solar Roof complements your home’s architecture while turning sunlight into electricity. With an integrated Powerwall battery, energy collected during the day is stored and made available any time, effectively turning your home into a personal utility. Glass solar tiles are so durable they [have a warranty] for the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first.”
Musk’s Achievements and Impact
Recently, Musk was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Society, granted by the Royal Society of London. This award is often given to individuals that are deemed to have made a substantial contribution to the engineering science, improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, and medical science. This was added to a long list of others including the Oslo Business for Peace Award and the Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization. This biggest takeaway for Elon Musk is the courage to dare to innovate anything. He starts companies on whims to change the things that affect him in his daily life. A long commute was turned into The Boring Company, with a hope to bore tunnels under Los Angeles for faster travel.
Don’t ignore the clues all around when you’re just living your life. Those are the most impactful lessons and gifts to offer society-at-large. Even if you never reach the level of an Elon Musk, your product could just as easily make someone’s day a little simpler to navigate and add to their quality of life.
Definitely something to think about ….