What I learned from Elon Musk

Elon MuskI have a new entrepreneurial crush.

A few weeks ago I started researching Elon Musk and was amazed at what I learned.

Although the 41 year old entrepreneur is well know in the US many people in Europe have still not heard of him.

And this is despite the fact that he is the model for the Tony Stark character in the Iron Man films!

So who is Elon Musk?

Here is a guy who played a key role at the start of Paypal but when he left with $67 million instead of simply living the high life he decided to do something he really cared about – to help get the human race to Mars.

SpaceXSo he founded SpaceX with his own money and set out about revolutionising space travel.

His aim initially is to dramatically reduce the cost of space travel. He has created a prototype of a rocket that instead of disposing of large components such as fuel tanks after one flight, will be fully reusable and will land vertically back on its base (it’s worth searching YouTube to see it!)

SpaceX has already been awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract and is flying supplies to the International Space Station, replacing the Space Shuttle.

His long term aim is to get a human to Mars within twenty years. Elon has said he’d like to go live there himself one day – “I would like to die on Mars… Just not on impact.”


TeslaAside from Space X, he is also chief product architect of Tesla Motors, the company transforming the motor industry with its electric cars.

The new Tesla model D announced last week is an all-electric car that will match the 3.2 second 0 to 60 mph time of the McLaren F1. As Elon puts it, “This car is nuts. It’s like taking off from a carrier deck.” And yet it can still drive 275 miles on one charge.

The car will automatically avoid danger and almost drive itself. When you want to go for a drive, you’ll be able to summon the car to pick you up autonomously (as long as you’re on private property where it doesn’t contravene any laws).

What is Elon like as a person?

When I first read of these remarkable achievements I found it hard to believe that one person could play a key role in so many important ventures. For a moment I felt jealous. I actually assumed I wouldn’t like him.

But I went and found some videos of him speaking and instead of finding him to be some cocky, arrogant guy, I found an introverted man who is awkward on camera and cautious in speaking.

And that just made me like him more!

Then I watched him explain how he chose his projects. The interviewer asked him “Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla – how did you choose these very different projects?” and his answer blew me away.

“When I was in college I thought which areas would most affect the future of humanity and the 3 areas were the internet, sustainable energy and space exploration” – and so that’s where he aimed his work.

Who thinks like that? I mean seriously!

Not many of us choose our career by where we can have the most impact on the human race. And I’m guessing you didn’t get much careers advice during your life to date that was aimed at that level.

But maybe we can all learn something from Elon here.

We can’t all have his intelligence (or even his work ethic) but we can dare to dream a little bigger. To think not just about our immediate concerns of income but also the impact we want to have.

And before you start thinking you can never act on the same scale as Elon, remember that he started small just like everybody else.

From small acorns…

Elon didn’t start out with enormous ventures. Inspired by the success of Netscape, he dropped out of Stanford in 1995 with a vague idea to start an internet company. He had $2000 in the bank, a car, and a computer.

His brother and a friend joined him and they rented a small office with a leaky roof for $400 a month. And because he couldn’t afford an apartment as well as the office he lived in the dank office.

Together they created Zip2, a simple little idea to take the contents of a business directory CDROM and combine them with some mapping software made by another company. The result was the web’s first yellow pages. Zip2’s customers were newspapers who wanted to put maps and directions on their websites. Some years later they sold the company to Compaq and Elon’s share was the seed for his future ventures.

So I can’t help feel inspired by Elon Musk. His focus is on doing what he considers most important for humanity and he still creates incredible success for himself along the way. On top of this he has the ability to start where he can, follow through to produce results, and build on them to do something bigger.

What inspiration do you take from Elon? Or do you have another favourite entrepreneur or visionary as your inspiration? What could you do, even if it’s small, that you care enough about to follow through on?

Leave a comment and let me know…

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