Musk's innovative and ambitious character can be traced back to his challenging childhood in Pretoria, South Africa. His parents separated and he stayed with his father. He was bullied in school, and he once was beaten so badly that he had to miss a week of school.
Musk found solace in reading and studying. With his photographic memory, he absorbed vast amounts of knowledge and drew inspiration from books like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which emphasized the importance of asking the right questions.
Even at a young age, Musk pondered ideas that could advance human civilization, such as solar power, space exploration, and paperless banking. His entrepreneurial spirit also emerged early on, as he sold a video game he created called Blastar at the age of 12 for $500.
In 1988, he left South Africa to avoid military service and initially settled in Canada to attend Queen's University before eventually pursuing his dream of moving to the United States.
In college, Musk actively participated in public speaking contests, studied business, and successfully pursued a romantic relationship with Justine Wilson, who would later become his first wife and the mother of his 6 sons.
Musk was stood up by Justine on their first date, but Musk found out her location and her favorite ice cream and brought chocolate-chip ice creams to her.
Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania after two years at Queen's. He formed friendships with his physics colleagues, including Adeo Ressi, with whom he hosted house parties and charged admissions, which they used to pay rent.
Musk founded his first start-up Zip2 (initially named Global Link Information Network) with his brother in 1995. They received many rejections before Mohr Davidow Ventures invested in them.
With the infusion of capital, Zip2 was able to hire skilled engineers who improved Musk's code and streamlined the platform, which hurt Musk's pride, a self-taught coder. In 1999, Zip2 was bought by Compaq Computer for $307 million. Musk did not stay at Compaq because he wanted to start his own business.
Musk purchased luxurious items like sports cars and a prop plane with his Compaq money, but the majority of it went to his next venture, X.com, one of the first online banks. Concurrently, Max Levchin and Peter Thiel worked on one of the first online payment systems, PayPal.
Recognizing the strengths of each company, X.com and Confinity merged in 2000. However, Musk soon faced internal conflicts, with Thiel resigning and Levchin considering the same. Musk persisted in promoting the X.com brand despite the majority of coworkers favoring PayPal. Meanwhile, the company experienced technical issues, including system failures and website crashes.
In a significant turn of events, while Musk was away on his honeymoon, executives orchestrated a coup and asked Thiel to return as CEO, sidelining Musk to an advisory role. The company renamed itself PayPal and eventually sold it to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Musk received $250 million.
Elon Musk ventured into the space industry after his 30th birthday. He relocated his family to Los Angeles, close to the epicenter of the space industry, and set his sights on Mars exploration.
He aimed to create cheaper rockets and founded SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) in 2002, with a mission to become the Southwest Airlines equivalent in space travel.
Musk set ambitious and many times unrealistic goals, envisioning rapid progress and cost reductions compared to existing options.
Musk aggressively planned the first launch for just 15 months after the inauguration of the company, in reality it took 4 years. Musk understood that failure was a natural part of the process and remained determined to overcome challenges. Despite setbacks, SpaceX made significant strides, becoming the first commercial company to carry the Dragon capsule to space and successfully retrieve it through an ocean landing.
Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, and J. B. Straubel joined later. Despite facing initial skepticism from venture capitalists, Musk recognized the potential of the project and invested $6.5 million to become the sole shareholder and chairman of Tesla.
In 2012, the release of the Model S sedan marked a significant milestone, showcasing features such as continuous internet connectivity and touchless engine startup. The Model S received many accolades, including being named Motor Trend's Car of the Year and earning the highest rating ever given by Consumer Reports.
Tesla's success was extraordinary considering Musk's lack of prior experience in car manufacturing and the limited involvement of Silicon Valley in the automotive industry. The company's achievements positioned it as a major player in the automotive industry and demonstrated the potential of electric vehicles.
Musk's interest in solar power emerged before the creation of SpaceX, but he initially didn't see a lucrative opportunity in it. When his cousins, the Rive brothers, were exploring business ideas, Musk suggested solar energy. The Rive brothers recognized the barriers to solar panel adoption, particularly the complexities of installation, and decided to provide customers with a seamless experience from selection to installation. Thus SolarCity came to be, with Musk playing a key role in developing the structure of the company, and becoming its chairman and largest shareholder. SolarCity has since become the largest solar panel installer in the US, serving both individual customers and large corporations. (Tesla acquired SolarCity in 2016).
Musk's businesses strategically complement each other. Tesla produces battery packs that SolarCity can offer to customers, while SolarCity supplies solar panels to power Tesla's charging stations.
Elon Musk continues to pursue ambitious plans that aim to transform various industries. One of his notable projects is the Hyperloop, a high-speed transportation system that utilizes pneumatic tubes and pods to transport people and cars at speeds of up to 800 miles per hour.
Elon Musk's personal life has been marked by turbulence and challenging relationships. He has been married three times, including twice to the same woman. Musk's passionate and hot-headed nature has contributed to difficulties in his marriages.
Justine reminded him during an argument that she was his wife, not an employee. Musk responded that he would have fired her if she was. One day in 2008, Musk asked Justine to fix their marriage on that day or he'd file for divorce the next day. Justine asked for a week, so Musk filed for divorce the day after.
Soon after his divorce, Musk met Talulah Riley in London and they got married. They divorced in 2012 but got remarried a few months after. They divorced again in 2014. Musk found it impossible to maintain a relationship, stating that a woman requires a minimum of 10 hours per week.
Riley claims that despite his busy schedule, he made efforts to spend time with his family, having dinner with them and playing computer games with his children.
Musk has been described as tough, mean, volatile, and unempathetic. For example, Mary Beth Brown, his loyal assistant for over 12 years, was fired two weeks after she asked for a compensation increase.
Musk's relentless drive sometimes leads to demanding expectations and even verbal abuse towards his employees. He also sets aggressive goals and expects complete commitment from his team. Musk once berated an employee for missing a company event to attend his child's birth.
Musk's dedication is demonstrated by his intense weekly schedule, splitting his time between SpaceX in Los Angeles and Tesla in Silicon Valley.
Musk's drive to save the human race by relocating humanity to Mars has been the key to his success in the sustainable-technology industry.