Startup Sunday Season 3 Episode 9 (ELON MUSK- The visionary with an impeccable spirit)

The Human Mind has always baffled many scholars, researchers, scientists and philosophers for its sheer ability to think and perceive the unimaginable. Sir Albert Einstein once famously quoted, that “Logic will take you from A to B. But Imagination can take you everywhere”. To what extent this quote is valid can be judged by the way that humans have evolved only through innovation over the centuries. From lighting fire to producing nuclear energy and from making wheels to sending the man on the moon, we have practically achieved a lot as a species. Human race over the generations has been blessed by such thinkers, philosophers, and innovators who have challenged and disrupted their time and have come up with discoveries and innovations that none could imagine then. Even today we have visionaries, who with their imaginative minds cross all the boundaries that bind a normal person, to create a better world for those living therein.

When we talk about visionaries, one such person who has changed the way multiple industries work is Elon Reeve Musk. Born in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk’s journey in becoming a visionary and an entrepreneur started at the age of 12 when he created Blaster, a BASIC-based video game, and later sold it to a Magazine known as PC and Office Technology, for approximately $500. Later being inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Musk believed that the Internet, Renewable Energy and Space Travel would be having the biggest impact on the lives of the people worldwide. This week’s Startup Sunday would thus feature the journey that Elon Musk took as an individual to establish three very different ventures and how he built those enterprises from scratch with a never say die attitude. Such an undying spirit was the result of his conviction to his own ideas.

elon musk

In 1995 at the age of 24, Musk dropped out of a Ph.D. degree at Stanford on the second day and went on to start a new web software company, called ZIP2, an online content publishing software for various news organizations like The New York Times, HEARST Corporations, Knight-Ridder etc. Compaq’s AltaVista bought Zip2 for over $300 million, which made Elon and his brother multi-millionaires by the time they were twenty-eight. In 1999 Musk used $10 Million of his earnings from Zip2 to create an online financial service and e-mail payment company called  Musk acquired Confinity Inc. which was initially a Palm Pilot payments and cryptography company and after this merger, they renamed the company as PAYPAL. After the great success of this venture, EBAY bought out this venture in an IPO for $1.5 Billion, Musk’s share being $180 Million.

In 2002 Musk used around $100 Million from his PayPal deal to start his dream, The Space Exploration Technologies aka SPACE X. Elon’s obsession for space was evident from his BASIC based game- Blaster, which he devised at the age of 12. The company’s first three launches failed which sparked skepticism among many investors. They only had enough money reserved for one more launch; they were almost at the verge of bankruptcy. It was a very stressful time for Musk. But as fate would have it, the fourth launch was a huge success, and consequently, SpaceX received a contract from NASA for $1.6 billion.

The Timeline for Space X as a venture is given in detail as follows:

elon timeline

Apart from Internet and Space Travel, Musk also ventured into the field of Renewable Energy. It was in the year 2003 that he invested $70 Million of his personal funds into Tesla Motors, a company founded by obsessive Silicon Valley engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tappening. Elon Musk then became the major shareholder of Tesla Motors. While everything was going fine for Tesla Motors until 2007, things turned around completely for Musk and Tesla Motors.

Martin Eberhard’s strategic miscalculation affected the transmission for Tesla’s Roadster and the pricing ended up double than what was initially presumed. Tesla missed the shipping dates by a year and it didn’t go into production until late 2008. With the financial crisis looming large over the company, Elon Musk sold his McLaren F1 and invested his last $20 million into the company to save Tesla Motors from bankruptcy. By cutting down staff, reducing suppliers and closing some of the offices, Musk brought Tesla Roadster to the market in 2008. The success of the Model S was huge and it became the most loved car of America by surpassing the sales of all the luxury cars like Mercedes, BMW.

Now a question arises as to what the new age entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts can learn from Elon Musk? Well to answer these questions, let us bring out a simple pattern that is prominent in the journey of all the ventures taken up by Musk. Elon Musk had interests that we all have as children. Back in the 90’s computers were coming up in the US, and it was when he delved into computing and understood it inside out. He turned out to be an “Integrator” who assembled various aspects of his dreams with what he learned about. He taught himself computing and used this knowledge to make lives simpler. He studied science and technology and used it to achieve his vision of a fast car with minimum emission. Elon Musk has failed, suffered losses and even faced severe criticism. But his failures and losses didn’t vanquish his dreams and goals for the future. Elon Musk never seizes to dream big, whether it be travelling to the moon or Mars (SpaceX), to changing the way that we drive and operate cars (Tesla Motors), or creating sustainable energy (Solar City) and changing the culture and technology of the commerce businesses (PayPal), to financing dreams of space travel.

In Musk’s own words, he doesn’t innovate to gain monetary benefit out of it; he does it to bring about a significant change in the history of Humanity. This is the exact perspective that one needs to be a successful entrepreneur and he identified this early on. Until a startup gains traction, it is very demanding on the founders, and Elon Musk decided to take on this path to appreciate the true definition of struggle, hard work and the hunger for success. The one major important distinction that sets him apart is his inability to consider failure. He just keeps his eyes on the goal irrespective of the failures that come his way. This makes him a visionary with an impeccable spirit.

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