Elon Musk

“In the comics, it always seems like they are trying to save the world. It seemed like one should try to make the world a better place because the inverse makes no sense.”

Elon Musk is a serial inventor, engineer, and business magnate. He’s built multiple billion-dollar companies that have revolutionized entire industries. His life goal? To help humans colonize the galaxy. Some even call him a “real life Tony Stark.”

Side view of Falcon Wing doors

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Elon’s your mentor if…

  • You dream of making the world a better place through improved technology
  • You like to think big and you look up to smart, hardworking people who do the same
  • You love to create, build, and design things, and you want to do it to the best of your ability

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future Summary

Here is a summary of Ashlee Vance’s amazing book, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future Summary.

Note that this summary is aimed to teach you the tactics, habits, and routines of Elon Musk. If you want to learn more about his various companies, I recommend you purchase the book and read it. When “he” is used throughout this summary, I am referring to Elon.

Elon’s World

  • Elon is often late.
  • Despite his intimidating stature (he stands at 6’2″), Elon doesn’t carry himself the same way he looks — “he tends to be almost sheepish.”
  • Like everything else in his life, Elon wanted a lot of control over what Vance wrote in the book, and he made this clear in his meetings with him.
  • Elon respects those who keep on trying when rejected:

One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no. Dozens of other journalists had asked him to help with a book before, but I’d been the only annoying asshole who continued on after Musk’s initial rejection, and he seemed to like that.

  • He’s extremely confident but can be a bit socially awkward at times.
  • Although he tends to be “almost sheepish” at restaurants, his alpha-male stride comes out when he’s in Musk Land.

Atatürk Anıtkabir

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“I think there are probably too many smart people pursuing Internet stuff, finance, and law,” Musk said on the way. “That is part of the reason why we haven’t seen as much innovation.

  • Elon demands a tremendous amount from his employees. Some love him for it, others hate him for it.

Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to . . . well . . . save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.

  • He has a tough schedule, working at both SpaceX and Tesla during the week. He often crashes at a friends house.
  • Elon had a traumatic childhood. His previous wife, Talulah Riley, would plan extravagant parties for Elon to help keep him refreshed and healed.

When Musk came into the meeting room where I’d been waiting, I noted how impressive it was for so many people to turn up on a Saturday. Musk saw the situation in a different light, complaining that fewer and fewer people had been working weekends of late. “We’ve grown fucking soft,” Musk replied. “I was just going to send out an e-mail. We’re fucking soft.”

  • Justine Musk, his first wife: “He does what he wants, and he is relentless about it. It’s Elon’s world, and the rest of us live in it.

Africa

  • Elon designed a space game, which was launched to the South African magazine PC and Office Technology in 1984. He made $500 for it.
  • As a young boy, Elon fantasized about space and battles between good and evil.

Red Dragon on Mars

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“Maybe I read too many comics as a kid,” Musk said. “In the comics, it always seems like they are trying to save the world. It seemed like one should try to make the world a better place because the inverse makes no sense.”

  • An existential crisis at 14 had Musk dive deep into religious and philosophical texts. His conclusion? “The only thing that makes sense to do is strive for greater collective enlightenment.”
  • One of the most influential books of his adolescence was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
  • Elon was teased relentlessly for his name, “Elon.”
  • He would frequently go deep into thought as a young boy — to the point that people thought he was deaf.

“He goes into his brain, and then you just see he is in another world,” Maye said. “He still does that. Now I just leave him be because I know he is designing a new rocket or something.”

  • Elon is exceptionally intelligent, and his mind works very visually. He could do this at age 5 or 6. He has come to think that his brain has a “graphics chip,” allowing him to “see” multiple objects and how they interact with each other.

He could see images in his mind’s eye with a clarity and detail that we might associate today with an engineering drawing produced by computer software.

  • As a child, Elon read up to ten hours a day. He could go through two books in a day. He would stay at the library for hours after school, reading some of his favorites: The Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimov, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  • He read so much that he ran out of books at the local library, so he ended up reading Encyclopaedia Britannica, to which he says: “That was so helpful. You don’t know what you don’t know. You realize there are all these things out there.”
  • Elon is just as disagreeable as he is smart. As a young boy, he would point out the error’s in others thinking and in an often obtrusive way. He thought they would be thankful for it, but instead, they loathed him.
  • The beginning of his childhood was quite good, but his parents divorced at the age of 8. After the divorce, he decided to live with his father, Errol. Elon describes his childhood as “not good,” and that his father was good at making life miserable.

Justine Musk, Elon’s ex-wife and the mother of his five boys, theorized that Elon identified more with the alpha male of the house and wasn’t bothered by the emotional aspect of the decision.

  • Nobody in the family really talks about life with Errol. Kimbal, Elon’s brother, describes their father as “ultra-present and very intense.” He required the boys to go to the sites of his engineering jobs and do some grunt work.

When asked to chat about Elon, Errol responded via e-mail: “Elojn was a very independent and focused child at home with me. He loved computer science before anyone even knew what it was in South Africa and his ability was widely recognized by the time he was 12 years old. Elon and his brother Kimal’s activities as children and young men were so many and varied that it’s difficult to name just one, as they traveled with me extensively in S. Africa and sister were and continue to be exemplary, in every way a father could want. I’m very proud of what Elon’s accomplished.”

  • Elon was bullied relentlessly as a teen. He was once beaten so bad that he had to take a week of school, and had a nose job to deal with the effects of his being bullied. When talking to Vance about being bullied, he was visibly emotional and upset — a rarity for Elon. His bullies would go after him non-stop, beating him up whenever they could.
  • In school, Elon wasn’t often considered one of the brightest by his peers.
  • Elon fantasized about colonizing planets in high school.
  • Elon felt imprisoned in South Africa. Once he got a Canadian passport, he was as good as gone.

Canada

  • Elon didn’t really plan out his escape to Canada — he went straight into it.
  • When he first got to Canada, he spent a year or so doing odd jobs, including farming at a cousin’s farm and cutting logs in Vancouver, Canada (a job so difficult that twenty-eight of thrity men dropped out at the end of the week — but Elon stayed put). He had to go to the unemployment office to get this job.

On my cousin's farm in Canada at age 17, wearing a hat on a hat. Check out my sweet hammer…

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  • Elon and Kimbal would read the newspaper and look for people that they wanted to meet. They wanted to meed Peter Nicholson, so they called (harassed) him to meet for lunch. It took six months, but when Nicholson accepted, they took the train for three hours to meet him — and showed up on time.
  • Elon has a tremendous work capacity. He’s said that he wishes he didn’t have to take the time to eat.
  • Elon has a romantic side, which is part of why Justine, his first wife, whom he met in college, fell for him. “He can sweep you off your feet.”

Having moo moo at Moo Moo Gold Coast with @AmberHeard, @CreepyPuppet and @CowanFilms

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  • As a young man, Elon wasn’t afraid to pursue women he was interested in.

“You always knew it was Elon because the phone would never stop ringing. The man does not take no for an answer. You can’t blow him off. I do think of him as the Terminator. He locks his gaze on to something and says, ‘It shall be mine.’ Bit by bit, he won me over.”

  • College was a great fit for Musk. To make extra cash, he sold computer parts and PCs, and he would help people with their computers and viruses.
  • Navaid Farooq, Elon’s freshman roommate: “I don’t think he makes friends easily, but he is very loyal to those he has.”
  • He played lots and lots of Civilization in college.
  • When Elon’s interested in something, he becomes obsessive about it.
  • In college, he met Adea Ressi, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who he’s still friends with to this day. Ressi would stop Elon from binging on video games.
  • Musk seriously considered going into the video game business. He didn’t because he knew he wouldn’t have a big effect on the world if he did.
  • He makes it clear that he had all of these big ideas in college — he insists that you understand this.

“I’m not an investor. I like to make technologies real that I think are important for the future and useful in some sort of way.”

Elon’s First Start-Up

  • Elon started working in Silicon Valley in his early twenties, doing internships — one at a research institute, the other at a video game start-up.
  • He was known to have boundless energy and could stay up all night no problem.
  • He convinced Kimbal that they must move to Silicon Valley so “they could conquer the Web together.”
  • Their first idea, Zip2, would convince small businesses to make go online, and then create a directory of these businesses into a map. Elon coded the beginnings of the website himself.
  • During the first 3 months, Elon and Kimbal lived at the office. Their father gave the young men a small loan of $28,000.
  • They showered at the YMCA and ate at Jack in the Box 4 days a week.
  • To gain traction, they resorted to door-to-door sales.
  • Musk rarely left the office and worked very hard.

Musk asked those first employees of Zip2 to give him a kick when they arrived, and he’d wake up and get back to work.

  • From early on, people would leave their comfortable jobs to work for Elon.
  • Venture capitalists were attracted to Musk’s slavish devotion.

“I think that’s what the VCs saw—that he was willing to stake his existence on building out this platform.” Musk actually said as much to one venture capitalist, informing him, “My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail.

  • Elon and Kimbal would fight a lot during this time period, and an early investor, Greg Kouri, would often have to break them up
  • As Zip2 grew, employees were added, and management changed. Elon was made CTO, but he always wanted to be CEO.
  • The new programmers at Zip2 re-did Elon’s code, as they were more polished than him.
  • Working at Zip2 gave Elon a remarkable amount of confidence.

He watched Musk confront a nasty landlord who had been giving his mother, who was renting an apartment in town, a hard time. “He said, ‘If you’re going to bully someone, bully me.’ It was startling to see him take over the situation. The last time I had seen him he was this geeky, awkward kid who would sometimes lose his temper. He was the kid you would pick on to get a response. Now he was confident and in control

  • Elon demanded a lot from employees at Zip2. He wanted things done his way and done fast.
  • Elon is extremely competitive. During a challenging cycling ride, Elon made it to the top of a mountain despite being in no condition for it.

“Anyone else would have quit or walked up their bike. As I watched him climb that final hundred feet with suffering all over his face, I thought, That’s Elon. Do or die but don’t give up.

  • Zip2 was eventually bought out, and Elon wanted no part in after that. He wanted to be CEO, or he wouldn’t be involved.

Paypal Mafia Boss

  • In less than a decade, Elon went from backpacker to multimillionaire — at age 27.

  • Elon would race his McLaren with Larry Ellison for fun.
  • Elon invested a lot of money — but also kept a lot for personal use and to invest in new ventures.

“That’s part of what separates Elon from mere mortals,” said Ed Ho, the former Zip2 executive, who went on to co-found X.com. “He’s willing to take an insane amount of personal risk. When you do a deal like that, it either pays off or you end up in a bus shelter somewhere.”

  • Elon’s smarts (and ego) led him to believe that he could do better in finance than all the bankers. His next project? X.com — an online bank that would later go on to become PayPal.
  • Because of his visionary statements, Elon was (and is) often called a hypeman. There are arguments as to whether this is one of his many talents — or one of his glaring flaws.
  • Elon gave hundreds of thousands of his own money to engineers to conduct testing.
  • While on a trip to his honeymoon with his then-wife, Justine, Elon was outed as CEO of X.com. Peter Thiel was named as CEO by the time he landed.
  • His response? “I mean, it’s not the end of the world.” He would take on an advisory role.
  • Elon made $180 million after tax after eBay purchased PayPal.
  • Elon is very hands-on when it comes to handling PR, and won’t let any inaccuracy go uncorrected.
  • Although his style of leadership won him many followers, some boards thought of him as a confrontational know-it-all, which made him poor material for CEO.

History has demonstrated that while Musk’s goals can sound absurd in the moment, he certainly believes in them and, when given enough time, tends to achieve them. “He always works from a different understanding of reality than the rest of us,” Ankenbrandt said. “He is just different than the rest of us.”

  • Elon spoke greatly of Alexander the Great to his first wife, Justine, which told her a lot about his character.

At their wedding reception, Justine encountered the other side of the conquering hero. Musk pulled Justine close while they danced, and informed her, “I am the alpha in this relationship.”

  • Justine told him that she was his wife, not his employee — to which Musk replied: “If you were my employee, I would fire you.”
  • Elon once contracted a horrific case of malaria that almost caused him to die and took six months to recover.

Mice In Space

  • By the time he was 30, Elon was tired of the Silicon Valley startup lifestyle.
  • Elon would work until eleven, come home, and work some more.
  • Elon stayed in L.A. because he likes to be where the action is — and the fact that L.A. was closely tied to the space industry also intrigued him.

While Musk didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do in space, he realized that just by being in Los Angeles he would be surrounded by the world’s top aeronautics thinkers. They could help him refine any ideas, and there would be plenty of recruits to join his next venture.

  • He joined the Mars Society, donating $5000 to the society to get their attention. It worked.
  • In the beginning, Elon didn’t know more about space than people in the society, but he was willing to learn. He donated $100,000 to fund a research station for the group.
  • Elon was disappointed with the state of the U.S. space industry — especially NASA. Nobody seemed to have the same passion and interest that he did.
  • He tried to find cheap ways to build rockets (even going to the Russians), but nothing worked out. He decided that he and his group could build it themselves.
  • Elon read many books on the aerospace industry and the physics behind it, and was able to learn what he needed to move forward.

Musk had reverted to his childhood state as a devourer of information and had emerged from this meditative process with the realization that rockets could and should be made much cheaper than what the Russians were offering. Forget the mice. Forget the plant with its own video feed growing—or possibly dying—on Mars. Musk would inspire people to think about exploring space again by making it cheaper to explore space.

  • He specifically designed the SpaceX office so that the engineers and designers were close to the welders and machinists.
  • Elon set’s very ambitious deadlines – even planning to have his first rocket assembled in 2003.
  • Elon had a son named Nevada who died at just ten weeks old from a sudden death syndrome-related incident. He made it clear to Vance that he did not want to talk about the death, as he prefers not to grieve — especially in public.

“He doesn’t do well in dark places,” she told Esquire magazine. “He’s forward-moving, and I think it’s a survival thing with him.”

  • While recruiting at SpaceX, Elon was proactive in looking for top talent — calling top aerospace students around the country to their dorms with job invitations.
  • When you’re working with Elon, make sure you have a clear plan of attack. He does not tolerate lack of information and a lack of a plan.
  • On some weeknights starting at 8:00pm, Elon would allow employees to play Quake and Counter-Strike — which Elon also dominated.
  • Although Elon demanded a tremendous amount from his employees, he took care of them well: “Elon can be very demanding, but he’ll make sure the obstacles in your way are removed.”
  • Elon is very straightforward and blunt with his employees and colleagues.

“The guy comes in, and Elon asks him why they’re meeting,” Spikes said. “He said, ‘To develop a relationship.’ Elon replied, ‘Okay. Nice to meet you,’ which basically meant, ‘Get the fuck out of my office.’ This guy had spent four hours traveling for what ended up as a two-minute meeting. Elon just has no tolerance for that kind of stuff.”

  • Elon isn’t afraid to spend a lot of money on design and aesthetics — he places a large importance on these.
  • During initial failures to launch early on in SpaceX, the company came very close to going under. He never gave up hope, and his optimism was contagious to his employees.

All Electric

  • Elon to a colleague in 2004: “What I’m going to do is figure out the best choice of a high-performance base car and electric powertrain and go in that direction.”
  • The U.S. car industry is notoriously tough to enter. The last, before Tesla was founded, was Chrysler in 1925.
  • The founders of Tesla found Elon as an investor — but he was in it for more than just the money.

“You need angel investors to have some belief, and it wasn’t a purely financial transaction for him,” Tarpenning said. “He wanted to change the energy equation of the country.”

0 to 100 km/h in 1.9 seconds

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  • Elon had a lot of influence over the design of the early Tesla models. He wanted a car that Justine would feel comfortable in.
  • When the New York Times started to profile the company, they left out Elon in a particular article. He was livid about being left out.
  • The Roadster had many delays because of the various features Elon wanted for the car, including: comfortability, a carbon-fiber body, and electronic door sensors.
  • Tesla had many financial struggles early on because Eberhard, CEO of Tesla, was focused more on the engineering and not enough of the financials. Ineffective suppliers were killing the company.
  • Tesla came dangerously close to going under. But instead of selling or pivoting, Elon dug deeper.

“The product was late and over budget and everything was wrong, but Elon didn’t want anything to do with those plans to either sell the whole company or lose control through a partnership,” Straubel said. “So, Elon decided to double down.”

  • When problems popped up with the Roadster, Elon flew to suppliers directly to figure it out.
  • Elon is a headstrong leader — but if given a well-argued, analytical point of view, he was capable of changing his mind.
  • He would do daily Google searches for Tesla, and tell his PR people to fix it any reports that reflected poorly on the company.
  • Here’s an email he sent to an employee who missed an event to witness the birth of his child:

“That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.”

  • Elon would also fire marketing people who made grammatical errors. He could be extremely harsh and intimidate to his employees. But, if you made it through, he would trust you.

Lyons also saw an exhausted, stressed-out Musk spit coffee across a conference room table because it was cold and then, without a pause, demand that the employees work harder, do more, and mess up less. Like so many people privy to these performances, Lyons came away with no illusions about Musk’s personality but with the utmost respect for his vision and drive to execute. “Working at Tesla back then was like being Kurtz in Apocalypse Now,” Lyons said. “Don’t worry about the methods or if they’re unsound. Just get the job done. It comes from Elon. He listens, asks good questions, is fast on his feet, and gets to the bottom of things.”

Pain, Suffering, and Survival

  • Before filming Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr., who plays Tony Stark, met Elon and visited the SpaceX facility. He got the sense that Elon was unpretentious and was willing to get his hands dirty.

Both Musk and Stark were the type of men, according to Downey, who “had seized an idea to live by and something to dedicate themselves to” and were not going to waste a moment.

  • After the release of Iron Man, Elon became more of a household name.

Tom Ford vs Ziplining harness

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  • Justine wrote a blog that kept the public up to date with how their relationship was going.
  • Around this time (2007), Elon had started to have an awesome collection of sports cars, including a: Porsche 911 Turbo, 1967 Series 1 Jaguar, and a McLaren F1. He had become “part playboy.”
  • With big launches coming up for SpaceX and Tesla, the companies would come to face tough times. Elon had to start selling of his own possessions (like his cars) for money to spend on his businesses.

In the first half of 2008, Antonio Gracias, the founder and CEO of Valor Equity, met Musk for dinner. Gracias had been an investor in Tesla and had become one of Musk’s closest friends and allies, and he could see Musk agonizing over his future. “Things were starting to be difficult with Justine, but they were still together,” Gracias said. “During that dinner, Elon said, ‘I will spend my last dollar on these companies. If we have to move into Justine’s parents’ basement, we’ll do it.’”

  • The pressure that Elon faced in business carried over to his relationship with Justine, and him and Justine filed for divorce. Justine blogged about the divorce for the public to know — which caused a PR crisis for Elon. The divorce was described as a “war.”
  • One thing she wrote about which drew attention was the fact that Elon banned stuffed toys for his boys when they were seven.

Asked about this, Justine said, “Elon is hard-core. He grew up in a tough culture and tough circumstances. He had to become very tough to not only thrive but to conquer the world. He doesn’t want to raise soft overprivileged kids with no direction.”

  • Shortly after the breakup, Elon met Talulah Riley at a club in London. They hit it off immediately — and Elon told Talulah he wanted to show her his “rockets.” Riley came to California to live with Elon, and shortly after, they were married.
  • SpaceX first launch attempt in 2008 was a failure that left many employees shattered. The employers were exhausted and the failure made it words — but Elon kept them on track.

“He said, ‘Look. We are going to do this. It’s going to be okay. Don’t freak out,’” Singh recalled. “It was like magic. Everyone chilled out immediately and started to focus on figuring out what just happened and how to fix it. It went from despair to hope and focus.

  • The Falcon 1, on it’s fourth (and possibly final) try, finally took off in September of 2008. Everyone burst into tears when the launch was successful.

“When the launch was successful, everyone burst into tears,” Kimbal said. “It was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had.” Musk left the control room and walked out to the factory floor, where he received a rock star’s welcome. “Well, that was freaking awesome,” he said. “There are a lot of people who thought we couldn’t do it—a lot actually—but as the saying goes, ‘the fourth time is the charm,’ right? There are only a handful of countries on Earth that have done this. It’s normally a country thing, not a company thing. . . . My mind is kind of frazzled, so it’s hard for me to say anything, but, man, this is definitely one of the greatest days in my life, and I think probably for most people here. We showed people we can do it. This is just the first step of many…I am going to have a really great party tonight. I don’t know about you guys.”

  • Despite the success, Elon was still in big trouble financially with both companies. And to make matters worse, the press and Justine were attacking Elon on all fronts.

“There was a lot of schadenfreude at the time, and it was bad on so many levels. Justine was torturing me in the press. There were always all these negative articles about Tesla, and the stories about SpaceX’s third failure. It hurt really bad. You have these huge doubts that your life is not working, your car is not working, you’re going through a divorce and all of those things. I felt like a pile of shit. I didn’t think we would overcome it. I thought things were probably fucking doomed.”

  • The stress was tearing Elon apart. He would have nightmares, attack Riley in his sleep, and would have to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars from his friend Skoll. He also stopped using his private jet.
  • 2008 was an extremely difficult year for Musk — but not only did he survive it, he stayed focused. It showed everyone that Elon was the real deal.

“What he went through in 2008 would have broken anyone else. He didn’t just survive. He kept working and stayed focused.” That ability to stay focused in the midst of a crisis stands as one of Musk’s main advantages over other executives and competitors.

Liftoff

  • All of Elon’s companies take after him because of his very hands on approach.

Employees fear Musk. They adore Musk. The give up their lives for Musk, and they usually do all of this simultaneously. Musk’s demanding management style can only flourish because of the otherworldly—in a literal sense—aspirations of the company.

  • People who know Elon describe him as more of a general than a CEO. He’s not only building companies but an engineering army.

South Australia

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  • Want to get a job at SpaceX? Get top marks at a top school — and have a ton of real-world experience in building things.
  • For the first 1000 hires at SpaceX, Elon talked to them personally — even the janitors.
  • When you have a job interview with Elon, he may continue on writing his emails, not even looking at you. That’s normal. And you never know what he may ask: several questions, or a single riddle.

“You’re standing on the south surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?”

He tends to care less about whether or not the person gets the answer than abouat how they describe the problem and their approach to solving it.

  • The 90-hour work-weeks and blunt communication act as a filter for new employees — many can’t handle it.

“His vision is so clear,” Singh said. “He almost hypnotizes you. He gives you the crazy eye, and it’s like, yes, we can get to Mars.” Take that a bit further and you arrive at a pleasure-pain, sadomasochistic vibe that comes with working for Musk. Numerous people interviewed for this book decried the work hours, Musk’s blunt style, and his sometimes ludicrous expectations. Yet almost every person—even those who had been fired—still worshipped Musk and talked about him in terms usually reserved for superheroes or deities.

  • Elon and Jeff Bezos have developed a bit of a rivalry. Elon on Bezos: “I do think Bezos has an insatiable desire to be King Bezos,” Musk said. He has a relentless work ethic and wants to kill everything in e-commerce. But he’s not the most fun guy, honestly.”
  • People who know Elon rave about his ability to learn enormous amounts of information, and recall it flawlessly.
  • Elon always works fast, and is always in a hurry. And he’s able to make very important decisions very quickly.

It’s amazing to watch the amount of knowledge he has accumulated over the years. I don’t want to be the person who ever has to compete with Elon. You might as well leave the business and find something else fun to do. He will outmaneuver you, outthink you, and out-execute you.

  • Elon once banned the use of made-up acronyms at SpaceX.
  • Want Elon to blow up on you? Tell him something is impossible. He’ll fire you, replace you, and still get it done.
  • Elon is not afraid of calling very intelligent, high-ranking government officials that they are idiots.

“Life with Elon is like being in a very intimate married couple. He can be so gentle and loyal and then really hard on people when it isn’t necessary.” One former official felt that Musk would need to temper himself better in the years to come if SpaceX was to keep currying favor with the military and government agencies in its bid to defeat the incumbent contractors. “His biggest enemy will be himself and the way he treats people,” this person said.

The Revenge of the Electric Car

  • As Tesla started to grow and hit its stride, there were times where Tesla had to do recalls, for which they received some negative press. Elon uses this to shift the focus to how Tesla focuses on better serving their customers.
  • Elon was always thinking multiple steps ahead when strategizing as to how Tesla could compete with larger competitors.

Just about all of the major design choices with the Model S came with similar challenges. “When we first talked about the touch-screen, the guys came back and said, ‘There’s nothing like that in the automotive supply chain,’” Musk said. “I said, ‘I know. That’s because it’s never been put in a fucking car before.’”

  • Elon never writes anything down. He holds his plans and checklists in his head.
  • Vance considers Elon a physicist at heart and an engineer by demeanor — but he’s no design expert. That’s said, he demands that his products are beautiful and attractive.

Musk, though, approaches everything from a Platonic perspective. As he sees it, all of the design and technology choices should be directed toward the goal of making a car as close to perfect as possible. To the extent that rival automakers haven’t, that’s what Musk is judging. It’s almost a binary experience for him. Either you’re trying to make something spectacular with no compromises or you’re not. And if you’re not, Musk considers you a failure. This position can look unreasonable or foolish to outsiders, but the philosophy works for Musk and constantly pushes him and those around him to their limits.

  • Although Elon admits his timing may be optimistic for launches, he always delivers on the outcome.

Tesla Semi

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  • In 2013, with Tesla’s financials in disarray, Elon needed to make sales.

The severity of this problem had been hidden from Musk, but once he learned about it, he acted in his signature all-or-nothing fashion. Musk pulled people from recruiting, the design studio, engineering, finance, and wherever else he could find them and ordered them to get on the phone, call people with reservations, and close deals. “If we don’t deliver these cars, we are fucked,” Musk told the employees. “So, I don’t care what job you were doing. Your new job is delivering cars.”

  • The situation got so bad, that Elon was planning to sell it to Google. They even had lawyers working on the acquisition. But within a few weeks, Elon’s engineers has sold a huge amount of cars. They posted their first-ever profit as a public company, causing their shares to shoot up, and help them pay off a $465 million dollar loan from the government. After all of this, there were no more talks about selling the company.
  • Like Apple, Elon sold customers on the lifestyle — an image, and feeling that they were tapping into the future with his cars.

The Unified Field Theory of Elon Musk

  • Elon frequents Burning Man — and he once climbed a thirty-foot high dancing pole that most people failed to climb. Despite his awkward climbing form, he was one of the few who succeeded.
  • Elon’s companies aren’t just business opportunities — they represent different views of the world.
  • Peter Thiel on Elon:

“To the extent that the world still doubts Elon, I think it’s a reflection on the insanity of the world and not on the supposed insanity of Elon.”

  • Each of Elon’s businesses are interconnected. Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX all create products that help each other.

  • Despite his success and the turmoil he’s overcome, Elon is still willing to risk it all.

Musk’s ultimate goal, though, remains turning humans into an interplanetary species. This may sound silly to some, but there can be no doubt that this is Musk’s raison d’être. Musk has decided that man’s survival depends on setting up another colony on another planet and that he should dedicate his life to making this happen.

  • Ashlee Vance, the author of Musk’s biography, believes by 2025 SpaceX will have developed a booster and spaceship that can take large quantities of people to Mars.
  • Talulah, Elon’s ex-wife, claims that Elon wants to be the first man on Mars. But Elon said he just wants to enable other people to go to Mars.
  • Some consider Elon’s biggest weakness his perceived lack of loyalty, and lack of empathy. He was willing to go of employees who had worked with him for years on a dime, and unceremoniously at that.

He’s been known to obsess over typos in e-mails to the point that he could not see past the errors and read the actual content of the messages. Even in social settings, Musk might get up from the dinner table without a word of explanation to head outside and look at the stars, simply because he’s not willing to suffer fools or small talk. After adding up this behavior, dozens of people expressed to me their conclusion that Musk sits somewhere on the autism spectrum and that he has trouble considering other people’s emotions and caring about their well-being.

  • That said, among people who know him well, Elon is described as “warm, funny, and deeply emotional.” If you’re in his inner circle, he’ll protect you at all costs, and seek to destroy anyone who has wronged him or his friends.

Piggyback rides around the Opera House

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  • When talking to Vance, Elon emphasized how long he’d thought about electric cars and space — since he was a child. He believes the future of mankind depends on it.

Steve Jurvetson, the venture capitalist who has invested in SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, worked for Jobs, and knows Gates well, also described Musk as an upgraded mix of the two. “Like Jobs, Elon does not tolerate C or D players,” said Jurvetson. “But I’d say he’s nicer than Jobs and a bit more refined than Bill Gates.

  •  Musk does not practice his presentations or speeches. He wings his announcements — which separates him from someone like Jobs. “I don’t have days to practice. I’ve got to give impromptu talks, and the results may vary.”
  • Elon frequently meets with the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, to discuss his plans for the future.
  • Musk is bothered by the fact that his children won’t suffer like he did during childhood. His rule? They must read more than playing video games — and no Cookie Clicker, but Flappy Bird is allowed (because there is physics involved).
  • Elon says he would like to die on Mars — the ultimate example of soul in the game.

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