Step by Step: How Elon Musk Built His Empire
“The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.” – Peter Thiel in “Zero to One”
In the book Zero to One, prominent entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shares his vision on what it takes to create an extraordinary company.
Specifically, Thiel believes that instead of making incremental upgrades to an existing product or service, a company must aim to do something completely new to avoid ruthless competition. While Thiel has worked with many impressive people over the years, Thiel points to Elon Musk as a particularly successful member of the Paypal Mafia that has gone “zero to one” many times.
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At only the age of 44, just “some” of Musk’s successes include building the world’s first global online payments company (Paypal) and landing re-usable rockets on ocean platforms (SpaceX). He also co-founded SolarCity, which just closed a $338 million round for providing commercial solar and energy storage, and his electric car company Tesla now has 325,000 pre-orders for the Tesla Model 3, which is good for $14 billion in future revenues.
That’s going from zero to one at least a few separate times, with many years in his career left to come. How does Elon do it?
The Life of Elon Musk
The infographic above highlights key circumstances, decisions, and results in Elon Musk’s life. Here are some of the key inflection points that helped him to build his massive empire:
- Elon was born in South Africa to an engineer father and model mother on June 28, 1971.
- Elon read 10 hours a day as a kid, and even read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.
- At age 12, Elon sold his first video game that he coded for $500.
- After being inspired by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Elon decided that his new life mission would be to save humanity.
- Leaves Stanford PhD program after two days to help found Zip2, which he started with a $28,000 loan from his father.
- He later received proceeds of $22 million from the sale of Zip2 to Compaq, which he used to start X.com.
- X.com merges with another online bank (Confinity) to form Paypal.
- Elon gets ousted as CEO from Paypal while on his honeymoon, yet still invests more money in the company regardless.
- He discovers that space rockets are artificially overpriced, and starts SpaceX to build his own rockets.
- Elon gets $250 million from the sale of Paypal to Ebay.
- Meets Tesla founders Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard, and introduces them to JB Straubel. Elon invests in Tesla.
- After having three SpaceX rockets explode while approaching bankruptcy with Tesla, Elon takes action. He takes over as CEO of Tesla and raises an emergency fifth round of financing. Meanwhile, his fourth rocket launch with SpaceX succeeds and a $1.6B contract with NASA is signed.
- Tesla goes public at $17 per share (it trades for ~$250/share today)
- Elon announces reusable rockets that could make space flight 100x cheaper, and promises to also send humans to Mars by 2021-2031.
- Elon publishes the Hyperloop design, starts building the Gigafactory, unveils the Powerwall, and eventually lands a rocket on an ocean platform.
Launching the Falcon Heavy rocket, starting Gigafactory production, selling the Model 3 electric car, and potentially landing on Mars are just some of the things on his future laundry list.
What Musk can actually accomplish in the future is anybody’s guess. We certainly won’t be betting against him.
Original graphic by: Funders and Founders