CEO Review-Elon Musk | Codacious on

Today we review a very special man. I had never heard of Elon Musk until I started attending entrepreneurship school. It was mostly the guys who talked about him and I think one of them even has a book on him. From far, I overheard them saying his business was about the electric car Tesla & Solar City. Fast forward months later, after I had started going deeper into startup history and their founders, I finally got to meet the man(virtually).

One of the key objectives of the series is to showcase Noam Wasserman’s ideology that there really is no one way to describe how founders found companies or qualities of a founder. Each CEO brings different perspectives on leadership, success & personal life. And rightly so, since every human being is different. As described in the Founder’s Dilemma, founders are influenced by many factors such as personal background, external circumstances, security or even control.

Elon Musk a South African-born entrepreneur is one of the most inspiring CEOs I have come across. From a young age of 5, Elon was very intelligent and way above his class or teachers. He had a photographic memory & even read all the books in the library by age 12. At 12 he had already started programming & was even recorded to have one of the highest IQ scores in programming by IBM. His space game that he created with his brother got the attention of many key IT players and he decided he wanted to sell it but of course, he was underage and couldn’t.

Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, Elon and his brother were meant to join the military and suppress the blacks. But they did not agree with this destiny & instead chose to create their own. This shows early on the creation of the man who would go on to defy rules time after time. He convinced his brother to go to Canada with him with the goal of eventually going to Silicon Valley USA which he believed was the land of opportunity & possibilities.

After enrolling for college Elon was still super smart and most of the time didn’t attend class, choosing rather reading the textbooks and just attend exams.He graduated with two degrees, business & engineering, and also met his first wife there. He received a scholarship to Stanford to study but months later, he felt Stanford wasn’t exciting enough for his entrepreneurship pursuits. At the helm of the Dot-com era in 1995, Elon discovered the need to create online city listings directories and move information from newspapers. But without any money, the 2 graduates had to squeeze inside one room and use one computer to run the whole startup. Even showering at the gym at times! Zip2 became a huge hit and they received a lot of interest from many media agencies. Eventually, Compaq acquired them for 307Mil in cash and he became a millionaire at just 28. A lover of fast cars, Elon bought a Mclaren with his first huge payout.

The life in Silicon Valley motivated him further. He felt that Zip2 was a great product but not big enough to make an impact in society. Instead of choosing to retire on a private island and enjoy life like most of us would, Elon sought the next big challenge.He set on to his next big innovation. At the time, there was a lot of spending on items online but payments took too long & were inconvenient i.e people still sent manual cheques in mailboxes. His online payment solution transformed the payments industry worldwide. But he faced stiff resistance from big companies like Ebay. Miles away, another entrepreneur Peter Thiel was also working on a similar product Confiniti. The two decided to combine heads(and code!) and created a more robust platform. EBay eventually gave into the fight and bought Paypal for 1.5Billion Dollars making Elon a very rich man since he was the largest shareholder at Paypal by then with 11% equity. So what next?

Elon had always been fascinated by space since childhood so he started exploring what NASA was upto. He had the ridiculous idea that a private company could bring back space travel. In June 2002, he thus founded SpaceX. Alone! He put almost all of his networth & against all odds, took the risk to invest into an area where none would consider ‘exciting’. He visited Russia to buy parts for his rockets and came to the realisation that the real issue with the space industry was it was dead asleep! The rockets had not evolved in decades & they were very expensive. Being forced by circumstances(lack of money & only investor) Elon had to figure out how to take people to space cheaply. Bringing technology innovation but also cost reduction innovation.

At age 32, Musk had his next big idea. Motivated by the idea to have a greener world, he suggested to his cousins they make solar panels but instead of charging by order, you charge the panels as a lease. Thus the expensive but better energy option was now affordable to the masses.

But he didn’t stop there. The next step was to have sustainable energy consumption. With 3.6Mil he created Tesla and set off to create electric cars.

They built a model that was sexy & beautiful and redefining how the consumers viewed an electric car. Throughout the next 10 years till date, Elon’s businesses have received a lot of awards and accreditation. But he received a lot of challenges & mishaps along the journey. His wife divorced him after a long marriage and 5 kids. The first 3 space rockets failed to launch and he had to let go over a third of his staff as he almost folded up SpaceX. GM brought fierce competition when they ventured into electric cars as well. The bank that also backed Solar City’s leases pulled out. He faced media backlash as Tesla IPO was opened with many disputing any chance of success. He professed how he almost went to depression during this period. But giving up was not in the dictionary for him.

He married a model and even then, had to invest any remaining dime to save his struggling companies during hard times. He had a face off with his Tesla co-founder and later Tesla designer whom he accused of stealing Tesla’s designs and creating a competing car. But as the saying goes, “Fortune favors the bold.” His bug risks and beliefs in his ideas, convinced many including Mercedes and NASA to back him. A successful IPO later and a 4th rocket launch was thus well deserved.

What I like:

  • His curiosity– Most young people don’t read or explore. As mentioned in my earlier article, “there are those who think outside the box & there are those who see no box.” From childhood, he was curious enough to try different things
  • His persistence– When asked why he didn’t fold up SpaceX after his 3rd rocket failure, Elon simply said, “I NEVER QUIT’
  • His calmness- An opposite of Larry Ellison whom we have also covered, Elon has a pleasant demeanour, approachable, quiet but never to be mistaken for weakness.
  • His blue ocean attitude– Beating competition by making competition irrelevant is his game. He’s created blue oceans in every industry he has touched. Refusing to play by the rules set by market or old players & instead choosing the road less travelled.

What I don’t like:

He’s just perfect!

So there you have it. I wish I had discovered this man years ago. But I know the best from Elon is yet to come. He has taught me the need to be crazily convinced or even obsessed with your idea. That success takes time. A lot of time. But if you hold on just a bit longer, you can achieve it all. To redefine what we think the world is. And to imagine what it can be. But even greater, to make it that way!

Originally published at on April 13, 2017.

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