The Early Days of Elon Musk

Behind the scenes of a visionary.

Elon Musk at the 2015 Tesla Motors Annual Meeting. Credit to Steve Jurvetson.

What makes you a visionary? The story of Elon Musk is beyond just a desire to go to Mars. He has big beliefs and achievements. His early life made his vision for the future possible.

In Elon Musk: Tesla, Space X, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance writes a compelling account of Elon Musk’s life and achievements. The biography succeeds by maintaining an enthusiastic but critical tone.

Vance defines Musk’s vision very well as a strategic focus on “the aerospace, automotive, and solar industries.” Musk connects these industries together. Innovations in solar and batteries can help electric cars, for example.

The interdisciplinary vision of Elon Musk is a throwback to his diverse youth. He had an incredible mind for science, numbers, and engineering. But, he also cultivated himself as a visionary. He read constantly as a child and teenager.

He read for hours and hours, up to 10 hours a day. He read science fiction like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, books that sparked his imagination for space exploration.

The genius of Musk was evident in his photographic memory. He read two encyclopedias and could recite facts about obscure subjects.

In his younger years, Musk believed that America would be his destination. Stories of Silicon Valley attracted him to the country.

Rather than making perfect grades in school, Musk spent time learning things of interest to him. He learned computer programming languages, wrote fantasy stories, and played video games.

When it came time for college, he moved to Canada to live with family and be closer to America. He took odd jobs across Canada until he entered college at Queen’s University in Ontario.

College was a change for Musk. Ashlee Vance writes that Musk “studied business, competed in public speaking contests, and began to display the brand of intensity of competitiveness that marks his behavior today.”

After Musk finished college, he and his brother Kimbal made the startup Zip2 in Palo Alto, California. The company was an online directory for businesses that also provided maps, locations, and directions.

They boosted the company with cold sales and innovative computer programming. They sold the company to Compaq Computer for $307 million dollars, and Musk took home $22 million.

Musk used the money to start X.com, which would become PayPal. X.com was an innovative all-online bank that would feature accounts, payment methods, and financial instruments.

The company would eventually merge with Peter Thiel’s company PayPal. eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 Billion. Musk made $250 million.

The sale of PayPal truly provided the money for Musk’s future vision. He would take the money and invest in Space X, Tesla, and Solar City.

Space X would build cheaper priced rockets to send satellites and commercial payloads into space.

Tesla would start with the philosophy of making luxury electric vehicles, and it would then work towards the consumer car.

Solar City combined solar panel installation with factories for electric battery construction. It would help Tesla achieve mass production with these factories.

Elon Musk was an early visionary. He saw opportunities in the internet world, and he didn’t stop there. Ashlee Vance’s biography shows that Musk wanted to bring his imagination to our future.

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