The 30 Point Checklist to Accelerate Your Learning
This is a true story about a boy who wouldn’t accept defeat. The lessons of this story will help anyone who applies them accelerate their learning.
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And now, on to the story…
He had to escape.
His first five months in college were a disaster, so he dropped out. Life as a drop in the small African town he’d grown up in was even worse. The only thing he did have was his intuition. His gut said to leave home, so he bought a one way plane ticket out.
In those days, ordering a plane ticket took three weeks. The days passed by agonizingly slowly, and finally, his ticket arrived. Soon he was in the air and off to Canada with no money and not much of a plan.
Once in Canada, the young man tried to call an uncle who he thought lived there. It turned out the uncle had moved, so the young man had to stay in a seedy youth hostel. He knew no one. Supposedly, he had extended family scattered around Canada, but he’d never met them. With the little money he had left, he made his way to the pay phone and cold call his second cousins. After many awkward phone calls, one second cousin sounded like they might let him stay with them. Before the maybe turned into a “no”, the boy used his last few dollars to buy a bus ticket. He showed up at that second cousin’s house and turned the maybe into a yes. That summer, the young man would work like hell to earn his keep. He had seen real poverty in Africa, and he was terrified of it. That summer he fought to remove that fear, by practicing living on $2 a day, and eating oranges and hot dogs.
That summer, he would work in vegetable gardens, shovel grain bins, and cut wood. When work at his cousin’s dried up, he went to the local unemployment office. He wasn’t looking for a handout. In those days, the unemployment office assigned jobs, so the young man asked for the highest paying position they had. They gave it to him, but it was cleaning out the inside of a boiler room at the local lumber mill.
Years later, the man would reflect on that “high paying” job of cleaning the boiler room:
“You have to put on this hazmat suit and then shimmy through this little tunnel that you can barely fit in… Then, you have a shovel and you take the sand and goop and other residue, which is still steaming hot, and you have to shovel it through the same hole you came through. There is no escape. Someone else on the other side has to shovel it into a wheelbarrow. If you stay in there for more than thirty minutes, you get too hot and die.”
Yikes. When he got the chance to re-enroll in college, he jumped at it. Like a typical young man, he picked the college he thought had the best-looking girls. When the semester started, he kept up with his school work but spent most of his time reading the newspaper. If he saw an interesting local person featured, he would cold call them and ask to have lunch with them. One of the local businessmen he had lunch with was so impressed by his iniative that he gave the young man his first internship at a bank.
So the first two years of college went by, he made few friends, and later most people would say they never noticed him. When he got a chance to transfer to the University of Pennsylvania, he jumped at it. Soon after that, his brother had joined him, and after graduation from UPenn, the two of them went on a road trip across America. It was 1994, and when they arrived in the Bay Area, the two brothers beat down doors until they got two internships. The internships were just okay, and the young man watched the more mature technology companies around him enviously. In those days, Netscape was THE company to work at. One day, the young man summoned the courage to go hang out in the lobby of Netscape. Once he was in the lobby, he was too nervous to talk to anyone or introduce himself, so he left. It was back to his internship.
One day at his internship, a salesman from a local startup arrived. The salesman was trying to sell advertising space on the internet. The pitch and the offer were horrible, and the young man started thinking… I can do better than that. Nevermind that he had no idea how to start a company. Instead of going back to school to learn how, he just did it.
He rented a studio apartment with his brother and they got to work starting an online advertising business. The apartment didn’t have showers, or elevators, and the toilets routinely backed up and overflowed. The two brothers made the best of it, showering at the gym and sleeping on mattresses on the floor. When he needed business equipment, he negotiated and bargained for everything. When he was ready to hire their first employees, he could only pay them on commissions. In his spare time, the young man built a case around their PC to make it look like a custom built hardware product. When potential investors arrived, he would wheel it out on a dolly to try and impress them.
His first investor turned out to be one of the older businessmen he cold called back in Canada. He showed up at the man’s house, pitched him, and the guy gave him $6,000 in cash, and later joined the team. Eventually other investors would become interested. This emboldened the young man, and in future pitches with venture capitalists, he got a bit wild. Instead of leaving it at, “I’ll work hard” pitch, he would look investors in the eye and say:
“My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail.”
For those that don’t know, Seppuku is the Samurai practice of killing yourself with a short sword when you dishonor yourself or your family.
In those earlier days of venture capital, a founder that was willing to say he’d kill himself rather than fail was an anomaly. That crazy saying didn’t work on every investor, and there were dozens of “no’s”, but eventually, he got the yeses and the money he needed.
He and his brother were off to the races and built up their company.
Years flew by, the company grew, and the investors on his board removed him as the CEO. In the old days, this was a common Venture Capitalist practice. Even after being ousted, the young man and their rag tag team managed to sell the company to Compaq. Because the young man still held equity in the company, and walked away with $22 million dollars.
That young man was Elon Musk.
You might think that the rest of his story is a legend, or that you know it well. But do you?
The first thing that Elon Musk did after the sale of his company was plan the launch of the next one. His next company would be a bank called X.com. It would be an online bank, that also offered brokerage services AND insurance services. Musk didn’t worry about perfecting his pitch, branding, or even create a deck. Instead, he called CNN. They were doing a segment about young millionaires, and they chose to film him. On the day they arrived, Musk made sure his new McLaren sports car he was getting delivered, and he made sure to sneak in a pitch for his new company.
On the CNN segment, he would boldy state that,
“X.com could absolutely be a multibillion-dollar bonanza.”
He said that before he’d done almost anything. When the CNN segment aired, he used it and his street cred from the sale of his first company to raise money for X.com. When he was fundraising, the VCs he approached couldn’t believe it. The young entrepreneur who had just sold his previous company was already starting a new one. On top of that, he was going to reinvest almost all the money he’d just made. The VCs jumped at the chance to co-invest in someone with that much skin in the game.
X.com got off to a rough start. They faced thousands of regulations, challenges, and nefarious hackers. To survive, X.com had to merge with one of their competitors, called Confinity.
The two companies tried to integrate, and soon arguments started between the two different cultures. The new company was burning $10M a month, and would soon be out of cash. By this point, most of the team lost their faith in Musk. He’d recently got married and decided to take a long overdue honeymoon with his wife. While he was on the trip, a group of employees ousted him as CEO. When he returned, Musk learned that he’d been replaced as CEO, by Peter Thiel (the former CEO of Cofinity). The struggling company rebranded from X.com to PayPal. During that time Musk had to take the role of mere advisor to PayPal.
Instead of being bitter, Musk checked his ego, and wored like hell to save the company. He even invested more of his personal money into PayPal, and became the largest stakeholder. Musk, Peter Thiel, and the rest of the PayPal team would go on to save the company. They beat the odds, took the company public, and celebrated.
Soon after, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5B. After taxes, Musk had $180M. When he went on a vacation to decompress, he caught malaria, lost forty-five pounds, and almost died. When he finally recovered, he looked at his earnings from PayPal, and decided to reinvest all of them.
When most people get a lot of money, they spend it on themselves. Musk on the other hand decided to invest 100% of his money into things he felt would give himself and humanity a better future. He founded SpaceX (which is an entirely different roller coaster and story for another day). Along the way, he discovered a struggling electric car company. He joined it, and put up the money to invest in their Series A financing. That small electric car company became Tesla. Then his cousins wanted to start a company, so he invested $10M into their venture, SolarCity.
Looking back, Musk commented that,
“My proceeds from the PayPal acquisition were $180M. I put $100M in SpaceX, $70M into Tesla, and $10M into SolarCity.”
Sidenote: He occasionally he had to borrow money to pay rent!
Plenty of people might think this behavior is insane. But there are a growing number of people who think that what’s insane is not investing in yourself or those you believe in. People don’t realize that the motivation they need is waiting in situations where they have to sink or swim. The will to fight and win only comes when you have enough incentives and your back against the wall.
Musk comments on this by saying:
“I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.”
These days, many people have lost faith in the belief that a better future is possible. Many will glance at stories like Elon’s and feel cynical, or think that he got lucky. Others will leave with the idea that, they should be an entrepreneur or that they need to start a company. The hard part is that it’s too psychologically painful for most people to go back through Musk’s story and create a checklist of what he did to build his skills. What’s even harder is to make yourself do those things.
So why is this? One of the reasons might be our factory farm education system. It was created to train factory workers and soldiers. It’s done its job by placing students in rows and ringing bells to get them ready for life at the factory or war. But that’s a story for another day. The point is, what we call education will lead you to obsolescence. What will help you accelerate your learning, health, wealth, and wisdom isn’t mindlessly worshipping or mimicking Elon Musk, or starting a company, or becoming an “entrepreneur”.
What will help accelerate your learning is to break down Elon’s story into a checklist of things you can start today. And remember, he wasn’t born with skills or self-confidence, in fact, far from it.
In school, he got bullied and beaten up. Life with his father was horrible. He didn’t have many friends. Most people thought he was weird or never remembered him. They blew him off, and could care less about the kid obsessed with video games, and electric cars. What separated Musk from every other person society and culture write off is that he didn’t let it cripple him. He did things that required courage in the real world. With each action he took, he gained new confidence, and new skills.
In the early days of starting what would become Space X, his friends gave him a hard time about his ideas. Musk listened, but still worked on turning the idea into reality. He started with an incredibly modest goal of helping to increase NASA’s budget. Then he began attending meetings of the Mars Society. He read the books he needed. He didn’t care that plenty of people thought he was crazy along the way. While they laughed, Musk built a spreadsheet of every component he would need to build a rocket. He compared the costs of building a rocket with buying and retrofitting an ICBM from the military. The latter looked cheaper, so he called a former U.S. Government agent to help him book a trip to Russia. The former U.S. agent thought Musk was crazy. When Musk kept insisting that they meet, the agent made Musk meet him at SFO behind airport security in case Musk was crazy or had a gun. After a few meetings, Musk got a group together to go with him to Russia.
Musk’s plan was to put a mini greenhouse in the ICBMs, launch them at Mars, and then send footage back to earth of green life on the martian soil. He thought it would reinspire the human spirit of exploration and cause NASA’s budget to soar. The plan met reality in Russia, where the Russians called him ‘boy,’ and laughed when he made a lowball offer to buy two refurbished ICBMs.
His small group left Russia empty handed, but the trip prompted Musk to finish creating a spreadsheet of rocket components and costs. Once Musk established that building a rocket on their own was possible, he then began the process of making it probable. SpaceX was born, and their first three rocket launches were failures. If their fourth launch didn’t succeed, the company would have been finished. Even with Musk’s track record, most venture capitalists didn’t take Musk or SpaceX seriously. The only VC firm that took the idea seriously were Musk’s former rivals turned allies from his PayPal days. Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm invested around the third failed launch, and SpaceX had the capital they needed to keep going. Their fourth launch succeeded, and shortly after, SpaceX won a NASA contract that kept the company going.
Musk’s story is one of hustle and tenacity. There will always be defeats, setbacks, and challenges. The courage you need to overcome them will not manifest itself until your back is against the wall. The imagination you need to win will not spring forth until you’re personally invested in your pursuits.
Don’t be afraid to put your back against the wall and invest in yourself and those you care about. Life is a battle, and Musk’s story is one powerful reminder to start from the bottom and never accept defeat.
Here is the Elon Musk inspired 30 point checklist for accelerated learning.
- Be yourself to the point where you get picked on and bullied.
- If you’re interested in something, binge on it, become obsessed, addicted, and then pull yourself out and get clean.
- Drop out of college or drop back in if it makes sense.
- Move from your hometown and travel the world.
- Ask your family for help (it’s the only way you’ll discover how much they care).
- Humble yourself and stay at a youth hostel or camp if you have to.
- Practice living on $2 a day to remove your fear of poverty.
- Cold call or cold contact anyone you need to.
- Become personable and develop the ability to build trust and rapport with those you connect with in person. The real world matters.
- Try many different jobs. If you have to, go to the unemployment office and get started doing anything.
- Get out of your comfort zone, and go see the companies or people you admire in person. You might be too nervous to talk to anyone at first, but that will pass.
- Take jobs that are dangerous if you have to. If you view risk as something everyone else should take, but not you, then you’re a coward.
- Go on a road trip or travel cross country.
- Work and collaborate in business with your family. If you can’t collaborate with them or they only want to drag you down, move to collaborating in business with your friends. If you can’t collaborate with your friends towards a shared goal, find better friends.
- When you’re ready, ask friends, mentors, and investors to invest in you. If you’re serious, tell them how serious you are, and then prove it to them. (The Seppuku commitment strategy isn’t recommended).
- Publicly state that certain projects, initiatives, or companies you’re an employee at will not fail. Cut off retreat or put yourself in a position where you will never accept failure.
- Stop caring about branding and formalities. Care about being truthful and sincere with your words, vision, and ability to make friends that share your mission.
- Invest all of your money into your projects when you believe in them. If you believe in them enough, have your friends and family invest, too.
- Argue with your friends and makeup afterward. If you have to, push to have a friend ousted from their job if it’s in everyone’s best interest. The best friendships endure chaos and emerge stronger.
- Avoid it at all costs, but once you’re generating enough income, borrow money if you have to.
- Generate confidence in your imagination, ability to figure things out, and your ability to create money. Generate so much confidence that if you (like Musk) buy a one million dollar car, don’t insure it and wreck it… dust yourself off and hitch hike your way to meet the venture capitalists you were en route to meet.
- Put off your honeymoon if something more important comes up. If your spouse can delay gratification, and you can articulate an argument, they’ll understand.
- Travel the world, and if you come to the brink of death or face dangers, then fight like hell to live.
- Appear on TV, media, or the news before you’re ready. Watch all the people you thought were friends laugh, disappear, or grow uncomfortable about your ambitions. It’s the only way you can separate the fake from the real.
- Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself publicly. Watch how a single “embarrassing” video, startup, or project is enough to make most people shut-ins or quiet for the rest of their lives.
- Grow and learn so quickly that every six months you look back and are mortified by what you were doing six months ago.
- Learn how to make arguments and use a first principles approach to challenges. Once you establish that something is possible, then you can get to work increasing the probability that it will occur.
- Let yourself pursue hundreds of side projects until you learn this is a hamster wheel to nowhere. Once you learn this lesson, you’ll be able to seize the right, handful of opportunities when they arrive. When they arrive, commit and invest yourself fully into one thing until it’s successful.
- Form lifelong friendships based on shared philosophies, actions, loyalty, trust, and respect. Put those friendships to the test in your ventures. The real ones will emerge stronger than ever.
- Get married and have kids (You can either be Cooper or Doctor Maan from Interstellar). Musk has five kids. Bezos has four. Think it’s an accident? If the first marriage doesn’t work out, try, try again.
All of these things on this checklist are accessible to you right now.
Get out there and do them. You can accelerate your learning by taking massive action… today.
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