With this hope, we sleep every day! This was the top line of the first paper submitted by Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, Tesla, PayPal and Zip2; and an energetic, charming entrepreneur who speaks his heart. About his life, career, how he became who he is today is all there – in books and on the internet. Every other day, Elon Musk is in the news for something innovative and promising. Reading about his struggles and successes have been totally inspiring and I have never been intrigued by anyone else’s life so much before!
He is one of those who don’t quit till they get what they want and this has made him a man of rock – ready to give a fight to anything that stops him achieve his dreams!
Was he really like this from childhood? What was the driving force behind this attitude and passion in him?
Surely, the passion and zeal he has are not easy to find. Even the recruitment process to get into SpaceX seemed not-so-friendly enough for an outsider. Hours and hours of interviews, grilling sessions and a final meeting with Musk – the engineers went through a lot. Some recruits quit right after joining because they were unable to cope with the amount of work they had. There is almost zero family life –
It is not easy to be like this and Musk sure wants people like him in SpaceX – people who can dedicate all of their time to build the most powerful rockets that can take the next generations to space – like that!
To think this much and more really needs a genius. How did the genius in him come out? Here are few traits he showed as life tested him at every step –
“The I-don’t-know-it-all, but I-am-good-at-what-I-know attitude!”
Musk wasn’t a great student in school and his childhood wasn’t great too. His parents were separated and he lived with his father, who wasn’t easy on him or his siblings. This did not discourage him – rather it was this that gave him reasons to create his own world, a life beyond imagination for all of us.
When he was 10 years old, Elon saw a computer and he was so awed by it that he didn’t sleep for 3 nights just to learn all about the computers. He and his cousins would often explore things and Elon lead them to several adventures like homemade explosives and rockets. He would create his own chemical compounds and store them carefully.
“Be elastic – when external factors try to deform you, get yourself back into form”
In high school, Elon was bullied several times and it would take him weeks to recover and be back to school. The bullies wouldn’t let anyone be friends with Musk! This hurt him quite a lot, but he only came out stronger after all. Even in class, he wasn’t initially the brightest or the leader-type but was a likable personality who was mostly quiet. He concentrated on building model rockets, bringing them to school and blasting them off during break time. He would actively participate in science debates and loved physics and computers.
“No job is menial, learning opportunities are everywhere”
After finishing school, Musk fled to Canada. Without a proper plan. For a year, he hopped around doing odd jobs making long-term plans in his mind. As luck would have it, he enrolled himself at the Queen’s University where he constantly searched for interesting people to make contacts and this was when life started changing for better.
University was the place to be. He met people who appreciated his intellectual abilities and he got new confidence within him. To make some extra money, he would sell computer parts and troubleshoot computer problems.
“Focus is the key to success”
After 2 years at Queens, Elon got a scholarship and moved to the University of Pennsylvania. He found ‘nerds’ like him and enjoyed their company. He found himself researching more and more on finding new ways to harness the energy and wrote his first paper – “The importance of being solar.” This paper was well-received by his professor who said he had clear and logical thinking. Musk had concluded the paper with a diagram of a future power station that would send and receive information between space and earth.
At the University of Penn, he would often wonder – “what after college?” – and three things came to his mind – internet, renewable energy, and space!
“Success that comes easily is not… Success!”
His quest started with Zip2, which was a struggle to start but the concept was eventually liked by everyone. Except that the employee retention rate was almost nil. The reason being Musk wasn’t a great leader. He was outrightly frank and changed his employee’s works all of a sudden. He would go through their code, change it and though he made it better – this did not go down well with his employees. For a long time, people wondered if Elon would ever make a good CEO.
After Zip2 was sold, Musk founded X.com (now PayPal) which gained popularity too soon and the systems failed to handle the heavy traffic. More frauds started happening and the model was not robust enough to tackle the same. Suddenly, all the fingers were pointed towards the decision-making capabilities of Musk. Instead of talking this out with Musk, a few executives gathered and made a plan to throw Musk out as the CEO and bring in someone else! All these things questioned his leadership, and the media portrayed him as an egoistic and stubborn nerd. This was a huge setback.
“When you know your capabilities, you don’t need a certificate from anyone else!”
Musk decided to do something different – he started thinking about time travel, space, and rockets. This is when SpaceX was born. He poured various cost-effective ideas that can help in future space research and had revolutionary ideas about landing in space. The Falcon I, the first spacecraft was a failure for the first, second and even the third time. The last time, however, it zoomed out with flying colors and what was a dream so dear to Musk had been achieved with the help of 500 enthusiastic people in 6 years. Falcon 1 was the first-ever private machine that went into space! Like someone said – “fourth time is the charm!”
Next in line was the Dragon, which could ship cargo to the International space station and come back – to be recovered and reused! After the success of Falcon and Dragon, there has been no looking back. As of today, Musk is busy setting things right for his two most ambitious projects – the Starship and the Starlink. The former, as Musk believes will carry about 100 passengers in a single spacecraft and safely bring them back! The latter will enable a few thousands of satellites to be placed around Earth so that the entire planet can be enabled with hi-speed internet connectivity through satellites!
“Geniuses are not perfect”
Musk has achieved both criticisms as well as accolades for his works. His decision-making and leadership qualities have been questioned time and again. A workaholic by nature, he traveled extensively, working 24/7, to manage both Tesla and SpaceX, during his struggling period. This affected his family life and he could never spend much time with his wife and children. He focusses all of his energy and gives all he has for his passion – combining renewable energy, space, and internet to build something that will mark his name in history, forever.
“The go-getter always gets it”
With the “Never give it up” attitude that Musk has, his dreams do appear like a fascinating reality soon to be achieved. Three cheers to this self-made and highly professional man, who believes in himself and in the power of science and has completely transformed the way technology works, despite facing all the odds and the wrath of media and family alike! He is a strong man with strong dreams!
Note – Most parts of this article have been written based on the book written about Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance, who has done thorough research and talked at length with the people associated with Elon Musk. The book is not a fantasy, it has a detailed account of the real challenges faced by Musk and how he crossed all of those to become the man he is today!