Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Elon Musk is quite prevalent in social media, news networks, and everyday life these days. His success and billionaire status make him the icon of today’s youth, with some even heralding him as the real-life Iron Man. However, some paint him in a more negative light, saying that he is a jerk and never follows through with his promises. Elon Musk’s story, like many others, is not merely black or white; his life had many ups, downs, twists, and turns to shape him into the man he is today.
Elon was born in South Africa to Errol and Maye Musk on June 28, 1971. As a child, he was very curious and became interested in computers by the age of 10. At the age of 12, he made his first computer software: a game called Blastar which he sold for $500 to a local magazine. He moved to Canada at 17 to go to Queen’s University until he went to the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 to study economics and physics. He then moved to Palo Alto, California, a city in the Silicon Valley region, with his brother, Kimbal Musk, to found a company named Zip2. Zip2 was a service that offered and licensed city guides to newspapers. The company was bought by Compaq Computer Corp. for $307 million, making Elon a multimillionaire. This money bought him an exclusive McLaren, which he would drive around incessantly giving him a bad reputation in the process, but more importantly offered him the opportunity to make more companies, including Tesla and SpaceX.
His next venture was a banking company called X.com, which performed amazingly: so amazingly that he agreed to merge with his biggest rival, PayPal. While most think that Musk invented PayPal, it was actually Peter Thiel who invented it; Musk just merged with it later on. Later, he was voted out of PayPal by its board of directors due to disagreements over micromanaging. eBay then bought PayPal for $1.5 billion, and although Musk was not the CEO anymore, he still netted $250 million of that, cementing his place as a famous inventor and founder.
SpaceX, one of Elon Musk’s most famous companies, was next. He had always had dreams of traveling to Mars. However, his role model, NASA, had no plans of going there on its website. He even tried to buy a rocket in Russia but relented due to unreasonable prices. He researched intensely about the science of rocket building and pledged to build a rocket himself, thus making SpaceX. During his tenure as CEO of the company, he rapidly obtained a reputation of being a jerk and an unfeeling individual. A prime example of this was when an outstanding employee, Steve Davis, was asked to build a part for the rocket. The part was quoted for $120,000 but Elon’s budget was limited to $5,000-- Steve put in 9 months of intense effort and managed to make it in $3,900. When Davis emailed Musk about his accomplishment, Elon replied with a simple “Ok”. Although he may be a great inventor and CEO, he does have his negative qualities just like any other person.
Next up on Elon’s huge list of successful companies he’s spearheaded is Tesla. Contrary to popular belief, Elon Musk did not found Tesla; rather, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning approached him to be the first investor in their new company. As Elon was a large proponent of sustainable energy and electric cars, he was all in on the project. However, he wanted the car to be futuristic, luxurious, and an icon “of the sustainable future” (Adkin, n.d.) and not like a Toyota Prius, which was decidedly boring. Tesla’s first car, the Roadster, was a success in its initial release, but Elon found that the automotive parts for the car were too expensive and everything was too far behind schedule. He then staged a business coup, ousting Martin Eberhard from the CEO position. The rest of Tesla’s history is just that-- history, but Musk did have to use some questionable practices to get it there.
Elon Musk’s other companies are not as large and well-known as PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla, but they are important nonetheless. His next venture was SolarCity, another company dedicated to sustainable energy. He did not actually found this company; rather, he acquired it in a $2.6 billion deal to incorporate solar energy into his Tesla cars. To this day, Tesla owners can buy solar panels for their roofs to charge their car. More recently, he has explored AI (artificial intelligence), becoming the co-chair of the nonprofit company OpenAI and founding his own AI company Neuralink. He aims to create a true brain-computer interface (BCI) to prepare humans and advance them for the onslaught of AI and robots. Another one of his corporations is The Boring Company. He made this one to eliminate street traffic by digging tunnels underneath cities. This idea has received understandable criticism, saying that more lanes do not solve the global traffic problem. Musk said that he would make a Boring Company tunnel between O’Hare International Airport and the Loop, the main business district of Chicago. He then focused on a Las Vegas version of this, with the idea regressing further and further to just Tesla cars on platforms moving across the city. At that point, most people may just take the subway. He has also proposed the Hyperloop concept, which aims to take people across countries and states at lightning-fast speeds using a pressurized tube chamber. This idea seems like an amazing idea until you consider how much it would theoretically cost to lay large tubing across hundreds of miles of open land. This idea was meant to be built by 2020 until the pandemic showed up and shut down everything. For now, Hyperloop is just a long-gone dream.
Elon Musk is a remarkable inventor; there is no doubt about that. His companies and products have been nothing short of magnificent over the past couple of decades. However, it has been shown that he does make mistakes. Sometimes his ideas are not up to scratch, and sometimes he just acts like a total jerk. What we can all agree on, though, is that his all-time goal is to help humanity progress and advance. All of his companies have been, in different ways, centered around human advancement to a better society overall. And, as they say, it’s the thought that counts.
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