“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”
Elon Reeve Musk (/ˈiːlɒn ˈmʌsk/; born June 28, 1971) is a South African-born Canadian-American business magnate, engineer, inventor and investor. He is the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors, and chairman of SolarCity.
He is the founder of SpaceX and a co-founder of Zip2, PayPal, and Tesla Motors. He has also envisioned a conceptual high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop and has proposed a VTOLsupersonic jet aircraft with electric fan propulsion.
Musk was born June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa, the son of Maye (née Haldeman), a model from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; and Errol Musk, a South African-born electromechanical engineer. He has a younger brother, Kimbal (born 1972), and a younger sister, Tosca (born 1974). His paternal grandmother was British, and he also has Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry. After his parents divorced in 1980, Musk lived mostly with his father in locations in South Africa.
At age 10, he discovered computing with the Commodore VIC-20. He taught himself computer programming and at age 12 sold the code for a BASIC-based video game he created called Blastar to a magazine calledPC and Office Technology for approximately US$500. A web version of the game is available online.
Musk was severely bullied throughout his childhood, and was once hospitalized when a group of boys threw him down a flight of stairs, and then beat him until he blacked out.
Musk was initially educated in private education, attending the English-speaking Waterkloof House Preparatory School. Musk later graduated from Pretoria Boys High School and moved to Canada in June 1989, just before his 18th birthday, after obtaining Canadian citizenship through his Canadian-born mother.
At the age of 19, Musk was accepted into Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, for undergraduate study, and in 1992, after spending two years at Queen’s University, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvaniawhere, at the age of 24, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics at Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences, and a Bachelor of Science degree in economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Musk stayed on a year to finish his second bachelor’s degree. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Musk and fellow Penn student Adeo Ressi bought a 10-bedroom fraternity house, using it as an unofficial nightclub. In 1995, age 24, Musk moved to California to begin a PhD in applied physics at Stanford University, but left the program after two days to pursue his entrepreneurial aspirations in the areas of the Internet, renewable energy and outer space. In 2002, he became a U.S. citizen.
In 1995, Musk and his brother, Kimbal, started Zip2, a web software company, with US$28,000 of their father’s (Errol Musk) money. The company developed and marketed an Internet “city guide” for the newspaper publishing industry. Musk obtained contracts with The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and persuaded the board of directors to abandon plans for a merger with a company called CitySearch. While at Zip2, Musk wanted to become CEO; however, none of the board members would allow it. Compaq acquired Zip2 for US$307 million in cash and US$34 million in stock options in 1999. Musk received 7% or US$22 million from the sale.
X.com and PayPal
In March 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services and e-mail payment company, with US$10 million from the sale of Zip2. One year later, the company merged with Confinity, which had a money transfer service called PayPal. The merged company focused on the PayPal service and was renamed PayPal in 2001. PayPal’s early growth was driven mainly by a viral marketing campaign where new customers were recruited when they received money through the service. Musk was later ousted from his role as CEO over disagreements regarding the future architecture of PayPal as a proponent of Microsoft Windows. In October 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion in stock, of which US$165 million was given to Musk. Before its sale, Musk, who was the company’s largest shareholder, owned 11.7% of PayPal’s shares.
In 2001, Musk conceptualised “Mars Oasis”; a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse on Mars, containing food crops growing on Martian regolith, in an attempt to regain public interest in space exploration.In October 2001, Musk travelled to Moscow with Jim Cantrell (an aerospace supplies fixer), and Adeo Ressi (his best friend from college), to buy refurbished ICBMs (Dnepr-1) that could send the envisioned payloads into space. The group met with companies such as NPO Lavochkin and Kosmotras, however “Musk was seen as a novice”, was consequently “spat on by one of the Russian chief designers”, and the group returned to the US empty-handed. In February 2002, the group returned to Russia to look for three ICBMs, bringing along Mike Griffin, who had worked for the CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and was just leaving Orbital Sciences, a maker of satellites and spacecraft. The group met again with Kosmotras, and were offered one rocket for US$8 million, however this was seen by Musk as too expensive; Musk consequently stormed out of the meeting. On the flight back from Moscow, Musk realized that he could start a company that could build the affordable rockets he needed. According to early Tesla and SpaceX investor Steve Jurvetson, Musk calculated that the raw materials for building a rocket actually were only 3 percent of the sales price of a rocket at the time. By applying vertical integration and the modular approach from software engineering, SpaceX could cut launch price by a factor of ten and still enjoy a 70 percent gross margin. Ultimately Musk ended up founding SpaceX with the long-term goal of creating a “true spacefaring civilization”.
With US$100 million of his early fortune, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, in June 2002. Musk is chief executive officer (CEO) and chief technology officer (CTO) of theHawthorne, California-based company. SpaceX develops and manufactures space launch vehicles with a focus on advancing the state of rocket technology. The company’s first two launch vehicles are the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets (a nod to Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon), and its first spacecraft is the Dragon (a nod to Puff the magic dragon). In seven years, SpaceX designed the family of Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon multi-purpose spacecraft. In September 2009, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket, became the first privately funded liquid-fuelled vehicle to put a satellite into Earth orbit. On May 25, 2012, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle berthed with the ISS, making history as the first commercial company to launch and berth a vehicle to the International Space Station.
In 2006, SpaceX was awarded a contract from NASA to continue the development and test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft in order to transport cargo to the International Space Station,[not in citation given] followed by a US$1.6 billion NASA launch contract on December 23, 2008 for 12 flights of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the Space Station, replacing theUS Space Shuttle after it retired in 2011. SpaceX is one of two contractors in the Commercial Resupply Services program, which replaced the cargo transport function of the Space Shuttle. Astronaut transport to the ISS is currently handled solely by the Soyuz, but as of 2014 SpaceX is also one of two companies remaining in the Commercial Crew Development program, which is intended to develop a US astronaut transport capability. SpaceX is both the largest private producer of rocket motors in the world, and holder of the record for highest thrust-to-weight ratio for any known rocket motor. In two years, SpaceX has produced more than 100 operational Merlin 1D engines, currently the world’s most powerful motor for its weight. The relatively immense power to weight ratio allows each Merlin 1D motor to vertically lift the weight of 40 average family cars. In combination the 9 Merlin engines in the Falcon 9 first stage produces anywhere from 5.8 to 6.7 MN (1.3 to 1.5 million pounds) of thrust, depending on altitude.
Musk was influenced by Isaac Asimov‘s Foundation series and views space exploration as an important step in expanding—if not preserving—the consciousness of human life. Musk said that multiplanetary life may serve as a hedge against threats to the survival of the human species.
“An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: an engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct.”
His goal is to reduce the cost of human spaceflight by a factor of 10. In a 2011 interview, he said he hopes to send humans to Mars’ surface within 10–20 years. In Ashlee Vance’s biography on Musk, Musk reveals that he wishes to establish a Mars colony by 2040, with a population of 80,000.
Tesla Motors was incorporated in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, who financed the company until the Series A round of funding. Both men played active roles in the company’s early development prior to Elon Musk’s involvement. Musk led the Series A round of investment in February 2004, joining Tesla’s board of directors as its chairman. Musk took an active role within the company and oversaw Roadster product design at a detailed level, but was not deeply involved in day-to-day business operations.
Following the financial crisis in 2008, Musk assumed leadership of the company as CEO and product architect, positions he still holds today. Tesla Motors first built an electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster, with sales of about 2,500 vehicles to 31 countries. Tesla began delivery of its four-door Model S sedan on June 22, 2012. It unveiled its third product, the Model X, aimed at the SUV/minivan market, on February 9, 2012; the Model X launch was however delayed until September 2015. In addition to its own cars, Tesla sells electric powertrain systems to Daimler for the Smart EV, Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive and Mercedes A Class and to Toyota for the RAV4 EV. Musk was able to bring in both companies as long-term investors in Tesla.
Musk has favored building a sub-US$30,000 subcompact and building and selling electric vehicle powertrain components so that other automakers can produce electric vehicles at affordable prices without having to develop the products in-house. Several mainstream publications have compared him with Henry Ford for his work on advanced vehicle powertrains.
To overcome the range limitations of electric cars, Musk said in an interview with All Things Digital in May 2013 that Tesla is “dramatically accelerating” their network of supercharger stations, tripling the number on the East and West coasts of the U.S. that June, with plans for more expansion across North America, including Canada, throughout the year. He is reported to have a 32% stake in Tesla, which was valued at US$18 billion in November 2013. While previously taking large annual salaries at Tesla Motors, for example US$78.2 million in 2012; when Musk became the highest paid CEO in the world, as of 2014, Musk’s annual salary is one dollar, and similar to Steve Jobs and others, the remainder of his compensation is in the form of stock and performance-based bonuses.
In 2014, Musk announced that Tesla Motors will allow its technology patents to be used by anyone in good faith in a bid to entice automobile manufacturers to speed up development of electric cars. “The unfortunate reality is electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales”, Musk said.
Musk provided the initial concept, and financial capitals for SolarCity, which was then co-founded in 2006 by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive. Musk remains the largest shareholder. SolarCity is now the second largest provider of solar power systems in the United States.
The underlying motivation for funding both SolarCity and Tesla is to help combat global warming. In 2012, Musk announced that SolarCity and Tesla Motors are collaborating to use electric vehicle batteries to smooth the impact of rooftop solar on the power grid, with the program going live in 2013.
On June 17, 2014, Musk committed to building a SolarCity advanced production facility in Buffalo, New York, that would triple the size of the largest solar plant in the United States. Musk stated the plant will be “one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world,” and it will be followed by one or more even bigger facilities in subsequent years.
On August 12, 2013, Musk unveiled a proposal for a new form of transportation between the Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area, after being disappointed with the approved California High-Speed Rail system. After envisioning Hyperloop, Musk assigned a dozen engineers from Tesla Motors and SpaceX who worked for nine months, establishing the conceptual foundations and creating the designs for the transportation system. An early design for the system was then published in a whitepaperposted to the Tesla and SpaceX blogs.
Musk named it “hyperloop”, a hypothetical subsonic air travel machine that stretches approximately 350 miles (560 km) from Sylmar (a northern district of Los Angeles) to Hayward (east of San Francisco) and would theoretically allow commuters to travel between the cities in 35 minutes or less, providing a shorter traveling time than even a commercial airplane can currently provide. Musk’s proposal, if technologically feasible at the costs he has cited, would make travel cheaper than any other mode of transport for such long distances. The system is proposed to use a partial vacuum to reduce aerodynamic drag, which it is theorized would allow for high speed travel with relatively low power. He has estimated the total cost of the system at US$6 billion, but this amount is speculative. On January 15, 2015 Elon Musk announced via Twitter that he would be building a 5-mile long Hyperloop track most likely in Texas for students and companies to work with.
The company ‘Hyperloop Transportation Technologies‘ has agreed to a deal with proposed 75,000-resident solar power city Quay Valley, California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, to build a 5-mile Hyperloop track around the community. Construction is set to begin in 2016.
Musk is chairman of the Musk Foundation, which focuses its philanthropic efforts on providing solar-power energy systems in disaster areas. In 2010, the Musk foundation collaborated with SolarCity to donate a 25 kW solar power system to the South Bay Community Alliance’s (SBCA) hurricane response centre in Coden, Alabama. In July 2011, the Musk Foundation donated US$250,000 towards a solar power project in Sōma, Japan, a city that had been recently devastated by tsunami.
In July 2014, Musk was asked by cartoonist Matthew Inman and the great-nephew of Nikola Tesla (William Terbo) to donate US$8 million towards the construction of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. Ultimately, Musk agreed to donate US$1 million towards the project and additionally pledged to build a Tesla Supercharger in the museum car park.
Awards and recognition
- In 2006, Musk served as a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board.
- R&D Magazine Innovator of the Year for 2007 for SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity.
- Inc Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2007 for his work on Tesla and SpaceX.
- 2007 Index Design award for his design of the Tesla Roadster. Global Green 2006 product design award for his design of the Tesla Roadster, presented by Mikhail Gorbachev.
- American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics George Low award for the most outstanding contribution in the field of space transportation in 2007/2008. Musk was recognized for his design of the Falcon 1, the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to reach orbit.
- National Wildlife Federation 2008 National Conservation Achievement award for Tesla Motors and SolarCity. Other 2008 recipients include journalist Thomas Friedman, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Florida Governor Charlie Crist.
- The Aviation Week 2008 Laureate for the most significant achievement worldwide in the space industry.
- National Space Society‘s Von Braun Trophy in 2008/2009, given for leadership of the most significant achievement in space. Prior recipients include Burt Rutan and Steve Squyres.
- Automotive Executive of the Year (worldwide) in 2010 for demonstrating technology leadership and innovation via Tesla Motors. Prior awardees include Bill Ford Jr, Bob Lutz, Dieter Zetsche and Lee Iacocca. Musk is the youngest ever recipient of this award.
- Listed as one of Time‘s 100 people who most affected the world in 2010.
- The world governing body for aerospace records, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, presented Musk in 2010 with the highest award in air and space, the FAI Gold Space Medal, for designing the first privately developed rocket to reach orbit. Prior recipients include Neil Armstrong, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites and John Glenn.
- Named as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century by Esquire magazine.
- Recognized as a Living Legend of Aviation in 2010 by the Kitty Hawk Foundation for creating the successor to the Space Shuttle (Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft). Other recipients include Buzz Aldrin and Richard Branson.
- In 2010, Musk was elected to the board of trustees of the California Institute of Technology, however no longer holds the position.
- In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, he was ranked as the No. 10 (tied with rocketry pioneer and scientist Wernher von Braun) most popular space hero.
- In February 2011, Forbes listed Musk as one of “America’s 20 Most Powerful CEOs 40 And Under”.
- In June 2011, Musk was awarded the US$250,000 Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization
- In 2011, Musk was honored as a ‘Legendary Leader’ at the Churchill Club Awards.
- In 2012, Musk was awarded with the Royal Aeronautical Society‘s highest award – a Gold Medal.
- Musk was the 2012 recipient of Smithsonian magazine’s American Ingenuity Award in the Technology category.
- In 2013, Musk was named the Fortune Businessperson of the year for SpaceX, SolarCity, and Tesla Motors.
- In 2014, Musk was awarded the World Technology Award in the categories of Energy and Space, winning two of the twenty awards given by the World Technology Network.
- In 2015 he was awarded IEEE Honorary Membership.
- On January 25, 2015, Musk made a guest appearance on The Simpsons episode titled “The Musk Who Fell to Earth” playing himself. The episode poked fun at many of the inventor’s ideas.
- As of 2015, Musk serves on the board of advisors of Social Concepts, Inc.