Elon Musk, for those who don’t know the name, went to Silicon Valley in 1995 and dived into the dot com start-up business. One of his creations was Pay-Pal. He and a partner built and then sold the company to eBay for 1.5 billion. That’s the boring part of the story. It gets better. He didn’t retire or build another dot com. He decided to put his money and brain power towards bigger, more interesting challenges. He went on to create a revolutionary electric car company and then he commercialized space travel.
There are a lot of entrepreneurs who are knowledgable but not intelligent. Elon Musk is not one of them. He isn’t just lucky. He isn’t just book smart. His story proves it. He has had success in multiple industries. He has a personal vision that does not heed to criticism. He’s ventured into uncharted territory time and time again, and found success each time.
In my opinion, a lot of successful people are just experts in their field. Society often mistakes successful experts as intelligent when they’re just knowledgable. They’re of average intelligence and above average experience. But without brilliance, these entrepreneurs and CEOs are destined to do nothing brilliant. They maintain the status quo or innovate incrementally. They do not venture into the unknown. Uncharted territory doesn’t call to them, it scares them. That is not the case with Elon Musk. Very rarely does a story of success have so much to do with intelligence and so little to do with luck.
The Elon Musk Story, Post Fortune:
Instead of buying a hundred sports cars with his PayPal fortune, he decided to build his own. Musk started Tesla motors. At Tesla he went on to invent stylish, fast cars propelled by the roaring power of V-12 combustion engines. Wait, no, that’s not right. I meant quiet, electric engines that go 300-400 miles on a single charge. I meant quiet, fast, beautiful cars powered by big batteries. He built cars that go zero to sixty as fast as a cars with V-12 combustion engines. Faster actually. Zero to sixty in 4.0 seconds, practically running on a Duracell. If the Duracell Bunny could drive, he’d drive a Tesla. The very first Tesla vehicle looked like this:
They Said He Couldn’t. He Didn’t Give a Shit.
Musk was criticized for adding this electric, high cost sports car to the long list of sports cars. What was the point of adding one more fast car to the ranks of Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Aston Martin? Well, it was actually the first step of a grand plan to take America electric.
His long term goal wasn’t to get Tesla cars into every sports car enthusiasts driveway. From day one his goal was to get his electric cars into everyone’s driveway.
Yet there was no technology to build an entirely electric car that could travel long distances, never-mind at a reasonable price. He knew the technology couldn’t be built with government grants alone. If it was going to happen, it needed to be done in an economically viable way. Someone had to foot the bill and very few people would have bought a $109,000 electric sedan. But if your electric motor can drive as fast a Porsche, why not put a sports car body on your electric engine and sell it to the guy who was going to buy the Porsche? So that’s what he did and it worked. It funded the start-up costs and the R&D for to build a new model that’s 35% cheaper. It’s called the Model S.
It starts at $72,000 instead of $109,000. With a federal tax credit of $7,500 in most states, the base is closer to 65k. A few states offer up to $15,000 off, reducing the price tag to 57k. The better price and four door design makes it more practical for day to day use, broadening its target market. The Model S was step two of three.
Musk’s three step plan:
- Step 1: Sell a small volume of cars at high prices and fund early development
- Step 2: Sell a moderate amount of cars at a moderate price and fund efforts to refine the tech & reduce cost
- Step 3: Low price, high volume. America goes electric
It all these steps actually happen, Tesla will become two things. First, they will grow to become a major car manufacturer. Maybe THE dominant car manufacturer. Second, Tesla will forever be the company that changed the automobile industry and solved the auto emissions problem. And that’s a priority for Musk. He takes global warming seriously and wants to be part of the solution. In addition to Tesla, he is also the chairman of SolarCity, a company that provides solar powered charging stations for electric cars. The existing solar charging stations for Tesla cars are free of cost to Tesla car owners.
How do you go from building an online financial billing company, PayPal, to building electric cars? How do you tackle a problem that Ford, GM, and Toyota have all failed to solve? Musk says “you have to think about things without analogy.”
Surrounded by Products of Conservative Thinking
It isn’t about what other people are doing You have to do a broad assessment of the situation and ask what’s possible. You don’t want to inhibit your ideas by looking at what other people are doing. That’s important to understand. Our industries are filled with large companies that avoid risk. We’re surrounded by products of conservative thinking. Using them as a baseline will hold us back. Remember that the CEOs of large corporations are usually corporate ladder climbers. They aren’t entrepreneurs. After decades climbing the corporate ladder, their careers have fostered conservative thinking. They are professionals at bringing incremental innovation. They mitigate risk because shareholders don’t like risk. All this adds up to mean that our world is filled with lots of leaders and workers who think small. So don’t look at what everyone else is doing. Ask what’s possible.
Tesla is a good example of avoiding incremental thinking and instead asking what’s possible. But a better example would be SpaceX. Commercial space flight didn’t seem economically viable until Elon Musk decided it was. It was a rough start. The first three SpaceX missions were a failure. The fourth attempt came very close to being the last attempt. They were out of money. Musk had risked his entire fortune from PayPal. He was literally broke… except he had one rocket. That last rocket didn’t just launch, it had a perfect flight. Now SpaceX can get cargo into space for a fraction of what NASA could do it for. They’ve resupplied the International Space Station a handful of times already. All at a fraction of the normal cost, whil generating profits as a private business. As a result, NASA is shuttering its International Space Station (ISS) resupply program. NASA is willing to depend on Musk’s company to resupply the ISS; it’s just as reliable and much cheaper.
Did Boeing figure out economical space flight? Did AirBus figure this out? Of course not. Despite their vast resources of experts who were more qualified than Musk to design space-going aircraft, neither company was willing to take on the risk. Instead, they left innovating space flight up to the guy who started PayPal. True intelligence… it is different. It is restless. It is full of ideas, energy, and the practicality required to build those ideas into existence. True intelligence looks nothing like the corporate ladder climbers who run our corporations. They are run by pale shadows of once ambitious men.
4 Second, Battery Powered Sports Cars… Revolutionary Space Flight… What’s Next?
Public transportation. Battery powered city buses? Not quite. Specifically, he’s talking about building a tube and capsule system that travels at supersonic speeds. Although Musk has become an expert on the future of transportation, his advice is not being heeded when it comes to designing the future of public transit. California is going to spend about 65 billion building a high speed rail that Musk says is one of the slowest and most expensive in the world. Recently he published a 57 page paper explaining, in detail, the viability of his high speed capsule system.
It is safer, greener, and cheaper. Did I mention it would be faster too? Much, much faster. It would be five times faster and five times cheaper. Unfortunately, his idea will not be implemented and the rail probably will. Government. )-:
I don’t find most successful people very impressive. You can call me bitter but I don’t think my lack of respect for most rich people is out of jealousy. I look at the resources available to CEOs running billion dollar companies and see that they are often doing nothing revolutionary. It seems to me that boards should, in these cases, for the sake of clarity, get rid of the CEO title and make the head of the company the COO. They’re operators. They’re incremental risk takers. They are embarrassments. So when I come across men of true brilliance and modern day courage, I like to stand in awe for just a short moment in time.
A few cool videos where Elon Musk shares his story and thoughts:
Read more about Tesla:
You can read all about the Model S on the website at: http://www.teslamotors.com/models/design
Ranked safest car… ever: http://wordpress.com/#!/read/following/
“Of note, during validation of Model S roof crush protection at an independent commercial facility, the testing machine failed at just above 4 g’s. While the exact number is uncertain due to Model S breaking the testing machine, what this means is that at least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner’s car without the roof caving in.”
Read more about the Hyper Loop: