Elon Musk – How the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping our future by Ashlee Vance
Elon Musk is one of those people alive at our time who thinks and does what others believe to be impossible. He takes huge risks to accomplish futuristic goals. He never gives up in the face of adversity and always thinks big. Elon is not like any other Silicon Valley entrepreneur who works for fame, money or legacy. Elon is one of those entrepreneurs who risks everything to accomplish the things that can take humanity forward. This book by Ashlee Vance documents the incredible things that this real life Iron Man has done and is doing for the future of the human race. With persistent effort, Ashlee Vance convinces Elon Musk to help him write this book. The book is a page-turner and is flabbergasting to read. It can blow one’s mind and illustrate that one limit is only his imagination. While the brightest minds in Silicon Valley are thinking about how to make people click ads on the internet, a visionary like Elon Musk clearly stands out and excites.
Elon Musk jumped into the dot com gold rush in 1995 just out of college. His first venture was Zip2 that he sold to Compaq for $307 million. His cut was $22 million. He puts all of this money into x.com, that would become paypal and eventually get acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion. Musk put all of this money into three companies -SpaceX, Tesla motors and SolarCity. He becomes the ultra-risk taking entrepreneur, forming companies that would make things from scratch and try to rethink much that the aerospace, automotive and solar industries had accepted as a convention.
With SpaceX, he competes with the giants of the US military and strong nations like Russia and China. The book goes into details as to how he deals with the mess of politics, back- scratching, protectionism, and undermines the fundamentals of capitalism. SpaceX is building low cost rockets that can deliver payloads to Space and return to earth, to be reused. The story of how Musk and his company succeeds in accomplishing that, amidst dirty competition from gun makers and communist countries is sure to amaze the reader. Musk’s Tesla Motors makes futuristic electric cars, that people lust after. It revamps the way cars are manufactured and sold. Tesla is also setting up a network of super-charging stations across major highways in the United States, Europe and Asia. The super-charging stations are solar powered and free to use. Also, electric cars do not require oil changes and other maintenance. Musk and his Tesla is on path to revolutionizing the transport sector. With SolarCity, Musk has founded the largest installer and financier of solar panels for consumers and businesses. The book gives a detailed account of the man, his ambitions, his personal life and his vision for the future.
Elon Musk was born in South Africa. At a young age, he is fascinated by the science fiction books he reads. As a young boy, he takes these fantasies to such an extent that he writes the code for a video game. In the game, called Blastar, one has to destroy an alien space freighter, which is carrying deadly Hydrogen bombs to destroy the planet. He has such thoughts when he is just fourteen years old. By the middle of his teenage years, Musk has blended fantasy and reality to such an extent that man’s fate in the universe becomes his personal obligation. This is the origin of his passion to pursue cleaner energy technology or building spaceships to extend the reach of humankind.
Elon has a tough time as a kid. His parents go through a divorce; his father takes custody and harasses him, all while being bullied at school. In his teen years, the government in South Africa mandates him to serve in the military. As he did not want to do that, he takes his mother’s help to escape to Canada. He buys a countrywide bus ticket and travels 1900 miles by bus to end up in a relative’s house. He does odd jobs, such as chopping vegetables and shoveling out grain bins at a farm. He cuts logs of wood, and works as a cleaner in the boiler room of a lumbering mill. He eventually ends up in Queens’s University in Kingston Ontario.
He meets Justine Wilson in Queen’s and they date for a while. The book outlines the romance between the two. At college, Musk is ambitious; he studies business, competes in public speaking contests and displays the intensity and competitiveness that defines him today. Musk then transfers to the University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship. He pursues dual degrees- one in economics and one in physics. To keep his expenses going, he and his roommate organize parties at their house. While at Pennsylvania, Musk presents papers on renewable energy. He also realizes that the Internet, renewable energy and space are three areas that would undergo significant change in the years to come and as the markets where he could make a big impact.
The book then has one chapter each to describe the startups that Musk founded. His first startup is Zip2. It is a search engine for other businesses and a map service with turn-by-turn directions. The book details the journey of Elon and his brother Kimbal, in setting up and running the business. The sale of Zip2 made Elon a millionaire and infused the confidence in him to innovate in the banking industry. He then founds X.com, a web based payment service. The company eventually merges with a competitor and becomes PayPal. The book then details the happenings at PayPal. It gives an account of how investors, partners and loyal employees treated Musk. Musk marries Justine Wilson. The board of PayPal replace Musk with Peter Theil as CEO when Musk is on his much-awaited honeymoon in Australia. The book provides a very exciting read about PayPal and its eventual sale to eBay. It provides insights to Elon Musk’s character, his personal life and his insane ability to take risks and think big.
The book becomes exciting to read after the sale of PayPal. Now Musk goes on to do impossible things. He starts SpaceX, a space exploration company, aimed at making mankind a multi-planetary species. He plans to colonize Mars. He fails thrice while building the Falcon 1 rocket. He reaches near bankruptcy but still pushes on. He then founds Tesla motors. They build and sell Electric cars. The book gives a detailed account of the people and their roles behind such super ambitious projects of Musk. His personal life falls apart- Justine divorces him. Then he finds himself another girlfriend- Tallulah Riley. He marries her, then divorces her and then they get back together again and divorce again. All this happens while his companies burn vast amounts of cash and drive him towards bankruptcy.
Then the 2008 financial crisis makes matters even worse. Musk manages to save his companies in such times by taking out a huge loan from the US government. The book explains his daring nature, crisis management skill and his never give up attitude. It just amazes the reader as the pages flip through.
It is never easy to write a review to a biography such as this. It is hard to do justice to the personality in a small blog post. However, I have tried my best. Reading a book such as this not only amazes the reader but also fills one with passion and questions one’s day to day activities. Elon Musk is making electric cars and saving the planet, while trying to make the humankind multi-planetary at the same time. Given this context, one needs to question himself as to what he is doing with his life. Read this book to understand that sky is no longer the limit, but one’s own imagination is.
13th November 2017