10 Lessons From Elon Musk
Eccentric visionary. Innovative leader. Real-life Iron Man.
These are just a few of the ways to describe billionaire tech giant and cultural icon Elon Musk, whose out-of-the-box theories and genius technology have revolutionized the world as we know it. One of the most dominant cultural figures of our age, Musk is largely known for his role as CEO of Tesla—the world’s leading electric car manufacturer—and SpaceX—the most prolific private space organization in the world.
But what exactly is it that has made Musk so successful? In this piece, we’ll take a look at ten business lessons we can learn from the life of Elon Musk. By embodying the traits and qualities found in this advice, you, too, can be on track to your best life and business success.
Lesson 1: Start Early
It can take a while to figure out how to make an impact in life. That is, of course, unless you’re Elon Musk. As a child in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk surrounded himself with books. Faced with distant parents and bullies at school, Musk turned to the written word.
“I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents,” Musk stated in a Rolling Stone’s interview. It was this passion for knowledge that led Musk to create Blastar, a computer-programmed video game the future billionaire designed at the age of twelve. Musk would go on to sell the game for $500 to a national magazine.
This marked Musk’s first true entrepreneurial success—a trend that would continue until the president day. Now worth over twenty billion dollars, a much older version of Elon Musk perfectly retains that childhood spirit. In doing so, Musk demonstrates a single tip best remembered by all prospective entrepreneurs: start early and never give up.
Lesson 2: Take Chances
Imagine this: after years of undergraduate study, you are accepted into a PhD program at the exclusive Stanford University. What’s your reaction?
If you’re like Elon Musk, you may feel the urge to drop out. That’s because the tech ultra-billionaire did just that in 1995, spurning a Stanford doctoral program in physics to start his first company—Zip2—with his brother and mentor. For obvious reasons, the move was quite the gamble.
Still, Musk proved it was a worthy one by succeeding at his first company. Zip2 would go on to establish a name for itself creating online directories for newspapers and cities. While that may not sound like much today, it was quite the big deal at the time—so much so that national newspapers such as The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune decided to work with the company.
When Musk sold the company just a few years later, he walked away with a cool twenty-two million dollars. In just a few years, the now bright-eyed millionaire had shown just why his gamble had been more than worth it.
Lesson 3: Bounce Back From Adversities
Still, it hasn’t always been sunny for the billionaire. In fact, it’s safe to say that Musk wouldn’t be where he is today without having overcome some serious adversity. Nothing exemplifies this as much as Musk’s ousting from his CEO position at X.com.
Musk started the website in 1999 as an alternative online banking service meant to change the way consumers do banking. One of the first online banks of its kind, X.com was performing pretty well, but it had one major competitor: Confinity and its new PayPal service.
The two companies would soon become bitter rivals, with Confinity and CEO Peter Thiel finally agreeing to merge with the X.com brand. This was seen as a big win for Musk, who had sunk twelve million dollars of his own money to start the online bank.
Under Musk’s leadership, the PayPal service began to take off—but those around the young millionaire doubted his leadership. With the company trending downwards, the board voted in a shock move to oust Musk from his CEO position and replace him with former rival Peter Thiel.
Musk’s attempts at reclaiming his position were denied, but that didn’t stop the millionaire from continuing to invest in PayPal and eventually walking away with over $360 million when the service was finally sold to eBay in 2001. With his earnings, Musk went on to start SpaceX and invest in another fledgling startup: Tesla Motors.
Lesson 4: Be Patient
Though Musk is widely known as the CEO of Tesla, many do not know that the billionaire did not play a role in the company’s founding. Instead, Musk walked on during Series A funding, where he would be appointed chairman. Over the next four years (from 2004-2008), Musk would play a dominant role in shaping the company’s future.
During this time, Musk built a reputation as being a tough, hands-on leader with a strict vision. And though this vision helped lead to the groundbreaking Tesla Roadster, at the time the most critically-acclaimed electric vehicle ever, not everyone was a fan of the chairman.
This included CEO Martin Eberhard. Much reported-on email exchanges between Eberhard and Musk showed the two having very different visions for the future of the company. Musk would eventually have his way, however, taking over the role of CEO just months after Eberhard was ousted in 2008.
Since this time, Musk has proven the value of patience. Not only has his role in Tesla helped him become a billionaire several times over, but Musk has turned the car company into the best selling electric car brand in the world.
Lesson 5: Think Outside The Box
As a leader, Musk is known for thinking outside the box. This has helped the billionaire revitalize the electric car industry and send rockets to the International Space Station (ISS). It’s also helped him come up with groundbreaking prototypes that could one day change the face of transportation.
In short, innovation characterizes nearly all the billionaire’s actions, and it leads us to a single realization: you cannot succeed without thinking outside the box. From Musk’s innovative Hyperloop (which seeks to revolutionize transportation through vacuum trains that move at the speed of sound) to his Neuralink corporation which seeks to combine human and artificial intelligence in an effort to save the human race), the billionaire has proven time and again that he’s willing to go against the grain in order to make the world a better place.
Lesson 6: It Takes A Village
Still, Musk wouldn’t be where he is today if he had simply gone the path alone. In fact, Musk’s meteoric rise proves that it truly does take a village to succeed. This is perhaps best exemplified in Musk’s Hyperloop project, for which the billionaire has opened up multiple international competitions where teams challenge each other to develop the best Hyperloop prototype.
Through this competition, some of the earliest functional models for Musk’s vacuum train, which the billionaire states may someday move at hyper-speed, have been successfully tested. With hundreds of participants, the competition proves once and for all that true change truly does take a village.
But it’s not just the Hyperloop that shows this. Many of Musk’s other projects, including OpenAI, make use of some of the world’s leading experts. In this way, Musk has been able to develop innovative and potentially game-changing new technology.
Lesson 7: Skills Matter
When applying to Musk’s companies, you may be surprised. That’s because applications for several of the billionaire’s companies prioritize skill over education. Musk is known for caring far more about what an individual can do (or can potentially do( than the education that’s displayed on his resume. Perhaps this is because Musk himself is the beneficiary of some high-level skills. In fact, this is one of the main ways in which Musk, who graduated with a dual degree in economics and physics, can understand the complexities of automobile manufacturing and space travel.
Musk’s journey proves that skills matter and that with hard work, you’ll be able to work your way up the ladder. Starting as the founder of an online newspaper directory, Musk has made a fortune developing the world’s most innovative electric cars and by sending rocket ships to the International Space Station.
Lesson 8: Hard Work Pays Off
Of course, none of this would have been possible without a bit of hard work. Or, in Musk’s case, a lot of it. The billionaire has gone on record stating that he works over one hundred hours a week. Obviously, that’s far more than the standard forty that most people work. In fact, Musk has called out individuals who work these schedules, noting that you “can’t change the world” by simply working forty hours a week.
The billionaire is also notorious for the way he handles his employees. Specifically, Musk has made headlines for employee memos that instruct employees to simply not come to management meetings if they have nothing to provide. This type of no-nonsense atmosphere facilitates a high-level of productivity across the board at Musk’s organizations.
With over twenty billion dollars, Musk has proven firsthand that this type of hard work pays off. Starting completely from scratch, the billionaire has built an empire that ranks among the wealthiest in the world.
Lesson 9: Plan Ahead
Spending just a little bit of time reading or learning about Musk makes one thing immediately evident: the billionaire doesn’t follow a traditional CEO model. Unlike other well-known tech giants such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, Musk is unafraid to make headlines and break the mold to grow both his personal brand and his organizations.
Musk has proven this time and again by pulling outrageous stunts on live streams, getting himself involved in highly-publicized Twitter wars, and in appearing in some of the most popular YouTube videos of the last few years. Musk’s unconventional approach to business has worked wonders. In a quick time span, the billionaire has amassed a staggering worldwide following and rabid fan club—both of which help to promote his brand and increase loyalty to his organizations.
The effects of this are multi-fold. First, the popularity of Musk’s companies only looks to increase. Perhaps more importantly, however, the billionaire’s ideas to revolutionize the current transportation industry and reimagine space travel look to gain greater traction with the general population. Largely considered wacky just ten years ago, Musk has proven his ideas have merit by since successfully launching rockets into space and making headway into projects such as the Hyperloop.
The message? Sometimes being unconventional is just what you need to grow your brand, your business, and your legacy.
Lesson 10: Sometimes You Have to Make Your Own Way
Musk’s achievements have impressed many—and not just because some of them have been viewed as off the wall.
Instead, it has more to do with the fact that Musk has largely been a pioneer unafraid of making his own way. This can be seen in the billionaire’s The Boring Company, which was founded by Musk to lower the cost of tunnel drilling—a key component of his plans to revolutionize transportation. The company, which was started with a goal of lowering the cost of tunnel boring by a factor of ten, has already achieved significant success drilling tunnels for various other Musk projects.
Through this example, Musk has proven both literally and figuratively that we must sometimes make our own way if we wish to see success. In doing so, the billionaire has proven himself unafraid to rise up to challenges and meet them head on.
The Bottom Line
Few men have made quite as big a mark over the last decade as Elon Musk.
The billionaire inventor has helped popularize the once-dead electric car industry, revived American space travel, and put forth plans to forever revolutionize and streamline transportation. With so many documented successes, Musk has quickly emerged as one of the dominant cultural icons of our time.
For this reason, it’s worth taking some pointers from the billionaire when it comes to both life and business. By following in Musk’s footsteps, other entrepreneurs can gain a better idea of how to manage their startups and organizations. With this in mind, it becomes important to adhere to Musk’s model, as doing so can not only transform the face of business, but also the world around us.