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Under The Microscope: Elon Musk

Elon Musk is no ordinary man. 

The Pretoria-born entrepreneur is one of those people that come once or twice in every generation. Why such high-praise? Because Musk is not merely a successful, multi-billionaire businessman but someone whose vision and ideas are changing the world as we know it. 

To say that this man has his fingers in many pies would be an understatement as his restless mind keeps on giving birth to ideas that normalize the abnormal.

Some of you might know him as the owner of Tesla, the car company that managed to make electric cars beautiful, cool, functional, futuristic and …fast. Others might know him as the owner of The Boring Company (anything but that), the infrastructure and tunnel construction company that’s casually building tunnels under Los Angeles in an attempt to
forever solve the traffic problem.

Elon Musk has become synonymous to innovation, tech and disruption – a man that pushes the boundaries of thinking to such extremes that he’s been compared to Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and more contemporary minds like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. A pioneer, a trailblazer, a trendsetter and one of the most influential figures of this century. 

Let’s dive right into it.

The Early Years

A look at Musk’s family background sets the stage and expectations about his potential, IQ and success in the business world. His father was an engineer, his mother was a model and a nutritionist, his brother Kimbal is currently a very successful venture capitalist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and restaurateur whilst his sister Tosca is an acclaimed TV and film producer and director.

No pressure.

Whilst he was surrounded by overachievers, Musk faced his fair share of adversity in his formative years. In many interviews with mainstream media, Musk always touches upon a childhood that was scarred by bullying and the divorce of his parents when he was 9. An avid book reader and a fan of technology from a very young age, Musk moved with his family in Canada when he was 17 and enrolled in Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

As you would expect, Musk’s educational background is thoroughly impressive. In 1992 he transferred from Canada to study business and physics at the University of Pennsylvania, and eventually graduated with an undergraduate degree in economics. 

He obviously stayed for a second bachelor’s degree in physics because…why not? To top that off he went on to join Stanford University in California to pursue a PhD in energy physics. He ended up dropping out from this endeavor as setting up his own company became an obvious path.

The Businessman 

This is where the whirlwind of his business career commences and boy oh boy what a journey this has been. It all begins in 1995 when Elon and his brother Kimbal set up Zip2, a web software company that was riding the wave of the Internet boom. Their main product was an Internet city guide that was tailored for the newspaper publishing industry. 

The company was sold 4 years later for US$307 million with Musk making a measly US$22 million. It was becoming apparent at quite an early stage in his career that Musk was not your average entrepreneur. He was a thinker, a sharp, shrewd businessman that had an instinct for where the market would go.

Fresh off his impressive Zip2 exit, Musk did not rest on his laurels and immediately jumped on the online financial services bandwagon. He was the co-founded X.com that a year and a merger later was transformed to a little company you might have heard before called…PayPal. Fast forward to 2002 and PayPal was bought by online marketplace eBay for a jaw-dropping US$1.5 billion in stock, of which Musk received US$165 million.

Looking at his career at this point in time, some could argue that Musk was already one of the greatest and most accomplished entrepreneurs to ever live both in terms of financial gains and innovation. Whilst that would be true, Musk was only getting started. To give you some perspective on his ability to reinvent himself and push the boundaries, many people don’t even know he was involved in the birth of the PayPal technology since he has done an awful lot since.

Tesla and SpaceX are the predominant brand names people associate with Musk in most recent years. When it comes to his car company, Musk was able to showcase a part of himself that the world was not able to see in his previous business endeavors – the creative part.


Tesla

Everything from the assembly to the actual technology involved in the making of Tesla, speaks to the creative genius of Musk. The cars are providing an experience that is unique and incomparable to other automobiles. The cars can dance on command, they feature Santa Clause on your dashboard, they can filter out adverse chemicals so the air you breathe in the car is as pure as it can be whilst scoring perfect results during crash test ratings

People usually think of electric cars as lesser versions of gas-fueled cars. Musk did not only crash this notion and reintroduced the electric car as an evolution of the vehicle as we know it, but he created a “cult-like” following around his brand. Teslas are considered avant-garde,  the cars of the next generation and have been favorites amongst celebrities and car aficionados.

And then you have SpaceX.

Because why wouldn’t you want to conquer space when you’ve literally conquered everything there is to conquer on planet Earth. 17 years into the project, Musk recently shed tears of joy as SpaceX launched its first Crew Dragon on a Falcon 9 rocket in a brilliant predawn liftoff on March 2, sending the spacecraft to the International Space Station.


In an interview following the successful mission, Musk said the following: 

“The whole goal of SpaceX was crewed spaceflight. Improved space exploration technologies,” he said. “That’s actually the full name of the company, Space Exploration Technologies.” 

“I really believe in the future of space, and I think it’s important that we become a space-faring civilization and get out there among the stars,” Musk said. “And I think that’s one of the things that, you know, makes people excited about the future. We want the things that are in science fiction novels and movies not to be science fiction forever. We want them to be real one day.”

A man who simply wants to bring fiction novels and movies to life. Sounds surreal yet it’s as real as it gets.

In the midst of creating the perfect car for earthlings and rockets that can fly us to space, Musk is involved with fun little projects such as creating…flamethrowers. Yes, you heard right. As part of The Boring Company, Musk produced a limited edition flamethrower called (in classic Musk fashion), Not a Flamethrower that you can watch in action right below.


The main goal of the company though is not to create Iron Man-like gadgets but to solve a problem that tantalizes every single city on this planet – traffic. 

The idea is crazy and so is the execution. Huge high-speed tunnels that shoot cars through them like bullets. You don’t believe us? Check this out. 

The eureka moment for Musk came as he was stuck in LA traffic at the tail end of 2016. He immediately took to Twitter to proclaim the following: “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…” The proposed specs of the Hawthorne Test Tunnel are 90 mph (140 km/h) for autonomous control and up to 116 mph (187 km/h) with human control. 

Musk is not only an excellent entrepreneur and rocket scientist, but he has somehow positioned himself as a modern-day tech Nostradamus. His predictions are exciting and scary at the same time. If the past is any indication, Musk is a man of his word and in order to publicly declare such things, he’s probably in the know.

This CNBC article lists the most interesting and scary of these predictions involving self-driving cars, fast-moving robots and the potential of a third World War over AI superiority.

If you think that Musk is going to stop coming up with mind-blowing ideas, you probably haven’t been paying attention. His latest fascination is related to the human brain. Neuralink Corporation is an American neurotechnology company that basically aims to create chips that are inserted into the human brain and are connected with your mobile phone.

Disclaimer: This is not the description of a new Terminator movie. You can watch the keynote of the Neuralink Launch Event here and learn everything there is to know about the company responsible for developing brain-machine interfaces.


The perfect way to end this section and segway to the next is Musk’s OpenAI project. A not-for-profit artificial intelligence (AI) research company, OpenAI wants to make artificial intelligence open to the public. By doing so, Musk created a data and tech equality, gifting the world the latest and most powerful breed of technology.

He’s essentially removing the monopoly of big corporations creating parity. Moves like that speak to the person Musk is, his personality, values and sense of responsibility towards humankind.

The Person

If ever there was an appropriate blog post to use a comics quote, this is the one. After all, Elon Musk is half man, half superhero.

“With great power comes great responsibility” – Uncle Ben (not the rice, Spiderman’s uncle)

Elon Musk understands that his success and the ways he has pushed the boundaries of technology bring about an increased responsibility on how the masses will adapt and use it. A very interesting The Guardian article outlines the different ways in which Musk is channeling his knowledge, wisdom and money into society. Renewable and sustainable energy research; Human space exploration research and advocacy; Pediatric research; Science and engineering education are just some of the initiatives and charities he’s involved with.  

His ethics and values are not the only thing that shines upon taking a closer look. Musk is a colourful character and his 2018 appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast was a great and rare opportunity to see him in a casual context. Stripped of his business persona, Musk turned into Elon and opened up about his daily routine, views on social issues and outlook on the future of humanity. 

Musk was so chilled on this particular interview that he even lit up a joint, that caused quite a stir, allegedly driving the Tesla stock to the ground

His take on social media shows a man who’s not just good with numbers and investments, but someone with a high emotional IQ. “Particularly Instagram, people look like they have a much better life than they really do,” Musk told Rogan. “People basically seem like they are way better-looking than they really are and they are way happier-seeming than they really are. If you look at everyone on Instagram, you might think ‘man, there are all these happy, beautiful people and I’m not that good-looking and I’m not happy, so I must suck.’”

Musk even discussed what it’s like to be him. “I don’t think you’d necessarily want to be me,” he said. “I don’t think people would like it that much.”

The calculated, meticulous way he expresses himself on the podcast, show a man whose brain operates at different frequencies than the average human. He is calm, collected and knowledgeable on every single topic discussed and showcases an ability to listen and think before opening his mouth.

If you take a closer look at Musk’s quotes during the hundreds if not thousands of interviews he’s given during his career, it slowly becomes evident that he’s a man that’s not just smart, but thoughtful, insightful and grounded.

Here’s some of his top quotes:

“I take the position that I’m always to some degree wrong, and the aspiration is to be less wrong.”

“People should pursue what they’re passionate about. That will make them happier than pretty much anything else.”

“I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”

Here you have it. Elon Musk, unmasked. 

A man that is changing the world as we know it, one crazy idea at a time.

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