Elon Musk, born in South Africa in 1971, is a founder and CEO of the much acclaimed Space Exploration or SpaceX company, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Inc, Co-Chairman of OpenAI, and founder and CEO of Neuralink. Earlier, he was the co-founder and chairman of SolarCity, Zip2, XCom. His estimated worth (as of 2017) is USD 15.2 billion. Elon Musk became a multimillionaire in his late 20s when he sold his start-up company, Zip2, to a division of Compaq Computers. Musk made headlines in May 2012, when SpaceX launched a rocket that would send the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station.
Taking interest in computers from age 10, he taught himself computer programming at age 12. At that very young age he became an entrepreneur by selling the code for a Basic-based video game –Blastar - that he had developed, to a magazine for $500.
After receiving two bachelor degrees in physics and economics, he joined a Ph. D course, only to leave it just after two days, to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams.
In 1995, he and his brother started ZIP2, a software company with a meagre US$2000 they took from their father. They developed an internet based city guide for the newspaper publishing industry and they obtained contracts from New York Times and Chicago Tribune.
In Feb 1999, Compaq acquired ZIP2 for US $307 million in cash and $34 million in stock options. Elon Musk received US$22 million towards his 7% share in ZIP2.
That was the beginning of a long story of his ventures into Space, Solar Power, Electric Cars, hyperlooping, artificial intelligence, and so on. At every stage, he made a quantum jump into newer and riskier ventures. Here is the remaining story.
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 became Pal in 2001. In October 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion in stock, of which Musk received US$165 million towards his 11.7% share in PayPal.
In 2001, Musk conceptualized "Mars Oasis"; a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse on Mars, in an attempt to recapture public attention and interest in space exploration.
After two failed visits to Russia in 2001 and 2002 to procure Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles that could send payloads into space, he realized that it would be far more economical to start a company to build affordable rockets than to buy ICBMs from the market.
In May 2002, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX, investing US$100 million of his early fortune - with the long-term goal of creating a "true spacefaring civilization." SpaceX develops and manufactures space launch vehicles with a focus on advancing the state of rocket technology.
In a period seven years time, SpaceX designed the family of Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon multipurpose spacecraft.
In September 2008, SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket became the first privately funded liquid-fueled vehicle to put a satellite into Earth orbit.
During 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. This was followed by a US$1.6 billion NASA contract on December 23, 2008, for 12 flights of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the Space Station, replacing the US Space Shuttle after it retired in 2011.
On May 25, 2012, the SpaceX stunned the world by berthing its Dragon vehicle on the International Space Station (ISS), making history as the first commercial company to launch and berth a vehicle to the ISS.
SpaceX is also one of the two companies awarded a contract by NASA, intended to develop capability to transport a US astronaut by 2018.
On 22 December 2015, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon rocket back at the launch pad, demonstrating the possibility of reusing rockets and thus lowering cost of space exploration. This first stage recovery was replicated several times in 2016.
SpaceX is both the largest private producer of rocket engines in the world, and holder of the record for highest thrust-to-weight ratio for a rocket engine.
Musk believes that multiplanetary life may serve as a hedge against threats to the survival of the human species.
Musk's goal is to reduce the cost of human spaceflight and to send humans to Mars' surface within 10–20 years. His vision is to establish a Mars colony by 2040, with a population of 80,000. Musk stated that, since Mars' atmosphere lacks oxygen, all transportation would have to be electric (electric cars, electric trains, Hyperloop, electric aircraft). This thought, probably, motivated him to invest in Tesla electric cars.
Tesla, Inc. (originally Tesla Motors) was incorporated in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Musk’s substantial investments in Tesla made him its chairman, and he took an active role in the design of Roadster electric car.
Following the financial crisis in 2008, Musk assumed leadership of the company as CEO and product architect. He still holds those positions.
Tesla Motors first built an electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster in 2008, with sales of about 2,500 vehicles to 31 countries. Tesla products now include its four-door Model S sedan, Model X SUV, and electric powertrain systems to Daimler and Toyota, who eventually became long term investors in Tesla.
Musk believed in building a compact Tesla model that would cost less than US$30,000l, 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.
It is reported that his annual salary is just one dollar, and like Steve Jobs of Apple and a few others, the remainder of his compensation is in the form of stock and performance-based bonuses, which signifies his confidence in his investment ideas.
Musk provided the initial concept and financial capital for SolarCity, which was then co-founded in 2006 by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive. 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.
On August 12, 2013, Musk unveiled a concept for a high-speed transportation system that involved pressurized capsules riding on an air cushion through reduced-pressure tubes. This system is envisaged to be used between the Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Musk assigned a dozen of his engineers from Tesla and SpaceX to his hyperloop project, and they worked for nine months, establishing the conceptual foundations and creating the designs for the transportation system, that would reduce transportation costs between cities substantially.
In June 2015, Musk announced a design competition for students and others to build Hyperloop pods to operate on a SpaceX-sponsored mile-long track in a 2015–2017 Hyperloop pod competition. It appears that the competition is reaching its final stages, and we must be proud that an Indian team has also been short-listed as finalists. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/hyperloop-india-team-including-keralites-make-it-to-the-finals-of-space-x-hyperloop-challenge/articleshow/59375614.cms)
In December 2015, Elon Musk announced the creation of OpenAI, a not-for-profit artificial intelligence (AI) research company.
OpenAI aims to develop artificial general intelligence in a way that is safe and beneficial to humanity and make it available to everyone without a profit motive.
The Boring Company
On December 17, 2016, while stuck in traffic, the idea of boring a tunnel to remove traffic jam struck Musk. He formed 'The Boring Company', which began digging its first tunnel, a 30-foot-wide, 50-foot-long, and 15-foot-deep "test trench" on the premises of Space X's offices in Los Angeles in February 2017.
In 2016, Musk co-founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology startup company, to integrate the human brain with artificial intelligence. The idea was centered on creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the eventual purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence.
At the same time, Musk has frequently spoken out about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, declaring it "the most serious threat to the survival of the human race". Musk had once remarked "There have been movies about this, you know, like Terminator – there are some scary outcomes. And we should try to make sure the outcomes are good, not bad."
However, there is no dearth of criticisms against Musk. Many are still his critics and skeptics. Criticism and skepticism seem to be part of one’s path to success.
(I thank the following websites for the very interesting information on Elon Musk: