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Avijeet Sachdev

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Elon Musk: A Self-Made Entrepreneur

Posted: 12/03/2012 9:17 am

Imagine you have built three businesses. The first one manufactures cars that revolutionize the entire auto industry, and the other two further advance space travel. These were just three of the ventures that Elon Musk has been involved in. Musk has been a driving force in Silicon Valley for decades and his energy is still increasing today.

Elon Musk gained his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania with a full scholarship and then went to Stanford University for graduate school. After Netscape, he decided that he wasn't the best fit for their software engineering job. Musk then decided to start his first full-time business, X.com. This small Internet business was a way to accept money through email and keep track of it. It became a success so quickly that X.com acquired Confinity, a company that made a hack that allowed the Palm Pilot users to accept money from credit cards. After the merger, the Confinity founders started working with Musk to build a "better X.com." Musk, alongside Max Levchin and Peter Thiel (the main co-founders at Confinity), helped shape X.com into PayPal, a better service with a friendlier name. The lack of competition with PayPal allowed the firm to not be restrained in terms of product offerings and price. Also, in addition to a startup company that is geared to completely transform online transactions, all technology companies were being valued historically high due to the build-up of the technology bubble in the late '90s. However, PayPal did not face a harsh reality as many technology companies did when the bubble burst in 2001. Since the company was relatively small at the time, the company was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Although Musk's stint at his first successful venture was over, this only provided him with a platform to his next successful project. When asked about the acquisition, Elon mentioned that he built X.com to save himself time, and now he was friends with geniuses, was well-respected, and had $180 million in his bank account.

Max Levchin, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk were all in their 20s while working on PayPal. When the company no longer existed as an independent business, the trio split up and went off in different directions. Peter Thiel took his profits and built a hedge fund named Clarium Capital. Thiel went on to make career-defining angel investments in companies like Facebook and, consequently, made billion-dollar returns. Max Levchin went on to build a company called Slide, a way to share statuses, images, videos, and more to popular social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Google acquired Slide after being in business for six years. Today, Max is advising various startup businesses. He was instrumental in helping Yelp become the success it is today. Last but definitely not least, Elon Musk continued to build great success as well. Musk always concentrated his attention on three core areas: Internet, clean energy and space. By 2004, he became the co-founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and a chairman at SolarCity. Musk infamously noted, "My proceeds from the PayPal acquisition were $180 million. I put $100 million in SpaceX, $70m in Tesla, and $10m in Solar City. I had to borrow money for rent." While most individuals would spend their money and become more risk-averse after receiving a nine-figure check, Musk used all of his money to the point at which he was in debt just so he was able to service his hunger to expand as an entrepreneur. At one point this became no joking matter, Elon was getting loans left and right, and had no income to pay them back. Tesla was still constructing their first car, and took longer than expected. In 2008, the Roadster was released, and Musk was given his first paycheck in years. Today, Elon Musk is worth $2B, and Tesla is worth $1B.

Tesla Motors is a luxurious car company that manufactures cars that run primarily on electricity, founded in 2003. Since the Tesla Model S is a car running on electricity instead of fuel, the company's competitors are ones that run on electricity as well, such as the Toyota Prius. Motor vehicle companies, such as BMW, build hybrid editions to their pre-existing vehicles, but they still don't come close to being fully electric. Hybrids would not be adequate competitors since there's a big difference between hybrid and fully electric: Hybrid eats less gas, fully electric eats none, and the Prius is the closest thing to a fully electric car that the US motor vehicle industry has seen before Tesla joined the market. Similar to PayPal, one of Musk's businesses is in an industry that has very limited competition. SpaceX, which was founded in 2002, makes parts and vehicles for space rocket technology, and SolarCity makes the systems and energy plants for the rocket technologies, and it was founded in 2006. Competition for these companies are also limited due to the fact that they gained major contracts with NASA that have a term length over the upcoming decades.

I personally admire Mr. Musk as an entrepreneur not only because of the work he's done, but also because of his constant determination to do great things. Elon Musk is a self-made billionaire that constantly challenges himself. Also, Musk made all the companies to improve the markets they were in. For example, he didn't make a fast car like everyone else, but instead he made a fully electric one. He didn't have a different reason for any company; he made the companies to make his life fun, better and easier. And with his determination and charisma, he was able to gain a network, hire intelligent people, build products and make profits. Elon Musk said something that I always hold dear to me: "Constantly think about how you could be doing things better and question yourself this everyday." This quote describes how Musk furthers what he has done already and how he finds out what to do next. During any time of your life, there is something you could improve on. So ask yourself, how could you do things better?

 

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