Elon Musk

Ashlee Vance



Aug 13, 2022

Read time

25 minutes


The first official biography of the founder of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla based on conversations between the author and friends and (former) employees of Musk, and ofcourse Musk himself. It highlights his complicated childhood, the way he makes decisions and navigates the world, and how he managed to disrupt multiple industries, all with the goal of saving humanity.

Elon's world

Elon Musk's Motivation is to Save Humanity.

Musk's motivations are not financial in nature. One may characterise the majority of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as being money focused. Elon, however, is described by Ashlee Vance as having universal empathy. He is more concerned with humanity than he is with money. Due to these qualities, Elon has been able to build two independent, billion-dollar enterprises in the field of green technology: Tesla Motors and SolarCity. Elon probably would have failed in the extremely competitive field of sustainability without his internal motivation.

Elon not only wants to use renewable energy to save the world, but he also has more complex ideas for rescuing mankind. He has specifically stated that saving the human race is his top priority in life. Before Earth is destroyed by climate change and asteroids, he wants to give mankind the chance to move to Mars. Elon is concerned about the planet, and that is important. Instead of letting these concerns control him, he uses them as fuel to accomplish his goals. This drive, though, can occasionally become too strong. Elon has also earned a reputation for having unrealistic expectations for both his staff and the targets he sets for his businesses.

Several former workers have now given examples of his verbal abuse and the intolerable workloads. In fact, Elon personally reprimanded one employee for choosing to attend the birth of his child over a work event. Elon insisted that the worker think about what his priorities were. Elon has this mentality because he thinks that in order to change the world, you must either give it all you've got or nothing at all. He believed his employee was not providing 100 percent in this particular situation.

Elon Musk is still regarded by his staff despite his lofty expectations. They are more inclined to follow his example when he is open about his goals. They observe that he succeeds in practically all of his endeavours. He is also not a hypocrite. Despite having unreasonable standards for his workers, he also has unreasonable expectations for himself (which he somehow meets). Ashlee Vance describes Elon's demanding weekly schedule as follows:

Musk begins working at SpaceX in Los Angeles on Monday. He stays here till Tuesday night working. After that, Elon takes a flight to Silicon Valley, where he works at Tesla on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He then takes off once more for LA where he works at SpaceX. This schedule demonstrates Elon's dedication to his goals.

The only thing that makes sense to do is strive for greater collective enlightenment


Musk Had a difficult and unhappy early life

Elon's challenging beginnings influenced the person he is now. Elon had a small circle of friends during his formative years in South Africa. He had a difficult connection with his father, Errol, on top of all of this. Elon chose to relocate to his father's home following the divorce of his parents. However, Elon's young life was troubled as a result of this choice. The Musk family has declined to go into further detail about Errol's actions. Nevertheless, they are willing to label him as a bad guy to be around. In addition to having a challenging home life, Elon experienced bullying from his peers since he was smarter than most of them. Sometimes the bullies would beat Elon so severely that he was unable to go to school for a week.

Elon withdrew into reading and studies to escape from his difficult connection with his father and the difficulties at school. Elon was remarkably good at photographically remembering facts. He was able to read two encyclopaedias and retain all of the information. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, however, was the book that had the biggest influence on him out of all of them. He learned from the book, specifically, that it is simple to respond to a question, but much harder to ask the appropriate one.

Elon started thinking about how he could advance and better human civilization at an early age thanks to this philosophy of seeking the correct questions.

For instance, he already had strong beliefs on space rockets, paperless banking, travelling to other planets, and solar power by the time he was in high school. Elon also started to study more about entrepreneurship at this time. When he was barely 12 years old, he produced Blastar, his own video game, which he sold for $500.


In the 1980s, when Elon was reaching college age, military service was mandatory in South Africa. Elon, however, had no desire to join the military. So he made the decision to go abroad. Although the US was his ideal final goal, he chose Canada as his initial location. The first year Elon spent in Canada did not go as planned. He struggled to make ends by as he bounced around between odd jobs and failed to settle down. Instead, he was briefly shifting from one relative to another.

There needs to be a reason for a grade. I’d rather play video games, write software, and read books than try and get an A if there’s no point in getting an A ~ Elon Musk

But when Elon enrolled at Queen's University, everything was different. Elon's self-assurance would increase at this point, and the character we know and love today would begin to take shape. Elon participated in public speaking competitions and met Justine Wilson in addition to studying. She would eventually become his first wife and give birth to six sons for him.

After two years at Queen's, Elon transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, fulfilling his desire of settling in the United States. He met a lot of pals for his physics class here. Additionally, he would throw house parties in a 14-bedroom rental home with a buddy of his named Adeo Ressi. Each guest would be expected to pay $5 as entry. Elon would make a lot of money by collecting other people's money rather than drinking and partying. Elon's most lucrative event netted him enough money to pay his rent for the entire month.

Elon's first start-up

Good ideas are always crazy until they're not.

In 1995, Elon launched his first business right out of college. He co-founded the Global Link Information Network with his brother. Later, this business would take the name Zip2. The unique selling proposition of this organisation was that it assisted companies that were having trouble setting up and utilising the internet. They were not initially successful, despite the fact that this concept will eventually earn Elon and his brother millions of dollars. Many businesses did not yet recognise the advantages of going online because the internet was still a relatively new idea.

Even after putting in a lot of effort, Elon and his brother were having trouble moving forward until a venture capital business was struck by Elon's passion and ambition. After meeting Elon, Mohr Davidow Ventures made the decision to invest in the startup. They promoted Elon further down the corporate ladder by appointing Rich Sorkin as CEO. Additionally, they began employing superior engineers who significantly altered the coding that Elon had already written. Elon did not like going through this. He had reduced from being the company's creative and commercial driving force to just a shareholder.

Elon was annoyed by the venture capital firm's influence, but they did offer a level of reality that contributed to the company's success. In a sense, their practicality balanced Elon's idealistic objectives. For instance, Jim Ambras, who was vice president of engineering at the time, later remarked that they had learnt to be sceptical of Elon's promises. They would anticipate a work to take a day or two when Elon told it would take an hour.

When PC manufacturer Compaq Computer sought to buy Zip2 in February 1999, the firm recognised a big chance for expansion. Elon didn't even have to consider giving up his stake. This money would enable him realise a number of other initiatives that he already had in mind. Elon wanted to become a CEO who actively participated in the company's decision-making, not just observe them from the sidelines.

PayPal mafia boss

Elon made the decision to leave Zip2 in order to invest in new ventures, but he also gave himself some material luxuries. He acquired a tiny plane, a McLaren sports vehicle, and an upscale residence, for instance. But this was the only thing he did with his hundreds of millions. The remaining funds were immediately invested in his subsequent enterprise, X.com.

People were still highly wary about the internet at this time. Due to their concerns about entering their financial information online, people were even unwilling to buy books online. However, Elon launched X.com, one of the earliest online banks, and used his creative strategy to boost public confidence in online banking. He specifically provided three mutual funds from which investors may choose, as well as FDIC insurance, to support his online banking.

X.com existed before Paypal. But soon after founding X.com, Max Levchin and Peter Thiel created Confinity, a forerunner to the original PayPal, which had a more simplified payment structure. In March 2000, X.com and Confinity decided to work together after originally competing for clients. Although PayPal was a better product than what X.com had to offer, X.com offered more sophisticated financial services. As a result, both businesses contributed something.

After the merge, Elon found it difficult to influence X.com, nevertheless. Thiel and Levchin left their positions two months following the merger. Musk was now in command of a business where the majority of his staff members wanted the PayPal division of the business to advance. Elon, though, desired to give X.com more attention. These internal conflicts caused computer systems to malfunction and their website to frequently crash. One of the biggest coups in Silicon Valley history then happened as Musk and his wife Justine were getting on an aircraft for their honeymoon. The executives of X.com requested permission from the board of directors to reinstate Thiel as CEO while demoting Musk.

The executives were successful, and since Musk was reduced to a consultant, he lost any power he had. The name of the business was subsequently changed from X.com to PayPal. But after that, the business prospered. The business was sold to eBay in July 2002 for $1.5 billion. Musk made $250 million from this. Once more, Musk's power had been limited. But he suddenly had even more cash to turn his aspirations into reality.

Mice in space

Space travel was and still is Musk’s dream

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Musk has always had a deep interest in space exploration. Elon relocated from close to Silicon Valley to Los Angeles just before PayPal was sold. He desired a fresh experience because he was tired with Silicon Valley. Space travel was this adventure. He relocated not far from the centre of the US space industry, where plans to establish life on Mars were being discussed. The Mars Society was orbiting mice to look into this possibility. Elon was intrigued by the concept, but, true to form, he thought they could take it a step further. He thought it would be better to just send the mice to Mars.

Despite the Mars Society's decision to discontinue this endeavour, Elon continued to have expansive aspirations for the space sector. Elon founded Space Exploration Technologies, popularly known as SpaceX, in June 2002. The goal of SpaceX was to establish itself as the South-West Airlines of space. The game was changed by SpaceX. In the past, sending a 500-pound payload with a rocket cost at least $30 million. For just $6.9 million, SpaceX's Falcon 1 was designed to transport over three times this weight. Elon's projections for the company's timeline, however, were unrealistic, as is frequently the case with him. Just 15 months after founding the company, he had anticipated having their first launch. The truth is that it took SpaceX more than four years to fly their first rocket following the company’s creation. 

Despite these delays, SpaceX has accomplished a first for commercial space travel by launching the Dragon spacecraft into orbit and returning to retrieve it after a successful ocean landing. Elon still has ambitious space travel goals, and his tenacity is what eventually has SpaceX succeeding.

All electric

Electric vehicles were accessible before Tesla, but they were not common. Wealthy people would never choose to purchase an electric vehicle over a Jaguar or Ferrari. Tesla, however, altered the rules. They offered potent and fashionable electric vehicles. Elon Musk gave electric vehicles a hip vibe.

Few people are aware that Elon did not truly found Tesla. Instead, Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard established Tesla Motors in 2003; J.B. Straubel eventually joined the company. Tesla originally intended to licence its AC propulsion technology and build its vehicles on the Lotus Elise chassis. Due to the ugly design of the car, however, venture financiers were unable to make an investment. Despite this, Elon recognised this business's potential. He decided to invest $6.5 million as a result, becoming the company's only shareholder and chairman. Elon thought Tesla Motors had the ability to revolutionise electric vehicles and alter the course of human history.

Initially growing slowly, Tesla is today among the most prosperous businesses in the world. The Model S, which was released in 2012 and has since changed how we interact with cars, is the most significant of Tesla's vehicles. For instance, this vehicle contains a sensor that enables engine starting without pressing a button and constant internet access. It was referred to as a computer on wheels in the media. This particular model later won the award for automobile of the year. Even so, Consumer Reports gave the automobile its greatest review score in the publication's history. Since Chrysler, Tesla has become the most prosperous automaker in the United States.

Once more, Elon's determination made Tesla Motors successful. The business had potential, but was failing without his assistance. Tesla is on the verge of joining the S&P 500 thanks to his input.

Pain, suffering and survival

In both his personal and work life, Elon was prone to last-minute saves

Musk's investments in Tesla and SpaceX hadn't yet paid off; in fact, there were doubts as to whether the businesses would last. Meanwhile, his marriage with Justine was in trouble. After their triplets were born, Elon thought she was suffering from postpartum depression. Many of their domestic disputes were chronicled by Justine on her blog. Elon filed for divorce, sparking a dramatic public argument between the pair. Soon later, Talulah Riley, his second wife, was introduced to Elon in a bar in London. Elon popped the question after only a few weeks, and Riley said yes. It was harder to turn his businesses around.

On August 2nd 2008, during SpaceX's third launch,the Falcon 1 rocket exploded, dealing a crushing blow. Thankfully, a September 28 launch was successful. Without it, the company would have likely folded immediately. In any case,it was still running out of money. Tesla, also under financial strain, had only delivered 60 Roadsters. The press seized nanegative memo leaked anonymously, and Elon, without enough cash to save both companies,considered letting one die.

Musk successfully bluffed investors who were trying to pressure him and got a new round of investment only hours before Tesla would have gone bankrupt. For missions to the International Space Station, SpaceX was able to secure a last-minute $1.6 billion arrangement with NASA. Elon narrowly avoided going bankrupt and kept both Tesla and SpaceX afloat.


Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to . . . well . . . save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.

The space industry now rates the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as very reliable. Every month, on average, SpaceX launches one rocket to place a satellite into orbit for a different nation or business. Due to the fact that SpaceX produces all of its equipment, the United States is now a significant player in the commercial launch business.

While all of SpaceX's American rivals, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital Sciences, rely on Russian vendors for their launch vehicles, SpaceX produces every component on-site. For customers, this independence translates into cost savings. Currently, a Falcon 9 flight costs $60 million, but the business is seeking to use economies of scale to lower that cost to $20 million.

Elon Musk thinks that eventually, the cost of a flight might be less than $12 million. United Launch Alliance, in contrast, bills the US government around $380 million for each mission. The Falcon 9 is the newest generation of SpaceX rockets, but the company is also working on the Falcon Heavy, a massive rocket that will combine three Falcon 9 rockets to create a launch vehicle that will carry twice as much weight as its biggest rival at a third of the price.

Additionally, SpaceX is building a spaceport in Texas and docking spacecraft on the International Space Station. The most astounding part is that SpaceX accomplished all of this while remaining a private business and without raising any outside money.

The revenge of the electric car

If the rules are such that you can’t make progress, then you have to fight the rules ~ Elon Musk

When Tesla started shipping the incredibly elegant Model S sedan in 2012, it astounded its industry rivals. It provided a huge amount of other benefits to its users in addition to having a range of more than 300 miles on a single charge. The entire car-buying process was transformed into a spectacle by Tesla, and before they knew it, the vehicle had won the award for finest vehicle of the year. The vehicle quickly attracted the attention of several rich celebrities and Silicon Valley residents in particular. Tesla will also provide a loaner to the customer while they fixed the sedan if any of the customers complained that the automobile wasn't operating well. The Tesla team would obtain access to the car through the owner's internet connection, download software upgrades, and resolve any issues that the car owners reported. The automobile performed even better after you acquired it, which was amazing. Even though Musk had finally achieved his goal, the critiques continued.

When Ebenhard sued Musk, it was extremely bitter for both the parties, but they settled their differences out of the court. Many claim that Musk did not create Tesla, but that argument is irrelevant given how brilliant and intelligent Musk is and how Tesla would not be where it is today without his leadership.

The unified field theory of Elon Musk.

In this last chapter, Ashlee provides some background information on how the Rive brothers founded SolarCity. With Elon's assistance, they launched their solar-related firm and provided exceptional customer service while installing solar panels for clients. Very quickly, the business gained enormous popularity, and Musk Co. added SolarCity, SpaceX, and Tesla. SolarCity was valued at $7 billion in 2014. Since they shared information and found the best solutions for any issues, the three businesses appeared to operate in unison.

Additionally, because SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity operated as a unified entity, it became more difficult for rivals to take them on separately. The other two businesses also saw a rise in their stock prices at the same time that Tesla's did. Musk has managed the companies admirably and has been able to disprove everyone's assumptions. It's understandable why some of the most intelligent CEOs in the world today admire him.