Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shoot for the Moon

Elon came from a family who viewed their bloodline as voyagers and adventurers.  Growing up in South Africa, there were always stories of what the family members who came before had done:  the grandfather who won a race from Cape Town to Algiers; the grandparents who flew on the first single-engine plane from South Africa to Australia.  Young Elon matured quickly in this environment, but it wasn’t always a blessing.  He started school early to support his rapid development, and this set him apart as the youngest and smallest in his class.  He was frequently bullied and given a hard time by the other kids.

Elon’s father helped provide distractions.  He took his family on exotic trips, giving them a sense of the world and how much of it lay beyond their home.  He was also strict, but with intention:  Elon and his siblings were made to do the chores often performed by servants in South African households.  Their father made it into a game that he called “America, America” for the chores American kids did, creating a connection between his children and the idea of a place where anything is possible.

That connection never diminished for Elon.  When he finished high school, he visited some of his mother’s family in Canada, and stayed there.  He had researched American citizenship, and determined that emigrating from Canada would be easier than from South Africa.  Having almost no money, Elon worked a series of jobs, and enrolled in Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  He beckoned his brothers, sister, and even cousins to join him in Canada, helping them obtain citizenship before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship.

Elon studied business and physics, getting degrees in both, and was accepted to graduate school at Stanford.  He also began to think about working in some way on what he saw as three areas of great importance to the future of humanity:  the Internet, clean energy, and space.  He had been working with personal computers from the moment they arrived in consumer households, having even programmed and sold a video game in his teens.  He left Stanford after only two days with a car, a computer, and $2,000 in the bank, and began working with his brother on an Internet company called Zip2.

Zip2 designed some of the earliest software to help media companies publish their content to the Internet.  At the age of 28, Elon sold the company, receiving $22 million for his share.  He invested half of what he made into his second enterprise,, an online financial services company that allowed people to make payments using their email address.  Merging with a competitor, the new company was re-branded PayPal, and was eventually purchased by Ebay.  Elon earned over $150 million from that sale, but he was just getting started. 

Money for its own sake was never one of Elon’s goals, and he was now in a position to pursue his most ambitious plans.  He co-founded Tesla Motors, a manufacturer of environmentally friendly cars and engines.  He became the chairman of SolarCity, the largest provider of solar power systems in the United States.  And in perhaps his most far-reaching idea, he began thinking of how to build affordable spaceships so people could travel to other planets and, someday, even live on Mars.  The more he thought about it, the more he wondered:  how complicated and expensive could it be?  So he founded Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and within a few years, had begun making trips into space.

Elon Musk accomplished more before the age of 40 than most people do in a lifetime, or 40 lifetimes for that matter.  He was even the inspiration for the film depiction of genius billionaire Tony Stark in the movie Iron Man.  Elon is a strong believer in the principles of the Live to Give mindset, and recently joined forces with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in pledging to donate the majority of his fortune to philanthropy.

In 2011, Forbes called Elon one of America’s most powerful CEOs under age 40.  When asked for the secret to his success, he responded:  “Surround yourself with people who believe that everything is possible, and remember to always dream bigger.”  If you shoot for the top of the mountains and fall short, you will crash into the mountainside.  Instead, raise your expectations and shoot for the moon… chances are, you will find yourself among the stars.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams 

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