Elon Reeve Musk (born June 28, 1971) is an engineer, industrial designer and technology entrepreneur who is widely regarded as one of the most influential businessmen in the world. He was born in Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa; though he has spent most of his life in the United States, of which he is also a citizen and where he currently resides. Musk began his career as an entrepreneur by co-founding Zip2, a company that provided local businesses with an Internet presence. He then went on to found, invest and serve in a number of companies including X.com, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, OpenAI and Neuralink. Musk has various goals towards which he works through his ventures. These include redefining the automobile industry with electric cars; making renewable energy compete with traditional sources; making space travel affordable and enabling the colonization of Mars; and development of safe artificial intelligence to benefit humanity. For his various contributions, Musk has received numerous honors including the Gold Space Medal from the World Aeronautical Federation (FAI); and being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). Know more about the contributions of Elon Musk through his 10 major achievements.

 

#1 His first venture Zip2 was acquired for US$341 million

Elon Musk graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania. Then, in 1995, he commenced a PhD in energy physics/materials science at Stanford University. However, he dropped out after just two days to pursue a business career. 1994 marked the beginning of massive growth in the use of the internet. To take advantage of this internet boom, Elon Musk co-founded a company named Global Link Information Network in 1995 with his brother, Kimbal. The startup mainly provided local businesses with an Internet presence. In 1999, Global Link received US$3 million from Mohr Davidow Ventures as investment and altered the name to Zip2. After this investment, Zip2 became a guide for the newspaper publishing industry; with maps, directions and yellow pages. Zip2 expanded broadly and went onto struck deals with The New York Times, Knight Ridder, Hearst Corporation and numerous other newspapers. Finally, Compaq Computer acquired Zip2 in February 1999 by paying a US$307 million in cash and US$34 million in stock options. Being a 7 % shareholder of the company, Musk received US$22 million. He was just 27 years old at the time.

Zip2 Logo
Logo of Zip2

 

#2 He co-founded one of the world’s first online banks named X.com

In 1999, Elon Musk co-founded an online financial services and e-mail payment company named X.com. It took US$10 million to set up X.com and it was financed by the funds he received from the sale of Zip2. After one year, X.com was merged with one of its fiercest competitor called Confinity, which had a money-transfer service called PayPal. As Musk was the largest shareholder of the merged company, the company retained its name X.com and he became the CEO. Musk was highly optimistic about the future success of electronic money transfer as an alternative to traditional methods. Thus, he terminated other internet banking operations and PayPal money transfer service was given sole focus. Unfortunately, due to business disagreements, Elon Musk was replaced by Peter Thiel as CEO of X.com and the company was then renamed PayPal in 2001. Despite being ousted, Musk remained on the board and continued to be an advisor to the company. The company went public in 2002 with a price of $13 per share. The IPO was considered a massive success as shares shot up over 50% on its listing day. After 6 months of its short lived journey as an independent public company, Paypal was acquired by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion in stock, of which Musk received US$165 million for owning 11.7% of the shares. However, in July 2017, Musk repurchased the domain X.com from PayPal stating that it has sentimental value to him.

Peter Thiel and Elon Musk
Peter Thiel (left) and Elon Musk (right) during the early days of PayPal

 

#3 Elon Musk revolutionized space exploration with his company SpaceX

In 2001, Elon Musk conceptualized a project called Mars Oasis with an aspiration to send a miniature experimental greenhouse and produce food crops on Mars. The idea was to build public interest in space exploration and help NASA receive more funds for their space projects. In order to transform his dream into reality, Musk visited Russia to buy Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) that could send the envisioned payloads into space. Unfortunately, both of his meetings failed to materialize any result. Musk then decided to start his own company that could design, manufacture and launch advanced rockets and spacecraft at an affordable price. He thus founded Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, in May 2002 with US$100 million. Since its foundation, SpaceX has grown rapidly and boasts of many feathers in its cap. Among other things, it is the first private company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010); and the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the sun (2018). Besides working for NASA, SpaceX also launches satellites for the military, private companies and other nations. Currently, it is working on a private passenger carrying spacecraft.

Crew Dragon Spacecraft
Crew Dragon spacecraft of SpaceX

 

#4 He is the longest tenured CEO of any automotive manufacturer globally

Tesla, Inc. (originally Tesla Motors) was co-founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in 2003. During the company’s first significant venture capital financing, Elon Musk led the round of investment and joined Tesla’s board of directors as its chairman in February 2004. Musk took an active role within the company and supervised the products design at a detailed level. In 2008, Musk became CEO and product architect in the company, posts he holds till date. The same year, Tesla first built an electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster. It had sales figure of 2,500 vehicles across 31 countries. The company went public in 2010 with an initial public offering (IPO) priced at $17/share, raising a total of $226.1 million. In 2016, Tesla, Inc. entered into the Fortune 500 list of America’s top companies. In 2019, Tesla ranked as the world’s best-selling plug-in as well as the best-selling battery electric passenger car manufacturer with market share of 17% and 23% respectively. Musk is the longest tenured CEO of any automotive manufacturer globally. Under his leadership, Tesla is redefining the way we look at the automobile industry.

Elon Musk Tesla Model S
Musk standing in front of a Tesla Model S in 2011

 

#5 He provided the initial concept and financial capital for SolarCity

SolarCity was co-founded by Peter Rive and Lyndon Rive in 2006. The initial concept and financial capital of the venture was provided by Elon Musk, who is their cousin brother. Musk is also the chairman of the company. By 2013, SolarCity was the second largest provider of solar power systems in the United States. In 2015, it installed 870MW of solar power, approximately 28% of non-utility solar installation in the United States that year. Being a capital-intensive business model, the company eventually started facing some losses, which grew faster than its revenue. Amid such financial crisis, Tesla acquired SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion and the company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Tesla Inc. Musk’s underlying motivation of merging the two companies was to help combat global warming and the need to transition to sustainable energy for a cleaner planet. After the successful merger, the collaborative engineering between the two companies allowed vertical integration, potentially meeting all of its customers’ energy needs. Currently, SolarCity is offering energy storage services through Tesla and is striving hard to make solar energy competitive with traditional forms of electricity.

 

#6 He co-founded the visionary AI venture OpenAI

In late 2015, Musk co-founded another visionary venture named OpenAI with the ambition to advance artificial intelligence safely to benefit humanity and to develop AI technologies that can surpass the human brain. The motive behind the set up of OpenAI was the concept of existential risk from artificial intelligence (AI). It is generally believed that human species currently dominates other species because the human brain has some distinctive capabilities compared to other animals. Thus, some believe that if AI surpasses humanity in general intelligence and becomes “superintelligent”, it could result in some global catastrophe. OpenAI was setup as a non-profit organization to focus on research works to counteract such consequences and to create a positive long-term impact. As Tesla became increasingly involved in AI through Tesla Autopilot, Elon Musk resigned from the board of OpenAI, citing a potential future conflict of interest. However, he still remains a donor to the organization.

OpenAI Logo
Logo of OpenAI

 

#7 His Neuralink aims to integrate artificial intelligence into the human brain

In 2016, Elon Musk co-founded a neuro-technology company named Neuralink with the aim of developing neuro-technology that could integrate artificial intelligence into the human brain. Musk said that he got interested in the idea from a science fiction concept called “neural lace”, a form of brain–computer interface that is implanted into the brains of young people and grows with them. He read about the idea in The Culture, a series of 10 fiction novels by Iain M. Banks. In the short term, Neuralink is building devices to treat serious brain diseases. Moreover, it is working to develop a special gadget which will be implanted into the brain and will allow a person to control any wireless device with just the power of thought and recording brain activity. Neuralink is also striving to build technology that will allow humans to utilize more functions of their brain. Currently, the company has been experimenting with rats and monkeys but hopes to fan out human trials in 2020. Since its inception, the company has hired several high-profile neuro-scientists. If Neuralink succeeds in the future, it will be a breakthrough eureka moment in world of science.

Pioneer Building in San Francisco
Pioneer Building in San Francisco, housing the offices of Neuralink and OpenAI

 

#8 Elon Musk has been involved in various charitable efforts

In 2002, Elon Musk and his brother Kimbal started a private grant-making foundation named Musk Foundation. The brothers are the foundation’s sole officers. Elon Musk is president and board director and Kimbal Musk is secretary, treasurer and board director. In 2010, the Musk Foundation and SolarCity donated a 25 kW solar power system to the South Bay Community Alliance’s hurricane response center in Coden, Alabama. In July 2011, it donated US$250,000 towards a solar power project in Sōma, Japan, a city that had been recently devastated by a tsunami. In 2014, Musk donated US$1 million toward the construction of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. In 2015, he donated US$10 million to the Future of Life Institute to run a global research program aimed at keeping artificial intelligence beneficial to humanity. In 2018, the Musk Foundation donated over $480,000 to install new water fountains with filtration systems for access to clean water at all schools in Flint, Michigan in an effort to help solve the Flint water crisis. Musk is also a top donor to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nonprofit organization which aims “to defend and preserve individual rights and liberties” in the United States.

 

#9 He was awarded the FAI Gold Space Medal in 2010

Elon Musk received the Inc. magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2007 for his work on Tesla and SpaceX. The same year, he received the Index Design award for his design of the Tesla Roadster. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is the largest private, nonprofit conservation education and advocacy organization in the United States. It awarded Musk with its 2008 National Conservation Achievement award for his work with Tesla and SolarCity. The National Space Society (NSS) is an American international nonprofit educational and scientific organization specializing in space advocacy. In 2009, it awarded Musk with its Von Braun Trophy, given for leadership of the most significant achievement in space. The World Aeronautical Federation (FAI) is the world governing body for aerospace records. In 2010, it honored Musk with the highest award in air and space, the FAI Gold Space Medal, for designing the first privately developed rocket to reach orbit. In 2012, Musk was awarded the Royal Aeronautical Society’s highest award: a Gold Medal; in 2107, he was awarded the Oslo Business for Peace Award; and in 2019, he was awarded the Starmus Festival’s Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication.

Elon Musk TIME magazine
Elon Musk on the cover of TIME magazine

 

#10 Musk is widely rated as one of the most influential people in the world

Due to his commendable contributions as an entrepreneur and a successful business tycoon, Musk has been ranked by numerous magazines in their lists of the most influential people. In 2008, Esquire magazine included him in its list of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century. In 2010, TIME magazine listed him as one of 100 people who most affected the world. In 2011, Forbes listed Musk as one of “America’s 20 Most Powerful CEOs 40 And Under”. In 2013, he was named the Fortune Businessperson of the year for SpaceX, SolarCity and Tesla. Musk was also ranked 21th and 25th on the 2016 and 2018 list of Forbes of the world’s most powerful people. In June 2016, Business Insider named Musk one of the “Top 10 Business Visionaries Creating Value for the World”. In 2019, Musk was ranked joint first on the Forbes list of the Most Innovative Leaders. With a fortune hovering around $29 billion, Elon Musk is the 28th-richest person in the world according to Forbes; as of January 2020. The Royal Society of London is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. Elon Musk was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2018; an award given to individuals who have made a ‘substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science’.

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