Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
Notes by: Jacopo Perfetti
“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” Jeff Hammerbacher, an early Facebook engineer, told me.
In 2005, Huebner delivered a paper, “A Possible Declining Trend in Worldwide Innovation,” which was either an indictment of Silicon Valley or at least an ominous warning. Huebner opted to use a tree metaphor to describe what he saw as the state of innovation. Man has already climbed past the trunk of the tree and gone out on its major limbs, mining most of the really big, game-changing ideas—the wheel, electricity, the airplane, the telephone, the transistor. Now we’re left dangling near the end of the branches at the top of the tree and mostly just refining past inventions. To back up his point in the paper, Huebner showed that the frequency of life-changing inventions had started to slow. He also used data to
prove that the number of patents filed per person had declined over time. “I think the probability of us discovering another top-one-hundred-type invention gets smaller and smaller,” Huebner told me in an interview. “Innovation is a finite resource.”
Around 2010, Peter Thiel, the PayPal cofounder and early Facebook investor, began promoting the idea that the technology industry had let people down. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters” became the tagline of his venture capital firm Founders Fund.
In an essay called “What Happened to the Future,”
Thiel and his cohorts described how Twitter, its 140-character messages, and similar inventions have let the public down. He argued that science fiction, which once celebrated the future, has turned dystopian because people no longer have an optimistic view of technology’s ability to change the world.
He jumped right into dot-com mania in 1995, when, fresh out of college, he founded a company called Zip2—a primitive Google Maps meets Yelp. That first venture ended up a big, quick hit. Compaq bought Zip2 in 1999 for $ 307 million. Musk made $ 22 million from the deal and poured almost all of it into his next venture, a start-up that would morph into PayPal. As the largest shareholder in PayPal, Musk became fantastically well-to-do when eBay acquired
the company for $ 1.5 billion in 2002.
Musk rejected that logic by throwing $ 100 million into SpaceX, $ 70 million into Tesla, and $ 10 million into SolarCity.
With SpaceX, Musk is battling the giants of the U.S. military-industrial complex, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing. He’s also battling nations—most notably Russia and China. SpaceX has made a name for itself as the low-cost supplier in the industry. But that, in and of itself, is not really good enough to win. The space business requires dealing with a mess of politics, back-scratching, and protectionism that undermines the fundamentals of capitalism.
Steve Jobs faced similar forces when he
went up against the recording industry to bring the iPod and iTunes to market.
which in Musk lingo are suboptimal compromises, Tesla strives to make all-electric cars that people lust after and that push the limits of technology.
With SolarCity, Musk has funded the largest installer and financer of solar panels for consumers and businesses.
The Musk Co. empire of factories, tens of thousands of workers, and industrial
might has incumbents on the run and has turned Musk into one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth around $ 10 billion.
What Musk has developed that so many of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley lack is a meaningful worldview.
Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to . . . well . . . save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.
Asked how he survives this schedule, Musk said, “I had a tough childhood, so maybe that was helpful.”
“Maybe I read too many comics as a kid,” Musk said. “In the comics, it always seems like they are trying to save the world. It seemed like one should try to make the world a better place because the inverse makes no sense.”
ELON’S FIRST START-UP
The best idea to arise from the journey was an online network for doctors.
“It seemed like the medical industry was one that could be disrupted,” Kimbal said. “I went to work on a business plan and the sales and marketing side of it later, but it didn’t fly. We didn’t love it.”
Zip2 would create a searchable directory of businesses and tie this into maps. Musk often explained the concept through pizza, saying that everyone deserved the right to know the location of their closest pizza parlor
and the turn-by-turn directions to get there.
Errol Musk gave his sons $ 28,000 to help them through this period, but they were more or less broke after getting the office space, licensing software, and buying some equipment.
couple of South African boys trying to make a Yellow Pages for the Internet and met with the brothers.
That’s Elon. Do or die but don’t give up.”
PAYPAL MAFIA BOSS
This left Musk searching for an industry that had tons of money and inefficiencies that he and the Internet could exploit. Musk began thinking back to his time as an intern at the Bank of Nova Scotia. His big takeaway from that job, that bankers are rich and dumb, now had the feel of a massive opportunity.
While pursuing this project, Musk stumbled upon what seemed like an obvious business opportunity.
All the bankers did was copy what everyone else did. If everyone else ran off a bloody cliff, they’d run right off a cliff with them. If there was a giant pile of gold sitting in the middle of the room and nobody was picking it up, they wouldn’t pick it up, either.”
Investors catch a break under the tax law if they roll a windfall into a new venture within a couple of months.
Musk invested about $ 12 million into X.com, leaving him, after taxes, with $ 4 million or so for personal use. “That’s part of what separates Elon from mere mortals,” said Ed Ho, the former Zip2 executive, who went on to cofound X.com. “He’s willing to take an insane amount of personal risk. When you do a deal like that, it either pays off or you end up in a bus shelter somewhere.”
The cofounders were aligned philosophically around the idea that the banking industry had fallen behind the times.
In July 2002, eBay offered $ 1.5 billion for PayPal, and Musk and the rest of the board accepted the deal. Musk netted about $ 250 million from the sale to eBay, or $ 180 million after taxes—enough to make what would turn out to be his very wild dreams possible.
“I came very close to dying,” Musk said. “That’s my lesson for taking a vacation: vacations will kill you.”
MICE IN SPACE
As the first dozen or so employees came to the offices, they were told that SpaceX’s mission would be to emerge as the “Southwest Airlines of Space.”
“There was always this feeling that we were facing a sort of insurmountable challenge and that we had to band together to fight the good fight.”
“He would often say, ‘The longer you wait to fire someone the longer it has been since you should have fired them,’”
only a handful of the SpaceX team had any idea how to make a launch happen.
Anyone who tries to build a car company in the United States is quickly reminded that the last successful start-up in the industry was Chrysler, founded in 1925. Designing and building a car from the ground up comes with plenty of challenges, but it’s really getting the money and know-how to build lots of cars that has thwarted past efforts to get a new company going.
Had anyone from Detroit stopped by Tesla Motors at this point, they would have ended up in hysterics. The sum total of the company’s automotive expertise was that a couple of the guys at Tesla really liked cars and another one had created a series of science fair projects based on technology that the automotive industry considered ridiculous. What’s more, the founding team had no intention of turning to Detroit for advice on how to build a car company. No, Tesla would do what every other Silicon Valley start-up had done before it, which was hire a bunch of young, hungry engineers and figure things out as they went along.
The Roadsters were gorgeous, two-seater convertibles that could go from zero to 60 in about four seconds. “Until today,” Musk said at the event, “all electric cars have sucked.”
Tesla had done a decent job of keeping its employee costs down. It hired the kid fresh out of Stanford for $ 45,000 rather than the proven guy who probably didn’t want to work that hard anyway for $ 120,000.
Heading into 2008, the company was running out of money. The Roadster had cost
about $ 140 million to develop, way over the $ 25 million originally estimated in the 2004 business plan.
As Musk put it, “Try to imagine explaining that you’re investing in an electric car company, and everything you read about the car company
sounds like it is shit and doomed and it’s a recession and no one is buying cars.” All Musk had to do to dig Tesla out of this conundrum was lose his entire fortune and verge on a nervous breakdown.
PAIN, SUFFERING, AND SURVIVAL
“Things were starting to be difficult with Justine, but they were still together,” Gracias said. “During that dinner, Elon said, ‘I will spend my last dollar on these companies. If we have to move into Justine’s parents’ basement, we’ll do it.’”
SpaceX had the Falcon 9 efforts to support and had also immediately green-lighted the construction of another machine—the Dragon capsule—that would be used to take supplies, and
one day humans, to the International Space Station. Historically, either project would cost more than $ 1 billion to complete, but SpaceX would have to find a way to build both machines simultaneously for a fraction of the cost. The company had dramatically increased the rate at which it hired employees and moved into a much larger headquarters in Hawthorne, California. SpaceX had a commercial flight booked to carry a satellite into orbit for the Malaysian government, but that launch and the payment for it would not arrive until the middle of 2009. In the meantime, SpaceX simply struggled to make its payroll.
either pick SpaceX or Tesla or split the money I had left between them,” Musk said.
“That was a tough decision. If I split the money, maybe both of them would die. If I gave the money to just one company, the probability of it surviving was greater, but then it would mean certain death for the other company. I debated that over and over.” While Musk meditated on this, the economy worsened quickly and so too did Musk’s financial condition. As 2008 came to an end, Musk had run out of money.
In the early days of SpaceX, Musk knew little about the machines and amount of grunt work that goes into making rockets.
Both his employees and the public have found this to be one of the more jarring aspects of Musk’s character. “Elon has always been optimistic,”
Reminded about the initial 2003 target date to fly the Falcon 1, Musk acted shocked. “Are you serious?” he said. “We said that? Okay, that’s ridiculous. I think I just didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. The only thing I had prior experience in was software, and, yeah, you can write a bunch of software and launch a website in a year. No problem. This isn’t like software. It doesn’t work that way with rockets.” Musk simply cannot help himself.
But in order to achieve the external promised schedule, you’ve got to have an internal schedule that’s more aggressive than that.
One of my favorite things about Elon is his ability to make enormous decisions very quickly. That is still how it works today.”
We’re trying to have a really big impact on the space industry. If the rules are such that you can’t make progress, then you have to fight the rules.
According to Musk’s math presented at the hearing, ULA charged $ 380
million per flight, while SpaceX would charge $ 90 million per flight.
THE REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR
Carmakers looking to put a modicum of effort into their ads have been hawking the exact same things for decades: a car with a bit more room, a few extra miles per gallon, better handling, or an extra cup holder. Those that can’t find anything interesting at all to tout about their cars turn to scantily clad women, men with British accents, and, when necessary, dancing mice in tuxedos to try and convince people that their products are better than the rest. Next time a car ad appears on your television, pause for a moment and really listen to what’s being said.
In the middle of 2012, Tesla Motors stunned its complacent peers in the automotive industry. It began shipping the Model S sedan. This all-electric luxury vehicle could go more than 300 miles on a single charge. It could reach 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds. It could seat seven people, if you used a couple of optional rear-facing seats in the back for kids. It also had two trunks. There was the standard one and then what Tesla calls a “frunk” up front, where the bulky engine would usually
be. The Model S ran on an electric battery pack that makes up the base of the car and a watermelon-sized electric motor located between the rear tires. Getting rid of the engine and its din of clanging machinery also meant that the Model S ran silently. The Model S outclassed most other luxury sedans in terms of raw speed, mileage, handling, and storage space. And there was more—like a cutesy thing with the door handles, which were flush with the car’s body until the driver got close to the Model S. Then the silver handles would pop out, the driver would open the door and get in, and the handles would retract flush with the car’s body again. Once inside, the driver encountered a seventeen-
inch touch-screen that controlled the vast majority of the car’s functions, be it raising the volume on the stereo* or opening the sunroof with a slide of the finger. Whereas most cars have a large dashboard to accommodate various displays and buttons and to protect people from the noise of the engine, the Model S offered up vast amounts of space. The Model S had an ever-present Internet connection, allowing the driver to stream music through the touch console and to display massive Google maps for navigation. The driver didn’t need to turn a key or even push an ignition button to start the car. His weight in the seat coupled with a sensor in the key fob, which is shaped like a tiny Model S, was enough to activate
the vehicle. Made of lightweight aluminum, the car achieved the highest safety rating in history. And it could be recharged for free at Tesla’s stations lining highways across the United States and later around the world.
Tesla sold the Model S directly through its own stores and website.
The Model S also offered a way to fix issues in a manner that people had never before encountered with a mass-produced car.
“It changes everything about transportation. It’s a computer on wheels.”
The Model S emerged
as the ultimate status symbol for wealthy technophiles, allowing them to show off, get a new gadget, and claim to be helping the environment at the same time.
The Model S beat out eleven other vehicles from companies such as Porsche, BMW, Lexus, and Subaru and was heralded as “proof positive that America can still make great things.” Motor Trend celebrated the Model S as the first non–internal combustion engine car ever to win its top award and wrote that the vehicle handled like a sports car, drove as smoothly as a Rolls-Royce, held as much as a Chevy Equinox, and was more efficient than a Toyota Prius. Several months later, Consumer Reports gave the Model S its highest car rating in history—99 out of 100—while proclaiming that it was likely the best car ever built.
Musk had set out to make an electric car that did not suffer from any compromises. He did that. Then, using a form of entrepreneurial judo, he upended the decades of criticisms against electric cars. The Model S was not just the best electric car; it was best car, period, and the car people desired. America had not seen a successful car company since Chrysler emerged in 1925.
Musk had never run a car
factory before and was considered arrogant and amateurish by Detroit.
Elon Musk had built the automotive equivalent of the iPhone. And car executives in Detroit, Japan, and Germany had only their crappy ads to watch as they pondered how such a thing had occurred.
Musk wrote in the e-mail. “Mass market electric cars have been my goal from the beginning of Tesla. I don’t want and I don’t think the vast majority of Tesla customers want us to do anything to jeopardize that objective.”
Ever since, Musk has tried to turn any snafu with a Tesla into an excuse to show off the company’s attention to service and dedication to pleasing the customer. More often than not, the strategy has worked.
The car had accomplished what Musk had intended from the outset. It proved that electric cars could be fun to drive and that they could be objects of desire.
With the Roadster, Tesla kept electric cars in the public’s consciousness and did so under
impossible circumstances, namely the collapse of the American automotive industry and the global financial markets.
By reputation, Fisker had a flair for the dramatic and had produced some of the most stunning car designs over the past decade, not just for Aston Martin but also for special versions of BMW and Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Ron Lloyd, the former vice president of the WhiteStar project at Tesla. “They were terrible.” When Musk pushed back, Fisker blamed the physical constraints Tesla had put in place for the Model S as too restrictive. “He said they would not let him make the car sexy,” Lloyd said. Fisker tried a couple of different approaches and unveiled some foam models of the car for Musk and his crew to dissect. “We kept on telling him they were not right,” Lloyd said. Not long after these meetings, Fisker started his own company—Fisker Automotive—and unveiled the Fisker Karma hybrid in 2008.
All of this was too much for Musk, and he launched a lawsuit against Fisker in 2008, accusing him of stealing Tesla’s ideas and using the $ 875,000 Tesla had paid for design work to help get his rival car company
off the ground.
“One of the things Elon pushed hard with everyone was to do as much as possible in-house,” Lloyd said. Tesla would make up for its lack of R& D money by hiring smart people who could outwork and outthink the third parties relied on by the rest of the automakers. “The mantra was that one great engineer will replace three medium ones,”
It was at this time, the summer of 2008, when an artsy car lover named Franz von Holzhausen joined Tesla. His job would be to breathe new life into the car’s early designs and, if possible, turn the Model S into an iconic product.*
After graduating in 1992, he started work for Volkswagen on just about the most exciting project imaginable—a top-secret new version of the Beetle. “It really was a magical time,”
Von Holzhausen started a project to make Mazda’s cars more green by reevaluating the types of materials used to fabricate the seats and the fuels going into the vehicles.
Musk had coaxed von Holzhausen away from a secure job and into the jaws of death. But in many ways, this is what von Holzhausen sought at this point in his career. Tesla did not feel as much like a car company as a bunch of guys tinkering on a big idea. “To me, it was exciting,” he said.
“It was like a garage experiment, and it made cars cool again.”
von Holzhausen found energetic geeks who didn’t realize that what they wanted to do was borderline impossible.
“Elon’s mind was always way beyond the present moment,” he said. “You could see that he was a step or three ahead of everyone else and one hundred percent committed to what we were doing.”
In the tradition of many
a Musk employee, von Holzhausen had to build his own office. He made a pilgrimage to IKEA to buy some desks and then went to an art store to get some paper and pens.
Throughout this process, von Holzhausen and Musk talked every day. Their desks were close, and the men had a natural rapport. Musk said he wanted an aesthetic that borrowed from Aston Martin and Porsche and some specific functions. He insisted, for example, that the car seat seven people. “It was like ‘Holy shit, how do we pull this off in a sedan?’” von Holzhausen said. “But I understood. He had five kids and wanted something that could be thought of as a family vehicle, and he knew other people would have this issue.”
“We were naïve and learning our way in the business,”
Like Steve Jobs before him, Musk is able to think up things that consumers did not even know they wanted—the door handles, the giant touch-screen—and to envision a shared point of view for
“Elon holds Tesla up as a product company,” von Holzhausen said. “He’s passionate that you have to get the product right. I have to deliver for him and make sure it’s beautiful and attractive.”
When Tesla’s engineers first heard about the falcon-wing doors, they cringed.
Model X’s doors have become one of its most striking features and the thing consumers talk about the most.
As he sees it, all of the design and technology choices should be directed toward the goal of making a car as close to perfect as possible.
Other delays were simply a function of this still quite young automaker learning how to produce an immaculate luxury vehicle and needing to go through the trial and error tied to becoming a more mature, more refined company.
Musk insisted that Tesla owners would soon be able to travel across the United States without spending a penny on fuel.
Model S drivers would have no trouble finding these stations, not only because the cars’ onboard computers would guide them to the nearest one but because
von Holzhausen had designed giant red and white monoliths to herald the appearance of the stations.
he acted in his signature all-or-nothing fashion.
Musk fired senior leaders whom he deemed subpar performers and promoted a flood of junior people who had been doing above-average work.
He wanted to make sure that the company would end up producing a mass-market electric vehicle. Musk proposed terms under which he would remain in control of Tesla for eight years or until it started pumping out a mass-market car.
The fires, the occasional bad review—none of this had any effect on Tesla’s sales or share price.
Tesla, for example, wanted to call its third-generation car the Model E, so that its lineup of vehicles would be the Model S, E, and X—another playful Musk gag. But Ford’s then CEO, Alan Mulally, blocked Tesla from using Model E, with the threat of a lawsuit.
What Musk had done that the rival automakers missed or didn’t have the means to combat was turn Tesla into a lifestyle.
It did not just sell someone a car. It sold
them an image, a feeling they were tapping into the future, a relationship. Apple did the same thing decades ago with the Mac and then again with the iPod and iPhone. Even those who were not religious about their affiliation to Apple were sucked into its universe once they bought the hardware and downloaded software like iTunes.
For the Model S owner, the all-electric lifestyle translates into a less hassled existence. Instead of going to the gas station, you just plug the car in at night, a rhythm familiar to anyone with a smartphone. The car will start charging right away or the owner can tap into the Model S’s software and schedule charging to take place late at night, when the cheapest electricity rates are available.
Tesla owners not only dodge gas stations; they mostly get to skip out on visits to mechanics. A traditional vehicle needs oil and transmission fluid changes to deal with all the friction and wear and tear
produced by its thousands of moving parts.
The simpler electric car design eliminates this type of maintenance.
Both the Roadster and the Model S also take advantage of what’s known as regenerative braking, which extends the life of the brakes. During stop-and-go situations, the Tesla will brake by kicking the motor into reverse via software and slowing down the wheels instead of using brake pads and friction to clamp them down.
The Tesla motor generates electricity during this process and funnels it back to the batteries, which is why electric cars get better mileage in city traffic.
Even Tesla’s approach to maintenance is philosophically different from that of the traditional automotive industry. Most car dealers make the majority of their profits from servicing cars. They treat vehicles like a subscription service, expecting people to visit their service centers multiple times a year for many years. This is the main reason dealerships have fought to block Tesla from selling its cars directly to consumers.*
“The ultimate goal is to never have to bring your car back in after you buy it,”
It’s a more subtle play on how electric cars represent a new way to think of automobiles.
As Tesla turned into a star of modern American industry, its closest rivals were obliterated. Fisker Automotive filed for bankruptcy and was bought by a Chinese auto parts company in 2014. One of its main investors was Ray Lane, a venture capitalist
at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Lane had cost Kleiner Perkins a chance to invest in Tesla and then backed Fisker—a disastrous move that tarnished the firm’s brand and Lane’s reputation. Better Place was another start-up that enjoyed more hype than Fisker and Tesla put together and raised close to $ 1 billion to build electric cars and battery-swapping stations. 18 The company never produced much of anything and declared bankruptcy in 2013.
THE UNIFIED FIELD THEORY OF ELON MUSK
During one open discussion session, representatives from a handful of the world’s largest solar installers were sitting onstage, and the moderator asked what they were doing to make solar panels more affordable for consumers. “They all gave the same answer,” Lyndon said. “They said, ‘We’re waiting for the cost of the panels to drop.’ None of them were taking ownership of the problem.”
The Rives decided to make buying into the solar proposition much simpler and formed a company called SolarCity in 2006. Unlike other companies, they would not manufacture their own solar panels. Instead they would buy them and then do just about everything else in-house. They built software for analyzing a customer’s current energy bill and the position of their house and the amount of sunlight it typically received to determine if solar made sense for the property. They built up their own teams to install the solar panels. And they created a
financing system in which the customer did not need to pay anything up front for the panels. The consumer leased the panels over a number of years at a fixed monthly rate. Consumers got a lower bill overall, they were no longer subject to the constantly rising rates of typical utilities, and, if they sold their house, they could pass the contract to the new owner. At the end of the lease, the homeowner could also upgrade to new, more efficient panels.
Six years later, SolarCity had become the largest installer of solar panels in the country.
In 2012, SolarCity went public and its shares soared higher in the months that followed. By 2014, SolarCity was valued at close to $ 7 billion.
Then, in June 2014, SolarCity acquired a solar cell maker called Silevo for $ 200 million. This deal marked a huge shift in strategy.
SolarCity would no longer buy its solar panels. It would make them at a factory in New York State. Silevo’s cells were said to be 18.5 percent efficient at turning light into energy, compared to 14.5 percent for most cells, and the expectations were that the company could reach 24 percent efficiency with the right manufacturing techniques.
Buying, rather than manufacturing, solar panels had been one of SolarCity’s great advantages. It could capitalize on the glut in the solar cell market and avoid the large capital expenditures tied to building and running factories. With 110,000 customers, however, SolarCity had started to consume so many solar panels that it needed to ensure a consistent supply and
“We are currently installing more solar than most of the companies are manufacturing,” said Peter Rive, the cofounder and chief technology officer at SolarCity. “If we do the manufacturing ourselves and take advantage of some different technology, our costs will be lower—and this business has always been about lowering the costs.”
the unified field theory of Musk. Each one of his businesses is interconnected in the short term and the long term. Tesla makes battery packs that SolarCity can then sell to end customers. SolarCity supplies Tesla’s charging stations with solar panels, helping Tesla to provide free recharging to its drivers. Newly minted Model S owners regularly opt to begin living the Musk Lifestyle and outfit their homes with solar panels. Tesla and SpaceX help each other as well. They exchange knowledge around materials, manufacturing techniques, and the intricacies of operating factories that build so much stuff from the ground up.
The solar, automotive, and aerospace industries remain larded down by regulation and bureaucracy, which favors incumbents. To people in these industries Musk came off as a wide-eyed technologist who could be easily dismissed and ridiculed and who, as a competitor, fell somewhere on the spectrum between annoying and full of shit.
Musk paid $ 1 million for the Lotus Esprit that Roger Moore drove underwater in The Spy Who Loved Me and wants to prove that such a vehicle can be done. “Maybe we’ll make two or three, but it wouldn’t be more than that,” Musk told the Independent newspaper. “I think the market for submarine cars is quite small.”
Model 3. Due out in 2017, this four-door car would come in around $ 35,000 and be the real measure of Tesla’s impact on the world. The company hopes to sell hundreds of thousands of the Model 3 and make electric cars truly mainstream.
in 2014, Musk announced plans to build what he dubbed the Gigafactory, or the world’s largest lithium ion manufacturing facility.
“We don’t necessarily need all of the money for the Gigafactory right now, but I decided to raise it in advance because you never know when there will be some bloody meltdown,” Musk said. “There could be external factors or there could be some unexpected recall and then suddenly we need to raise money on top of dealing with that. I feel a bit like my grandmother. She lived through the Great Depression and some real hard times. Once you’ve been through that, it stays with you for a long time. I’m not sure it ever leaves really. So, I do feel joy now, but there’s still that nagging feeling that it might all go away. Even later in life when
my grandmother knew there was really no possibility of her going hungry, she always had this thing about food. With Tesla, I decided to raise a huge amount of money just in case something terrible happens.”
There’s the potential that Tesla is setting itself up to capitalize on a situation like the one Apple found itself in when it first introduced the iPhone. Apple’s rivals spent the initial year after the iPhone’s release dismissing the product. Once it became clear Apple had a hit, the competitors had to catch up. Even with the device right in their hands, it took companies like HTC and Samsung years to produce anything comparable. Other once-great companies like Nokia and BlackBerry didn’t withstand the shock.
Musk’s ultimate goal, though, remains turning humans into an interplanetary species. This may sound silly to some, but there can be no doubt that this is Musk’s raison d’être. Musk has decided that man’s survival depends on setting up another
colony on another planet and that he should dedicate his life to making this happen.
When he started SpaceX more than a decade ago, however, he had far less capital at his disposal. He didn’t have the fuck-you money of a Jeff Bezos, who handed his space company Blue Origin a kingly pile of cash and asked it to make Bezos’s dreams come true. If Musk wanted to get to Mars, he would have to earn it by building SpaceX into a real business. This all seems to have worked in Musk’s favor. SpaceX has learned to make cheap and effective rockets and to push the limits of aerospace technology.
I think SpaceX will have developed a booster and spaceship in the 2025 time frame capable of taking large quantities of people and cargo to Mars.
“The thing that’s important is to reach
an economic threshold around the cost per person for a trip to Mars. If it costs $ 1 billion per person, there will be no Mars colony. At around $ 1 million or $ 500,000 per person, I think it’s highly likely that there will be a self-sustaining Martian colony. There will be enough people interested who will sell their stuff on Earth and move. It’s not about tourism. It’s like people coming to America back in the New World days. You move, get a job there, and make things work. If you solve the transport problem, it’s not that hard to make a pressurized transparent greenhouse to live in. But if you can’t get there in the first place, it doesn’t matter.
Most impressive to Thiel has been Musk’s ability to find bright, ambitious people and lure them to his companies. “He has the most talented people in the aerospace industry working for him, and the same case can be made for Tesla, where, if you’re a talented mechanical engineer who likes building cars, then you’re going to Tesla because it’s probably the only company in the U.S. where you can do interesting new things. Both companies were designed with this vision of motivating a critical mass of talented people to work on
At the time, it seemed that Musk had dished out the Hyperloop proposal just to make the public and legislators rethink the high-speed train. He didn’t actually intend to build the thing. It was more that he wanted to show people that more creative ideas were out there for things that might actually solve problems and push the state forward. With any luck, the high-speed rail would be canceled. Musk said as much to me during a series of e-mails and phone calls leading up to the announcement.
Elon is the boss. He has driven this thing with his blood, sweat, and tears. He has risked more than anyone else. I respect the hell out of
what he has done. It just could not work without Elon. In my view, he has earned the right to be the front person for this thing.”
Musk announced in 2014 that Tesla would open-source all of its patents, analysts tried to decide whether this was a publicity stunt or if it hid an ulterior motive or a catch.
the no-holds-barred attitude of a visionary, and that determination to go after long-term things that they both had,”
In his next book, Average Is Over, Cowen predicted an unromantic future in which a great divide had occurred between the Haves and the Have Nots. In Cowen’s future, huge gains in artificial intelligence will lead to the elimination of many of today’s high-employment lines of work.
Coming up with true breakthrough ideas is much harder today than in the past, according to Cowen, because we’ve already mined the bulk of the big discoveries.
Cowen described Musk not as a genius inventor but as an attention seeker, and not a terribly good one at that.
Pre-iPhone, the United States was the laggard in the telecommunications industry. All of the exciting cell phones and mobile services were in Europe and Asia, while American consumers bumbled along with dated equipment. When the iPhone arrived in 2007, it changed everything. Apple’s device mimicked many of the functions of a computer and then added new abilities with its apps, sensors, and location awareness.
A hot-selling Model 3 would certify Musk as that rare being able to rethink an industry, read consumers, and execute.
As Page puts it, “Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.”
“The way Elon talks about this is that you always need to start with the first principles of a problem. What are the physics of it? How much time will it take? How much will it cost? How much cheaper can I make it? There’s this level of engineering and physics that you need to make judgments about what’s possible and interesting.
“I would like to die on
Mars,” he said. “Just not on impact. Ideally I’d like to go for a visit, come back for a while, and then go there when I’m like seventy or something and then just stay there. If things turn out well, that would be the case. If my wife and I have a bunch of kids, she would probably stay with them on Earth.”