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While Elon Musk is working towards colonizing Mars, he’s also achieved a mind-blowing milestone down here on Earth as the first person in modern history to be worth more than US$300 billion.
Often lauded as one of the greatest entrepreneurial geniuses of recent times, Musk has taken the title as the richest person in the world several times, but never with such a grand figure.
More precisely, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO was worth US$320.8 billion in early November 2021, Forbes reported. With a gap of more than US$100 billion, Jeff Bezos follows as the second-richest billionaire.
The incredible achievement comes after Tesla’s market capitalization passed US$1 trillion in late September following Hertz’s order of 100,000 of the company’s electric vehicles, which it’s adding to its rental fleets in the US and parts of Europe, Bloomberg reported.
Growing up in South Africa, Musk primarily lived with his father when his parents divorced and was a self-described bookworm, reading everything from encyclopedias to comic books. Experiencing a “terrible upbringing … [with] a lot of adversity” where he was bullied and “chased around by gangs at schools”, he found an escape through technology – and well, the rest is history.
With visions as striking as the universe, here are some of the best lessons you can learn from Musk – it might even take you to Mars.
While he does have a bachelor’s degree in economics and another in physics, Musk taught himself rocket science by reading books on rockets and propulsion.
This hunger for knowledge started at a young age. When Musk was a child, he taught himself to code where he then sold his first game, Blastar, for about US$500.
Further formal education was on the cards for the father of seven in the mid-1990s when he was accepted into Stanford’s PhD program in energy physics/material science, although he saw a better opportunity. Musk dropped out after two days to launch Zip2 in 1995 – a software venture which was later sold for US$307 million.
Part of Musk’s success with SpaceX comes down to his well-recited elevator pitch, which he used to make cold calls to experts including Jim Cantrell – an aerospace consultant who had worked for NASA before co-founding SpaceX with Musk.
Musk’s vision starts by defining a goal, understanding what the goal is and why it’s worthwhile.
Cantrell recalls his spiel: “I’m Elon Musk, I’m an internet billionaire, I founded PayPal and X.com. I sold X.com to Compaq for 165 million dollars in cash and I could spend the rest of my life on a beach drinking Mai Tais, but I decided that humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species to survive and I want to do something with my money to show that humanity can do that and I need Russian rockets and that’s why I’m calling you.”
“I operate on the physics approach to analysis. You boil things down to the first principles or fundamental truths in a particular area and then you reason up from there,” Musk said.
“When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars, people said, ‘Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet he made, and it worked,” Musk has previously said.
One of the keys to Musk’s success has been his limitless imagination, then turning these far-fetched ideas into reality.
“If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic – being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle,” he said. “These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago.”
If things aren’t running flawlessly in the beginning, you’re doing something right. “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
In the early days of Tesla, if a problem arose, Musk was known to sleep under his desk and work relentlessly until the problem was solved without faltering his attention. The innovative founder is even known to work upwards of 120 hours per week, with 80 hours being the magic number.
“There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week,” Musk tweeted in 2018. “But if you love what you do, it (mostly) doesn’t feel like work.”
“Work like hell,” Musk said. “I mean you just have to put in 80- to 100-hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hours work weeks and you’re putting in 100 hour work weeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”
Despite having more than US$300 billion to his name, Musk isn’t consumed by money, rather the opportunities it can bring. In fact, he doesn’t want to die rich – it would be a sign of failure because he didn’t put his money to good use. Instead, he believes his fortune will build a base on Mars.
“You want things in the future to be better,” Musk told the BBC. “You want these new exciting things that make life better.”
If there is anything to learn from Musk, it’s to dream so big it takes you out of this world.
“We don’t want to be one of those single-planet species; we want to be a multi-planet species,” Musk said earlier in 2021. “It’s been now almost half a century since humans were last on the moon. That’s too long, we need to get back there and have a permanent base on the moon. … And then build a city on Mars to become a space-faring civilization.”
“I could either watch it happen or be part of it,” Musk said.