Elon Musk

Author: Ashlee Vance

Published: 2015 (386 pages)

Started reading: 5.September.2016

Finished reading: 7.September.2016


Brief description

Founding one company is a great achievement for anyone. Founding one company that goes on to be valued at $1 billion is outstanding. Founding or co-founding multiple such companies? This requires a next-level human being and puts an axe to the theory that incredible success is just extreme luck.

Elon Musk has effectively founded or co-founded Zip2, PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity.

If you haven’t heard of Musk, it’s worth learning a bit about him and his companies.

Currently, as the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, his mission is to colonise mars using affordable, reusable rockets, and deliver the sustainable production and consumption of energy through solar power and electric cars, all in order to increase the likelihood of the long-term survival of our species.

I doubt the value of journalistic biographies as anything other than great yarns. Vance’s biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, is no exception. After reading, it’s still difficult to pin down precisely what makes Musk so successful or what borrowable, replicable principles could be taken from his life. But it’s an entertaining and inspiring book nonetheless, and one for which Musk ultimately agreed to be interviewed.

I also learned three new things about Musk that I had been uncertain of. One: he’s not on the autistic spectrum. I know that seems crass, but people seriously consider this possibility. Vance rejects it as lazy and unsubstantiated, with which I agree. Secondly, for all his superhuman abilities and public prominence, Musk’s achievements are very much team efforts. He aggressively (and often personally) hires some of the finest minds in the world to work for his companies: Tom Mueller at SpaceX and Franz von Holzhausen at Tesla, to name two. Finally, it was somewhat relieving to see the incremental, organic development of his companies and his grand plan over time. While it’s easy to connect the dots in hindsight, Musk wasn’t always CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, and there were many steps to where he stands today. It makes his journey seem less dramatic and daunting, and similarly spectacular achievements become more attainable for the rest of us.


Actionable insights 

> Take massive action. Whatever entrepreneurs do or aspire to do, the bottom line is that 100% of the successful ones take massive action in the direction of starting their companies. Planning, researching and seeking advice are all important, and common, but fundamentally you need to take material steps to get started. There is 0% chance of success if you don’t take action.

Work from first principles. One replicable habit that does impress about Musk’s approach to business is his insistence on working from first principles, in his case basic physics and economics. The lesser, alternative approach is to reason by analogy – to say something costs $X to build because that’s the market price, or something will take X weeks to order because that’s what the suppliers estimate, or that X outcome is impossible because everyone says so. Musk’s willingness to question convention and common knowledge enabled him to create superior rockets at about a quarter of the industry cost and electric cars that are both efficient and desirable, completely defying expectations.

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