Recent news reports reveal that serial entrepreneur, Elon Musk, is aiming to develop supersonic electric airplanes that can take off and land vertically! The exploits of this innovator would probably give Steve Jobs an inferiority complex! He has revolutionized space travel, electric cars, online payments and is now on the quest to colonize Mars! His unconventional actions and logic defying decisions have lead to potential company shutdowns, founder wars, products almost being killed off and nearly going broke. Yet, some would argue that Elon has already surpassed Steve Jobs and is the modern avatar of Nikolas Tesla.
For the uninitiated, Elon Musk is the man behind Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Paypal, SolarCity and Hyperloop. It is really overwhelming to see a single entrepreneur reinvent multiple industries in such a short period of time. He is transforming age-old industries like finance, space and automobile with panache. The Tesla electric car has won rave reviews from thousands of customers for its futuristic appeal and pollution free benefits. Paypal has changed ecommerce dramatically. SpaceX is into space colonization, low cost rockets and had sent the first private vehicle to the International Space Station. A private company actually achieving this milestone when multiple nations have failed is truly epic! SolarCity deals with finding cost efficient alternatives using solar energy, thus ridding us of our dependence on fossil fuels. Elon won the Heinlein Prize for space work, was a TED speaker and has been called the real life Tony Stark by the international media. His fortitude & leadership skills are testimonial to how you can face multiple failures and still create things that can change humanity within a low budget.
The more I read about this man, the more patterns I was able to discern to understand his thought process. This South African is a successful entrepreneur today due to certain traits and work ethics that need to be noted, studied and applied in all of our lives. Let’s take a closer look at them!
1. Always be learning
The amazing fact about Elon is that he is self-taught inprogramming, Physics and rocket science! As a kid, he used to read encyclopedias by the dozen. Apparently he turned into a bookworm since he was bullied at school and read, voraciously, to gain knowledge and understand concepts. Obviously, these books played a major role in his decision to create companies that will have a positive effect on the world.
2. Insane work ethic
Elon Musk is a hardcore workaholic, working 100 hour weeks, and has been doing so for many years. You might even wonder if the man has a social life! He is the hardest working employee of the company and sets standards for his colleagues to follow. The chances of burnout are lower than average since he does what he loves
Here in this video, Elon Musk summarizes:
“If other people are putting in 40 hours in a week, and you’re putting in 100, you will achieve in four months, what it takes them a year to achieve. […] That’s the type of work ethic an entrepreneur needs to have.
3. Focus on the big picture
Elon has taken on extremely challenging problems that have been the bane of mankind for many decades. He has identified three main areas where he wants to make a difference (internet, clean energy & space), taking big risks in each field with no short term gains in sight. In the next 10 years, he wants to put a man on Mars and is committed to retiring on Mars with 80,000 other colonists! Many more entrepreneurs should follow Elon’s path of trying to fix real world problems that can change thousands of lives for the better.
4. Serial entrepreneurship
Elon also shows us how serial entrepreneurship is not a bad idea at all, if done right. Through PayPal, Elon has helped us to make payments in seconds, thus single handedly changing worldwide ecommerce. The space industry was moving at a snail’s pace, until SpaceX came along and built space ships at a fraction of the cost that NASA incurs. Tesla electric cars appealed to customers and are likely to become more cost effective in the coming years. SolarCity could potentially be the largest American electricity provider. Elon also is credited with the creation of Zip2, which was the predecessor of Google Maps. Through these various projects, Elon has demonstrated that being a serial entrepreneur can be fun and rewarding!
5. Sacrifices galore
With everything that he does, Elon really has his skin in the game. He has invested his savings in ventures that he believes in, at the risk of going broke. Elon is not afraid to make hard decisions and does not compromise on his vision. The lesson here is that you need to make sacrifices when you really like what you do.
6. The feedback loop
Elon is constantly soliciting feedback and doing self-analysis. He is constantly thinking of what he has done and how it could be done better. For example, he seeks out his critics and tries to converse with them. This habit of self-reflection at regular intervals is critical for success.
7. Hands On
Elon is a brilliant applied engineer and has the ability to think at the system level of design. He gets his hands dirty by working with the engineers on the ground. It is rare to see a “C level” person work hand in hand with the junior folks. He personally test-drives the changes to the Tesla car before it goes out to customers. He loves getting into the details. The man is less of a talker and more of a doer. His “lean startup” kind of approach makes him a “sleeves folded” kind of leader that people want to work with.
8. A crack team with clarity of thought
The man knows exactly what he wants and leads a team that is super intense. He hires the best minds on the planet, pays them stock and has no tolerance for bullshit. He is a bridge between the market requirements and what the engineers on the ground aspire to do. He seems to be a taskmaster of sorts but his attitude sets the culture of the team. His goal setting skills are legendary and he puts his heart and soul into achieving those goals!
There is not doubt that Elon is extremely motivated and driven. For instance, even after 3 launch failures of the SpaceX rocket, he had the tenacity to continue and persist through the odds. He is driven to do the “right thing” and does not bother about the status quo. His determination to overcome competitor lobbyists is amazing. The man is intrinsically motivated and pushes himself real hard. His never give up attitude gives him the ability to “stick with it.”
Elon is being compared to the likes of Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Edison, Howard Hughes and James Cameron. Most companies run with the prime motive of being profitable. It is not too often that you come across a businessman who genuinely wants to change humanity. Elon is a rare business leader who is interested in mankind as a whole and wants to explore how technology can change the world we live in. Elon could be the ideal 21st century industrialist who is pushing the envelope on how business can be done.
The best part about this story is that Elon has just begun!