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  • Writer's pictureRohan Bhatia

Elon Musk: Unrivaled Innovation

Elon Musk recently surpassed fellow entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates to become the richest man in the world. It's a stunning achievement, but many of those who have been close to the South African-born business magnate are not surprised. Not surprised one bit.

The story of Elon Musk begins over 20 years ago when he helped co-found financial giant PayPal in 1999. As a college graduate, building a startup was the natural career path for the always-curious Musk. But when PayPal was acquired by eBay in 2002, Musk received $165 million dollars - just two years after being ousted as the company's CEO.

Many of us in Musk's situation - at the age of 30 - would've taken the $165 million, invested it into some stable equities, securities and properties, and just lived off the yield. A nice and easy life.

But Elon Musk couldn't go more than a day without being bored out of his mind. He had the money, but to him, that was largely secondary. If anything, it was just a means to an end. And that end, in 2002 - looked to be space travel.

Musk took his PayPal fortune and splashed it relatively recklessly on his new darling - SpaceX. He couldn't fathom the fact that NASA didn't have any projects in the pipeline to send humans to Mars. That, to Musk, was the future of humanity; Civilisation on Mars.

Musk wants to inhabit Mars because, in his view, there will be an event in the not-so-distant future that will cause extinction on Earth. And it's his dream to enable people to live on other planets when that happens.

Shortly after forming SpaceX in 2002, Musk traveled three times to Russia in a failed attempt to buy some rockets. Then, in what can only be considered the most Elon Musk-esque reaction - he decided to build his own.

Never before had a private company thought of space travel. Never before had a Tech startup founder thought to face off against NASA. Then again, never before had there existed a man like Elon Musk.

It took over 6 years, but after a number of failed rocket launches, SpaceX secured a government contract with NASA for $1.6 billion USD - just a few days after Musk admitted that the company would go bust.

If running a private space company wasn't enough, Musk also bought a controlling stake and became CEO of electric car company Tesla in 2004. Bear in mind, this was only 2 years after he founded SpaceX with the ambition to put humans on Mars. Following his passion for sustainable energy, Musk was immediately drawn to the allure of a world where fuel wasn't a necessity to drive from point A to point B.

With the American automotive industry dying, the investment into Tesla initially seemed wasteful. The company's cost of production was blown out from a projected $65,000 per car up to $140,000 per car - miles above any competitor. The GFC pretty much killed Tesla, putting it on the verge of bankruptcy - just like SpaceX before the NASA contract.

Most investors here would've cut their losses, recognising the huge crisis in 2008 - and started from scratch on a much safer endeavour. Not Elon Musk.

"I had to take all of my reserve capital and invest it into Tesla. Which was very scary because it would obviously be quite sad to have the fruits of my labour with Zip2 and PayPal not amount to anything. But there was no question that I would do that because Tesla was too important to let die" said Musk, in a 2009 interview on his decision to double down on his investment into his electric car company.

Fast forward 6 years to 2015, and Musk-led Tesla's initial release of the widely acclaimed Model X. By 2020, the Tesla Model 3 - the most affordable model on offer - was the world's best-selling electric car, with more than 500,000 units delivered.

That's not the mention the 1,000% appreciation of Tesla's stock price across 2020, which surged Elon Musk's net worth all the way to $190bn USD. That makes him richer than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Today, SpaceX has become not only the first private company to send rockets out into orbit, but it ensured those rockets returned safely and landed in the sea. The significance of which massively lowers the risk of a returning rocket and increases the likelihood of reuse.

Yet what's incredible about the SpaceX story is the level of innovation it has brought to space travel. In the last 15 years, Musk has done more than Russia, China, and the USA in progressing the cause of space travel. It's a testament to the relentless dedication.

This is not to mention his contribution to sustainable energy through founding SolarCity, America's largest provider of solar panels - offering free installation and delivering clean energy at a fraction of the cost of fossil fuels. And if leading THREE massive, innovative companies isn't enough - Musk also his fingers in other pies like co-founding Neuralink and Open AI, two companies looking to further the role of technology in quotidian life.

Musk, unlike many CEOs, is pushing civilisation forward - and earning a fortune as a secondary effect. Thanks to his unrivaled innovation, the potential for the human endeavour is travelling further than it ever has before.

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