Shortcuts / 28 July 2021
Elon Musk is one of a kind. Whether it’s his ambitious business goals or controversial tweets, he’s someone who’s in the news a lot. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we take you through where it all started for Musk, what he gets up to in the business world, and the eccentricities that make him hard not to talk about.
Let’s get this party started. What’s his origin story?
Elon Musk was born in Pretoria in South Africa in 1971 and is the eldest of 3 children. His mum was a Canadian model and dietician. She appeared nude on the cover of Time Magazine for a health issue, and she was the oldest woman to feature in a CoverGirl campaign.
I wasn’t expecting that…
IKR… And to round that out, his dad was a South African electromechanical engineer.
What was his childhood like?
Musk’s parents split up when he was 10yo. He was badly bullied at school. And he spent a lot of time on the computer and built up his programming skills early. At 12yo he sold his first video game for about $500.
And how was life after school?
He moved to Canada with his mum and siblings in 1989 where he studied at Queen’s University. And he moved to the US in 1992 and finished 2 degrees in physics and economics at the University of Pennsylvania. He then started a PhD in Applied Physics and Materials Science at Stanford University in California in 1995, but he quit after 2 days because he was eager to try his luck with the emerging internet boom.
And what about his love life?
Musk married author Justine Wilson and together, the couple had a son named Nevada. He died of sudden infant death syndrome at 10 weeks old. Two years later, the couple had twins followed by triplets. All boys. Can you imagine…
That’s a lot…
And they ended up getting a divorce in 2008.
Anyone since then?
He married actress Talulah Riley in 2010. Their relationship was turbulent and one that made headlines when they got divorced and then remarried in 2013. After that, Musk filed for and then withdrew his petition for a 2nd divorce. And then in 2016 Riley divorced Musk. After all that, they remain on good terms.
It’s all about Claire Boucher – aka Canadian singer and producer Grimes. The couple met over Twitter and have a baby boy with a very controversial name X Æ A-Xii. It’s pronounced ‘x-arch-a-twelve’. It’s a reference to a CIA plane nicknamed ‘archangel’.
Putting the personal stuff aside, when was his start in business?
It was 1995 when he launched his first company Zip2 with his brother Kimbal – a digital city guide for newspapers. And it was a successful startup. In 1999, they sold it to Compaq, an American IT company, for $US400 million.
Musk used his share to fund his next idea, X.com. It was an online banking product that merged with PayPal which is an online payments system that allows you to pay for items using a secure internet account.
What was his role in the company?
He was CEO, but he only lasted a year because of disagreements around branding and micromanaging. But Musk kept his equity and when PayPal sold to eBay in 2002 for US$1.5 billion, he walked away with somewhere between US$160-180 million.
So he’s doing alright…
Yup. Which means he had a bit of a kitty when he invested in the electric vehicle and clean energy company Tesla. Note: he wasn’t the founder. The business was started in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Musk became chairman in 2004 after investing about $7 million.
Right. And that seems to be going well?
Tesla is a big deal now, but it wasn’t an overnight success. There was a lot of trial and error and bumps along the way as they moved further into the production of electric cars and batteries. And it hasn’t been smooth sailing – Tesla was back from the brink of bankruptcy to become a stock market giant valued at more than US$600 billion.
Not too shabby…
Tesla is valued at more than the other carmarking giants combined… So yeah, they’re doing ok.
And what about his space venture?
SpaceX. He founded that in 2002 with the ambition to build a colony on Mars within a few decades. For now, it’s focused on developing cost-effective and reusable spacecraft. And it’s kicking some goals as the first private company to put a person into orbit.
And NASA likes the cut of the jib?
Yes, SpaceX has won a series of contracts to transport NASA cargo and personnel to the International Space Station, and to get American astronauts to the moon. It’s pretty neat, but it’s got nothing on Neuralink…
Musk describes it as a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires that go into your brain. The aim is to increase the rate at which information can flow from the human brain to a machine. Musk is not a fan of artificial intelligence, so it’s another thing he’s passionate about.
Any other projects in the works?
There’s the Hyperloop – that could see passengers travelling at more than 1,000km/hour above or below ground. There’s still a lot of work to do on that… And there’s the Boring Company – an infrastructure and tunnel building company. And before you ask, it’s called the Boring Company because it uses bores to make tunnels…
That’s all great, but isn’t he a bit of a loose cannon?
Yes, but the chair of Tesla Robyn Denholm says he’s great to work with.
She’s an Aussie who has been credited with being a stabilising force at Tesla, which the company has needed given Musk’s sporadic outbreaks…
You mean his Twitter activity?
That’s part of it – it’s certainly got into hot water more than once, including with business regulators. Last year he tweeted that the company’s stock price was “too high”. That’s a problem because as an officeholder of a listed company, you’re bound by law to communicate to the market with clarity, particularly when that information you’re providing can move the share price.
And what’s the deal with Musk and Bitcoin?
He’s had a turbulent relationship with cryptocurrencies this year. Earlier this year, he added #bitcoin to his Twitter bio and that pushed the price of the cryptocurrency up by about 20%. And then in February, Tesla announced it had bought $1.5 billion in bitcoin and said it might soon accept payments in the currency.
But hasn’t the price of Bitcoin crashed?
More than 50%. And that sell-off was accelerated when Musk suspended plans to let Tesla customers pay for cars in Bitcoin over environmental concerns.
Turns out Bitcoin mining uses more energy annually than Argentina. Something he isn’t happy about… We have a whole Squiz Shortcut on it.
Musk recently turned to comedy, hosting Saturday Night Live where he spoke about his Asperger’s syndrome. He also changed his official job title to Technoking of Tesla – which most say is about his love of technology, while others say it could just as easily be about his love of techno music.
Could he be more 90s?
Well, he’s modern in his outlook on housing… He has sold all his property and he, Grimes and baby X Æ A-Xii live in a tiny house near the SpaceX base in Texas. And when we say tiny, we’re talking 35m² tiny…
What’s next for him?
A lot, but it’s SpaceX that will be in the news a lot. It’s first all-civilian orbital mission will be launched later this year. And there’s a cargo mission to Mars planned for 2022, and by 2024 he plans to send the first crewed mission to the red planet.
Another billionaire in the space race…
We have a whole other Squiz Shortcut on that too btw…
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