Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

modified 2018-11-02

First processed 2018-10-26 %book %biography %musk

Review

“I would like to die thinking that humanity has a bright future,” he said. “If we can solve sustainable energy and be well on our way to becoming a multiplanetary species with a self-sustaining civilization on another planet—to cope with a worst-case scenario happening and extinguishing human consciousness—then,” and here he paused for a moment, “I think that would be really good.”

It is impossible to know how much any person’s success is down to luck. Survivorship bias means that there is probably more luck than we intuitively think. Regardless, a few aspects of Musk’s personality that might have helped him be so effective:

Skin in the game

he has sunk a huge amount of his personal money into his companies, to the point that he was near bankruptcy in 2008. He also identifies strongly with his companies, so he feels their failure visceraly.

A sense of responsability and focus

He seems to feel “If I don’t do this, who will”, he expects people to get things done, truly trying all avenues until they succeed. This is surprisingly rare, people tend to try a little and then give up once they feel they have done ‘enough’ (I know I do this far too frequently).

The ability to work very very hard

His mind and body can handle huge amounts of stress. Not many people could work for similar hours, with similar intensity as Musk does.

Vision and belief

His goal from the very beginning has been to save humanity. This is surely motivating, and allows him to inspire his employees in a way that other buisness leaders cannot. He seems to truly believe in this goal, in a way that most people do not. He feels the urgency implied by thinking that humanity is doomed unless he succeeds, and the trillions of potential lives that hang in the balance. There would have been many points in his career where he could have stopped, become a VC, retired to luxury. He did not.

Higlights

loc: 49 He’d be willing to cooperate if he could read the book before it went to publication, and could add footnotes throughout it. He would not meddle with my text, but he wanted the chance to set the record straight in spots that he deemed factually inaccurate. > I would love to read those notes, pity the author refused!

loc: 72 One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no. Dozens of other journalists had asked him to help with a book before, but I’d been the only annoying asshole who continued on after Musk’s initial rejection, and he seemed to like that.

loc: 84 SpaceX, in Hawthorne, California—a suburb of Los Angeles located a few miles from Los Angeles International Airport. It’s there that visitors will find two giant posters of Mars hanging side by side on the wall leading up to Musk’s cubicle. The poster to the left depicts Mars as it is today—a cold, barren red orb. The poster on the right shows a Mars with a humongous green landmass surrounded by oceans. The planet has been heated up and transformed to suit humans. Musk fully intends to try and make this happen.

loc: 88 “I would like to die thinking that humanity has a bright future,” he said. “If we can solve sustainable energy and be well on our way to becoming a multiplanetary species with a self-sustaining civilization on another planet—to cope with a worst-case scenario happening and extinguishing human consciousness—then,” and here he paused for a moment, “I think that would be really good.” > Makes me think of Pham Nuwen

loc: 138 None of this is off-putting. Musk, in fact, will toss out plenty of jokes and can be downright charming. It’s just that there’s a sense of purpose and pressure hanging over any conversation with the man. Musk doesn’t really shoot the shit. (It would end up taking about thirty hours of interviews for Musk to really loosen up and let me into a different, deeper level of his psyche and personality.) Most high-profile CEOs have handlers all around them. Musk mostly moves about Musk Land on his own. This is not the guy who slinks into the restaurant. It’s the guy who owns the joint and strides about with authority.

loc: 167 You no longer had to make something that other people wanted to buy in order to start a booming company. You just had to have an idea for some sort of Internet thing and announce it to the world in order for eager investors to fund your thought experiment. The whole goal was to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time because everyone knew on at least a subconscious level that reality had to set in eventually. > The dotcom boom, blockchain feels similar right now

loc: 214 He jumped right into dot-com mania in 1995, when, fresh out of college, he founded a company called Zip2—a primitive Google Maps meets Yelp. That first venture ended up a big, quick hit. Compaq bought Zip2 in 1999 for $307 million. Musk made $22 million from the deal and poured almost all of it into his next venture, a start-up that would morph into PayPal. As the largest shareholder in PayPal, Musk became fantastically well-to-do when eBay acquired the company for $1.5 billion in 2002.

loc: 223 With SpaceX, Musk is battling the giants of the U.S. military-industrial complex, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing. He’s also battling nations—most notably Russia and China. SpaceX has made a name for itself as the low-cost supplier in the industry. But that, in and of itself, is not really good enough to win. The space business requires dealing with a mess of politics, back-scratching, and protectionism that undermines the fundamentals of capitalism. Steve Jobs faced similar forces when he went up against the recording industry to bring the iPod and iTunes to market. The crotchety Luddites in the music industry were a pleasure to deal with compared to Musk’s foes who build weapons and countries for a living.

loc: 246 The Musk Co. empire of factories, tens of thousands of workers, and industrial might has incumbents on the run and has turned Musk into one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth around $10 billion.

loc: 250 When Musk sets unrealistic goals, verbally abuses employees, and works them to the bone, it’s understood to be—on some level—part of the Mars agenda. Some employees love him for this. Others loathe him but remain oddly loyal out of respect for his drive and mission. What Musk has developed that so many of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley lack is a meaningful worldview. He’s the possessed genius on the grandest quest anyone has ever concocted. He’s less a CEO chasing riches than a general marshaling troops to secure victory. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to … well … save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.

loc: 256 A typical week starts at his mansion in Bel Air. On Monday, he works the entire day at SpaceX. On Tuesday, he begins at SpaceX, then hops onto his jet and flies to Silicon Valley. He spends a couple of days working at Tesla, which has its offices in Palo Alto and factory in Fremont. Musk does not own a home in Northern California and ends up staying at the luxe Rosewood hotel or at friends’ houses.

loc: 261 Then it’s back to Los Angeles and SpaceX on Thursday. He shares custody of his five young boys—twins and triplets—with his ex-wife, Justine, and has them four days a week.

loc: 263 Asked how he survives this schedule, Musk said, “I had a tough childhood, so maybe that was helpful.”

loc: 271 At this time, Musk had just split from his second wife, the actress Talulah Riley, and was trying to calculate if he could mix a personal life into all of this. “I think the time allocated to the businesses and the kids is going fine,” Musk said. “I would like to allocate more time to dating, though. I need to find a girlfriend. That’s why I need to carve out just a little more time. I think maybe even another five to ten—how much time does a woman want a week? Maybe ten hours? That’s kind of the minimum? I don’t know.”

loc: 296 She met Musk back in 2008, when his companies were collapsing. She watched him lose his entire fortune and get ridiculed by the press. She knows that the sting of these years remains and has combined with the other traumas in Musk’s life—the tragic loss of an infant son and a brutal upbringing in South Africa—to create a tortured soul.

loc: 304 When Musk came into the meeting room where I’d been waiting, I noted how impressive it was for so many people to turn up on a Saturday. Musk saw the situation in a different light, complaining that fewer and fewer people had been working weekends of late. “We’ve grown fucking soft,” Musk replied. “I was just going to send out an e-mail. We’re fucking soft.” (A word of warning: There’s going to be a lot of “fuck” in this book. Musk adores the word, and so do most of the people in his inner circle.)

loc: 319 “To me, Elon is the shining example of how Silicon Valley might be able to reinvent itself and be more relevant than chasing these quick IPOs and focusing on getting incremental products out,” said Edward Jung, a famed software engineer and inventor. “Those things are important, but they are not enough. We need to look at different models of how to do things that are longer term in nature and where the technology is more integrated.”

loc: 331 As his ex-wife, Justine, put it, “He does what he wants, and he is relentless about it. It’s Elon’s world, and the rest of us live in it.”

loc: 334 THE PUBLIC FIRST met Elon Reeve Musk in 1984. The South African trade publication PC and Office Technology published the source code to a video game Musk had designed. Called Blastar, the science-fiction-inspired space game required 167 lines of instructions to run. > At 12

loc: 347 “Maybe I read too many comics as a kid,” Musk said. “In the comics, it always seems like they are trying to save the world. It seemed like one should try to make the world a better place because the inverse makes no sense.”

loc: 361 But what had even more of an impact on Musk’s personality was the white Afrikaner culture so prevalent in Pretoria and the surrounding areas. Hypermasculine behavior was celebrated and tough jocks were revered. While Musk enjoyed a level of privilege, he lived as an outsider whose reserved personality and geeky inclinations ran against the prevailing attitudes of the time. His notion that something about the world had gone awry received constant reinforcement, and Musk, almost from his earliest days, plotted an escape from his surroundings and dreamed of a place that would allow his personality and dreams to flourish.

loc: 393 The doctor-cum-politician had long railed against government interference in the lives of individuals and had come to see the Canadian bureaucracy as too meddlesome. A man who forbade swearing, smoking, Coca-Cola, and refined flour at his house, Haldeman contended that the moral character of Canada had started to decline. Haldeman also possessed an enduring lust for adventure. And so, over the course of a few months, the family sold their house and dance and chiropractic practices and decided to move to South Africa—a place Haldeman had never been.

loc: 399 The family’s spirit for adventure seemed to know no bounds. In 1952, Joshua and Wyn made a 22,000-mile round-trip journey in their plane, flying up through Africa to Scotland and Norway. Wyn served as the navigator and, though not a licensed pilot, would sometimes take over the flying duties. The couple topped this effort in 1954, flying 30,000 miles to Australia and back. Newspapers reported on the couple’s trip, and they’re believed to be the only private pilots to get from Africa to Australia in a single-engine plane.

loc: 411 The Haldemans had a laissez-faire approach to raising their children, which would extend over the generations to Musk. Their kids were never punished, as Joshua believed they would intuit their way to proper behavior. When mom and dad went off on their tremendous flights, the kids were left at home. Scott Haldeman can’t remember his father setting foot at his school a single time even though his son was captain of the rugby team and a prefect. “To him, that was all just anticipated,” said Scott Haldeman. “We were left with the impression that we were capable of anything. You just have to make a decision and do it. In that sense, my father would be very proud of Elon.”

loc: 448 For Musk, these pensive moments were wonderful. At five and six, he had found a way to block out the world and dedicate all of his concentration to a single task. Part of this ability stemmed from the very visual way in which Musk’s mind worked. He could see images in his mind’s eye with a clarity and detail that we might associate today with an engineering drawing produced by computer software. “It seems as though the part of the brain that’s usually reserved for visual processing—the part that is used to process images coming in from my eyes—gets taken over by internal thought processes,”

loc: 459 The most striking part of Elon’s character as a young boy was his compulsion to read. From a very young age, he seemed to have a book in his hands at all times. “It was not unusual for him to read ten hours a day,” said Kimbal. “If it was the weekend, he could go through two books in a day.” The family went on numerous shopping excursions in which they realized mid-trip that Elon had gone missing. Maye or Kimbal would pop into the nearest bookstore and find Elon somewhere near the back sitting on the floor and reading in one of his trancelike states. As Elon got older, he would take himself to the bookstore when school ended at 2 P.M. and stay there until about 6 P.M., when his parents returned home from work.

loc: 465 He listed The Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as some of his favorites, alongside The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

loc: 470 Elon, in fact, churned through two sets of encyclopedias—a feat that did little to help him make friends. The boy had a photographic memory, and the encyclopedias turned him into a fact factory. He came off as a classic know-it-all.

loc: 476 As a youngster, Elon’s constant yearning to correct people and his abrasive manner put off other kids and added to his feelings of isolation. Elon genuinely thought that people would be happy to hear about the flaws in their thinking.

loc: 525 Elon warned me off corresponding with his father, insisting that his father’s take on past events could not be trusted. “He is an odd duck,” Musk said. But, when pressed for more information, Musk dodged. “It would certainly be accurate to say that I did not have a good childhood,” he said. “It may sound good. It was not absent of good, but it was not a happy childhood. It was like misery. He’s good at making life miserable—that’s for sure. He can take any situation no matter how good it is and make it bad. He’s not a happy man. I don’t know … fuck … I don’t know how someone becomes like he is. It would just cause too much trouble to tell you any more.” Elon and Justine have vowed that their children will not be allowed to meet Errol.

loc: 548 As the years went on, the cousins took their entrepreneurial pursuits more seriously, even attempting at one point to start a video arcade. Without any parents knowing, the boys picked out a spot for their arcade, got a lease, and started navigating the permit process for their business. Eventually, they had to get someone over eighteen to sign a legal document, and neither the Rives’ father nor Errol would oblige.

loc: 553 the thirty-five-mile train trip linking Pretoria and Johannesburg stood out as one of the world’s more dangerous rides. Kimbal counted the train journeys as formative experiences for him and Elon. “South Africa was not a happy-go-lucky place, and that has an impact on you. We saw some really rough stuff. It was part of an atypical upbringing—just this insane set of experiences that changes how you view risk. You don’t grow up thinking getting a job is the hard part. That’s not interesting enough.”

loc: 560 Elon excelled at this Dungeon Master role and had memorized the texts detailing the powers of monsters and other characters. “Under Elon’s leadership, we played the role so well and won the tournament,” said Peter Rive. “Winning requires this incredible imagination, and Elon really set the tone for keeping people captivated and inspired.”

loc: 572 For three or four years, Musk endured relentless hounding at the hands of these bullies. They went so far as to beat up a boy that Musk considered his best friend until the child agreed to stop hanging out with Musk. “Moreover, they got him—they got my best fucking friend—to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up,” Musk said. “And that fucking hurt.” While telling this part of the story, Musk’s eyes welled up and his voice quivered. “For some reason, they decided that I was it, and they were going to go after me nonstop. That’s what made growing up difficult. For a number of years, there was no respite. You get chased around by gangs at school who tried to beat the shit out of me, and then I’d come home, and it would just be awful there as well. It was just like nonstop horrible.

loc: 581 The boys from Musk’s class remember him as a likable, quiet, unspectacular student. “There were four or five boys that were considered the very brightest,” said Deon Prinsloo, who sat behind Elon in some classes. “Elon was not one of them.” Such comments were echoed by a half dozen boys who also noted that Musk’s lack of interest in sports left him isolated in the midst of an athletics-obsessed culture. “Honestly, there were just no signs that he was going to be a billionaire,” said Gideon Fourie, another classmate. “He was never in a leadership position at school. I was rather surprised to see what has happened to him.”

loc: 619 Musk’s opportunity to flee arrived with a change in the law that allowed Maye to pass her Canadian citizenship to her children. Musk immediately began researching how to complete the paperwork for this process. It took about a year to receive the approvals from the Canadian government and to secure a Canadian passport. “That’s when Elon said, ‘I’m leaving for Canada,’” Maye said. In these pre-Internet days, Musk had to wait three agonizing weeks to get a plane ticket. Once it arrived, and without flinching, he left home for good.

loc: 651 Musk spent the next year working a series of odd jobs around Canada. He tended vegetables and shoveled out grain bins at a cousin’s farm located in the tiny town of Waldeck.

loc: 664 Elon would read the newspaper alongside Kimbal, and the two of them would identify interesting people they would like to meet. They then took turns cold-calling these people to ask if they were available to have lunch.

loc: 681 “One night he told me, ‘If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.’ The enormity of his work ethic at that age and his intensity jumped out. It seemed like one of the more unusual things I had ever heard.”

loc: 722 Musk’s intensity has continued to be a constant in their long relationship. “When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity.

loc: 747 Musk will have the occasional vodka and Diet Coke, but he’s not a big drinker and does not really care for the taste of alcohol. “Somebody had to stay sober during these parties,” Musk said. “I was paying my own way through college and could make an entire month’s rent in one night. Adeo was in charge of doing cool shit around the house, and I would run the party.” As Ressi put it, “Elon was the most straight-laced dude you have ever met. He never drank. He never did anything. Zero. Literally nothing.” The only time Ressi had to step in and moderate Musk’s behavior came during video game binges that could go on for days.

loc: 767 The remarks from the professor were spot-on. Musk’s clear, concise writing is the work of a logician, moving from one point to the next with precision. What truly stood out, though, was Musk’s ability to master difficult physics concepts in the midst of actual business plans. Even then, he showed an unusual knack for being able to perceive a path from a scientific advance to a for-profit enterprise.

loc: 779 Musk’s insistence on explaining the early origins of his passion for electric cars, solar energy, and rockets can come off as insecure. It feels as if Musk is trying to shape his life story in a forced way. But for Musk, the distinction between stumbling into something and having intent is important. Musk has long wanted the world to know that he’s different from the run-of-the-mill entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. He wasn’t just sniffing out trends, and he wasn’t consumed by the idea of getting rich. He’s been in pursuit of a master plan all along.

loc: 807 Musk could talk at length about how ultracapacitors might be used to build laser-based sidearms in the tradition of Star Wars and just about any other futuristic film. The laser guns would release rounds of enormous energy, and then the shooter would replace an ultra-capacitor at the base of the gun, much like swapping out a clip of bullets, and start blasting away again.

loc: 938 Musk fell into the classic self-taught coder trap of writing what developers call hairballs—big, monolithic hunks of code that could go berserk for mysterious reasons. The engineers also brought a more refined working structure and realistic deadlines to the engineering group. This was a welcome change from Musk’s approach, which had been to set overly optimistic deadlines and then try to get engineers to work nonstop for days on end to meet the goals. “If you asked Elon how long it would take to do something, there was never anything in his mind that would take more than an hour,” Ambras said. “We came to interpret an hour as really taking a day or two and if Elon ever did say something would take a day, we allowed for a week or two weeks.” > He’s just human after all

loc: 954 “Someone complained about a technical change that we wanted being impossible. Elon turned and said, ‘I don’t really give a damn what you think,’ and walked out of the meeting. For Elon, the word no does not exist, and he expects that attitude from everyone around him.”

loc: 1,004 From that point on, Musk would fight to maintain control of his companies and stay CEO. “We were overwhelmed and just thought these guys must know what they’re doing,” Kimbal said. “But they’ didn’t. There was no vision once they took over. They were investors, and we got on well with them, but the vision had just disappeared from the company.”

loc: 1,053 “I tried to tell them that’s not the point,” Musk said. “The point is that it’s fucking backed by Uncle Sam. It doesn’t matter what the South Americans do. You cannot lose unless you think the U.S. Treasury is going to default. But they still didn’t do it, and I was stunned. Later in life, as I competed against the banks, I would think back to this moment, and it gave me confidence. All the bankers did was copy what everyone else did. If everyone else ran off a bloody cliff, they’d run right off a cliff with them. If there was a giant pile of gold sitting in the middle of the room and nobody was picking it up, they wouldn’t pick it up, either.”

loc: 1,100 To his credit, Musk did not fully buy in to this playboy persona. He actually plowed the majority of the money he made from Zip2 into X.com. There were practical reasons for this decision. Investors catch a break under the tax law if they roll a windfall into a new venture within a couple of months. But even by Silicon Valley’s high-risk standards, it was shocking to put so much of one’s newfound wealth into something as iffy as an online bank. All told, Musk invested about $12 million into X.com, leaving him, after taxes, with $4 million or so for personal use. “That’s part of what separates Elon from mere mortals,” said Ed Ho, the former Zip2 executive, who went on to cofound X.com. “He’s willing to take an insane amount of personal risk. When you do a deal like that, it either pays off or you end up in a bus shelter somewhere.”

loc: 1,107 X.com looks even more unusual in hindsight. Much of the point of being a dot-com success in 1999 was to prove yourself once, stash away your millions, and then use your credentials to talk other people into betting their money on your next venture. Musk would certainly go on to rely on outside investors, but he put major skin in the game as well. So while Musk could be found on television talking like the rest of the self-absorbed dot-com schmucks, he behaved more like a throwback to Silicon Valley’s earlier days, when the founders of companies like Intel were willing to take huge gambles on themselves. > Importance of skin in the game

loc: 1,191 Sequoia, did not think Musk provided the board with a true picture of X.com’s issues. A growing number of other people at the company questioned Musk’s decision-making in the face of all the crises. What followed was one of the nastiest coups in Silicon Valley’s long, illustrious history of nasty coups. A small group of X.com employees gathered one night at Fanny & Alexander, a now-defunct bar in Palo Alto, and brainstormed about how to push out Musk. They decided to sell the board on the idea of Thiel returning as CEO. Instead of confronting Musk directly with this plan, the conspirators decided to take action behind Musk’s back.

loc: 1,212 That month, Thiel rebranded X.com as PayPal. Musk rarely lets a slight go unpunished. Throughout this ordeal, however, he showed incredible restraint. He embraced the role of being an advisor to the company and kept investing in it, increasing his stake as PayPal’s largest shareholder. “You would expect someone in Elon’s position to be bitter and vindictive, but he wasn’t,” said Botha. “He supported Peter. He was a prince.”

loc: 1,241 bombastic counteroffensives from Musk, which revealed touches of insecurity and the seriousness with which Musk insists that the historical record reflect his take on events. “He comes from the school of thought in the public relations world that you let no inaccuracy go uncorrected,” said Vince Sollitto, the former communications chief at PayPal. “It sets a precedent, and you should fight every out-of-place comma tooth and nail. He takes things very personally and usually seeks war.”

loc: 1,262 PayPal also came to represent one of the greatest assemblages of business and engineering talent in Silicon Valley history. Both Musk and Thiel had a keen eye for young, brilliant engineers. The founders of start-ups as varied as YouTube, Palantir Technologies, and Yelp all worked at PayPal. Another set of people—including Reid Hoffman, Thiel, and Botha—emerged as some of the technology industry’s top investors. PayPal staff pioneered techniques in fighting online fraud that have formed the basis of software used by the CIA and FBI to track terrorists and of software used by the world’s largest banks to combat crime. This collection of super-bright employees has become known as the PayPal Mafia—more or less the current ruling class of Silicon Valley—and Musk is its most famous and successful member.

loc: 1,289 “Money is not his motivation, and, quite frankly, I think it just happens for him,” Justine said. “It’s just there. He knows he can generate it.”

loc: 1,293 She described the situation years later in an article for Marie Claire, writing, “He was constantly remarking on the ways he found me lacking. ‘I am your wife,’ I told him repeatedly, ‘not your employee.’ ‘If you were my employee,’ he said just as often, ‘I would fire you.’”

loc: 1,306 “He’s built like a tank,” she said. “He has a level of stamina and an ability to deal with levels of stress that I’ve never seen in anyone else. To see him laid low like that in total misery was like a visit to an alternate universe.” > Not everyone is physically able to work as hard as Musk, even if they had the motivation to do so.

loc: 1,339 “I had friends who complained that their husbands came home at seven or eight,” she said. “Elon would come home at eleven and work some more. People didn’t always get the sacrifice he made in order to be where he was.”

loc: 1,388 His fears that mankind had lost much of its will to push the boundaries were reinforced one day when Musk went to the NASA website. He’d expected to find a detailed plan for exploring Mars and instead found bupkis. “At first I thought, jeez, maybe I’m just looking in the wrong place,”

loc: 1,438 Cantrell was driving his convertible on a hot July evening in Utah when a call came in. “This guy in a funny accent said, ‘I really need to talk to you. I am a billionaire. I am going to start a space program.’” Cantrell could not hear Musk well—he thought his name was Ian Musk—and said he would call back once he got home. The two men didn’t exactly trust each other at the outset. Musk refused to give Cantrell his cell phone number and made the call from his fax machine. Cantrell found Musk both intriguing and all too eager. “He asked if there was an airport near me and if I could meet the next day,” Cantrell said. “My red flags started going off.” Fearing one of his enemies was trying to orchestrate an elaborate setup, Cantrell told Musk to meet him at the Salt Lake City airport, where he would rent a conference room near the Delta lounge. “I wanted him to meet me behind security so he couldn’t pack a gun,”

loc: 1,485 Musk had spent months studying the aerospace industry and the physics behind it. From Cantrell and others, he’d borrowed Rocket Propulsion Elements, Fundamentals of Astrodynamics, and Aerothermodynamics of Gas Turbine and Rocket Propulsion, along with several more seminal texts. Musk had reverted to his childhood state as a devourer of information and had emerged from this meditative process with the realization that rockets could and should be made much cheaper than what the Russians were offering. Forget the mice. Forget the plant with its own video feed growing—or possibly dying—on Mars. Musk would inspire people to think about exploring space again by making it cheaper to explore space. > Focus. One kick practiced a thousand times.

loc: 1,552 Musk had soon transformed the SpaceX office with what has become his signature factory aesthetic: a glossy epoxy coating applied over concrete on the floors, and a fresh coat of white paint slathered onto the walls. The white color scheme was intended to make the factory look clean and feel cheerful. Desks were interspersed around the factory so that Ivy League computer scientists and engineers designing the machines could sit with the welders and machinists building the hardware. This approach stood as SpaceX’s first major break with traditional aerospace companies that prefer to cordon different engineering groups off from each other and typically separate engineers and machinists by thousands of miles by placing their factories in locations where real estate and labor run cheap.

loc: 1,570 At a time when the cost of sending a 550-pound payload started at $30 million, he promised that the Falcon 1 would be able to carry a 1,400-pound payload for $6.9 million. Bowing to his nature, Musk set an insanely ambitious timeline for all of this. One of the earliest SpaceX presentations suggested that the company would complete its first engine in May 2003, a second engine in June, the body of the rocket in July, and have everything assembled in August. A launchpad would then be prepared by September, and the first launch would take place in November 2003, or about fifteen months after the company started. A trip to Mars was naturally slated for somewhere near the end of the decade. This was Musk the logical, naïve optimist tabulating how long it should take people physically to perform all of this work. It’s the baseline he expects of himself and one that his employees, with their human foibles, are in a never-ending struggle to match.

loc: 1,594 SpaceX had the advantage of being able to learn from this past work and having a few people on staff that had overseen rocket projects at companies like Boeing and TRW. That said, the start-up did not have a budget that could support a string of explosions. At best, SpaceX would have three or four shots at making the Falcon 1 work.

loc: 1,629 These early days also marked the arrival of Mary Beth Brown, a now-legendary character in the lore of both SpaceX and Tesla. Brown—or MB, as everyone called her—became Musk’s loyal assistant, establishing a real-life version of the relationship between Iron Man’s Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. If Musk worked a twenty-hour day, so too did Brown. Over the years, she brought Musk meals, set up his business appointments, arranged time with his children, picked out his clothes, dealt with press requests, and when necessary yanked Musk out of meetings to keep him on schedule.

loc: 1,644 Brown placed her desk a few feet in front of Musk’s, so that people had to pass her before having a meeting with him. If someone needed to request permission to buy a big-ticket item, they would stop for a moment in front of Brown and wait for a nod to go see Musk or the shake-off to go away because Musk was having a bad day. This system of nods and shakes became particularly important during periods of romantic strife for Musk, when his nerves were on edge more than usual.

loc: 1,682 His first day on the job came right as Boeing completed its merger with McDonnell Douglas. The resultant mammoth government contractor held a picnic to boost morale but ended up failing at even this simple exercise. “The head of one of the departments gave a speech about it being one company with one vision and then added that the company was very cost constrained,” Hollman said. “He asked that everyone limit themselves to one piece of chicken.” Things didn’t improve much from there. Every project at Boeing felt large, cumbersome, and costly.

loc: 1,774 they too were ruined when he scratched the lenses while trying to duck under an engine at the SpaceX factory. Without a spare moment to visit an optometrist, Hollman started to feel his sanity fray. The long hours, the scratch, the publicity stunt—they were all too much. He vented about this in the factory one night, unaware that Musk stood nearby and could hear everything. Two hours later, Mary Beth Brown appeared with an appointment card to see a Lasik eye surgery specialist. When Hollman visited the doctor, he discovered that Musk had already agreed to pay for the surgery. “Elon can be very demanding, but he’ll make sure the obstacles in your way are removed,”

loc: 1,824 Another salesman flew down to SpaceX to sell the company on some technology infrastructure equipment. He was doing the standard relationship-building exercise practiced by salespeople for centuries. Show up. Speak for a while. Feel each other out. Then, start doing business down the road. Musk was having none of it. “The guy comes in, and Elon asks him why they’re meeting,” Spikes said. “He said, ‘To develop a relationship.’ Elon replied, ‘Okay. Nice to meet you,’ which basically meant, ‘Get the fuck out of my office.’ This guy had spent four hours traveling for what ended up as a two-minute meeting. Elon just has no tolerance for that kind of stuff.” Musk could be equally brisk with employees who were not hitting his standards. “He would often say, ‘The longer you wait to fire someone the longer it has been since you should have fired them,’” Spikes said.

loc: 1,837 “The treatment of staff was not good for long stretches of this era,” said one engineer. “Many good engineers, who everyone beside ‘management’ felt were assets to the company, were forced out or simply fired outright after being blamed for things they hadn’t done. The kiss of death was proving Elon wrong about something.”

loc: 1,846 Seemingly trivial things like getting a flash storage drive to talk to the rocket’s main computer failed for undetectable reasons. The software needed to manage the rocket also became a major burden. “It’s like anything else where you find out that the last ten percent is where all the integration happens and things don’t play together,” Mueller said. “This process went on for six months.”

loc: 1,911 Someone found an electronics supplier that was open on Sunday in Minnesota, and off a SpaceX employee flew to get some fresh capacitors. By Monday he was in California and testing the parts at SpaceX’s headquarters to make sure they passed various heat and vibration checks, then on a plane again back to the islands. In under eighty hours, the electronics had been returned in working order and installed in the rocket. The dash to the United States and back showed that SpaceX’s thirty-person team had real pluck in the face of adversity and inspired everyone on the island. A traditional three-hundred-person-strong aerospace launch crew would never have tried to fix a rocket like that on the fly. But the energy, smarts, and resourcefulness of the SpaceX team still could not overcome their inexperience or the difficult conditions. More problems arose and blocked any thoughts of a launch.

loc: 2,130 Had anyone from Detroit stopped by Tesla Motors at this point, they would have ended up in hysterics. The sum total of the company’s automotive expertise was that a couple of the guys at Tesla really liked cars and another one had created a series of science fair projects based on technology that the automotive industry considered ridiculous. What’s more, the founding team had no intention of turning to Detroit for advice on how to build a car company. No, Tesla would do what every other Silicon Valley start-up had done before it, which was hire a bunch of young, hungry engineers and figure things out as they went along.

loc: 2,170 These efforts began in earnest on October 18, 2004, and, rather remarkably, four months later, on January 27, 2005, an entirely new kind of car had been built by eighteen people. It could even be driven around. Tesla had a board meeting that day, and Musk zipped about in the car. He came away happy enough to keep investing. Musk put in $9 million more as Tesla raised a $13 million funding round. The company now planned to deliver the Roadster to consumers in early 2006.

loc: 2,247 Tesla also had equal access to the big guys’ durability tracks made out of cobblestones and concrete embedded with metal objects. It could replicate 100,000 miles and ten years of wear at these facilities.

loc: 2,250 It would be standard to run the car for three days or so, get the data, and return to company headquarters for many weeks of meetings about how to adjust the car. The whole process of tuning a car can take the entire winter. Tesla, by contrast, sent its engineers along with the Roadsters being tested and had them analyze the data on the spot. When something needed to be tweaked, the engineers would rewrite some code and send the car back on the ice. “BMW would need to have a confab between three or four companies that would all blame each other for the problem,” Tarpenning said. “We just fixed it ourselves.

loc: 2,577 “He would say that everything we did was a function of our burn rate and that we were burning through a hundred thousand dollars per day. It was this very entrepreneurial, Silicon Valley way of thinking that none of the aerospace engineers in Los Angeles were dialed into. Sometimes he wouldn’t let you buy a part for two thousand dollars because he expected you to find it cheaper or invent something cheaper. Other times, he wouldn’t flinch at renting a plane for ninety thousand dollars to get something to Kwaj because it saved an entire workday, so it was worth it. He would place this urgency that he expected the revenue in ten years to be ten million dollars a day and that every day we were slower to achieve our goals was a day of missing out on that money.” > If we really behaved as though future lives were important, then we would feel the same way about economic growth and existential risk. So, so many lives are at risk!

loc: 2,671 Musk had other ideas. Riley had been in California for just five days when he made his move as they lay in bed talking in a tiny room at the Peninsula hotel in Beverley Hills. “He said, ‘I don’t want you to leave. I want you to marry me.’ I think I laughed. Then, he said, ‘No. I’m serious. I’m sorry I don’t have a ring.’ I said, ‘We can shake on it if you like.’ And we did. I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time, and all I can say is that I was twenty-two.”

loc: 2,764 The fairing opened up around the three-minute mark and fell back toward Earth. And, finally, around nine minutes into its journey, the Falcon 1 shut down just as planned and reached orbit, making it the first privately built machine to accomplish such a feat. It took six years—about four and half more than Musk had once planned—and five hundred people to make this miracle of modern science and business happen.

loc: 2,815 The couple had to start borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Musk’s friend Skoll, and Riley’s parents offered to remortgage their house. Musk no longer flew his jet back and forth between Los Angles and Silicon Valley. He took Southwest. Burning through about $4 million a month, Tesla needed to close another major round of funding to get through 2008 and stay alive. Musk had to lean on friends just to try to make payroll from week to week,

loc: 2,869 For Gracias, the Tesla and SpaceX investor and Musk’s friend, the 2008 period told him everything he would ever need to know about Musk’s character. He saw a man who arrived in the United States with nothing, who had lost a child, who was being pilloried in the press by reporters and his ex-wife and who verged on having his life’s work destroyed. “He has the ability to work harder and endure more stress than anyone I’ve ever met,” Gracias said. “What he went through in 2008 would have broken anyone else. He didn’t just survive. He kept working and stayed focused.”

loc: 2,946 By the time zero arrives, the rocket has decided that all is well enough to go through with its mission, and the clamps release. The rocket goes to war with inertia, and then, with flames surrounding its base and snow-thick plumes of the liquid oxygen filling the air, it shoots up. Seeing something so large hold so straight and steady while suspended in midair is hard for the brain to register. It is foreign, inexplicable.

loc: 3,011 People who know Musk well tend to describe him more as a general than a CEO, and this is apt. He’s built an engineering army by having the pick of just about anyone in the business that SpaceX wants. The SpaceX hiring model places some emphasis on getting top marks at top schools. But most of the attention goes toward spotting engineers who have exhibited type A personality traits over the course of their lives. The company’s recruiters look for people who might excel at robot-building competitions or who are car-racing hobbyists who have built unusual vehicles. The object is to find individuals who ooze passion, can work well as part of a team, and have real-world experience bending metal.

loc: 3,030 The reward for solving the puzzles, acting clever in interviews, and penning up a good essay is a meeting with Musk. He interviewed almost every one of SpaceX’s first one thousand hires, including the janitors and technicians, and has continued to interview the engineers as the company’s workforce swelled. Each employee receives a warning before going to meet with Musk. The interview, he or she is told, could last anywhere from thirty seconds to fifteen minutes. Elon will likely keep on writing e-mails and working during the initial part of the interview and not speak much. Don’t panic. That’s normal. Eventually, he will turn around in his chair to face you. Even then, though, he might not make actual eye contact with you or fully acknowledge your presence. Don’t panic. That’s normal. In due course, he will speak to you.

loc: 3,096 This is a three-story glass structure with meeting rooms and desks that rises up between various welding and construction areas. It looks and feels bizarre to have a see-through office inside this hive of industry. Musk, though, wanted his engineers to watch what was going on with the machines at all times and to make sure they had to walk through the factory and talk to the technicians on the way to their desks. The factory is a temple devoted to what SpaceX sees as its major weapon in the rocket-building game, in-house manufacturing. SpaceX manufactures between 80 percent and 90 percent of its rockets, engines, electronics, and other parts. It’s a strategy that flat-out dumbfounds SpaceX’s competitors, like United Launch Alliance, or ULA, which openly brags about depending on more than 1,200 suppliers to make its end products.

loc: 3,108 Just by streamlining a radio, for instance, SpaceX’s engineers have found that they can reduce the weight of the device by about 20 percent. And the cost savings for a homemade radio are dramatic, dropping from between $50,000 to $100,000 for the industrial-grade equipment used by aerospace companies to $5,000 for SpaceX’s unit.

loc: 3,133 Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s secretive rocket company, has been particularly aggressive, hiring away Ray Miryekta, one of the world’s foremost friction stir welding experts and igniting a major rift with Musk. “Blue Origin does these surgical strikes on specialized talent offering like double their salaries. I think it’s unnecessary and a bit rude,” Musk said.

loc: 3,146 Musk initially relied on textbooks to form the bulk of his rocketry knowledge. But as SpaceX hired one brilliant person after another, Musk realized he could tap into their stores of knowledge. He would trap an engineer in the SpaceX factory and set to work grilling him about a type of valve or specialized material. “I thought at first that he was challenging me to see if I knew my stuff,” said Kevin Brogan, one of the early engineers. “Then I realized he was trying to learn things. He would quiz you until he learned ninety percent of what you know.” People who have spent significant time with Musk will attest to his abilities to absorb incredible quantities of information with near-flawless recall.

loc: 3,197 “He doesn’t say, ‘You have to do this by Friday at two P.M.,’” Brogan said. “He says, ‘I need the impossible done by Friday at two P.M. Can you do it?’ Then, when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you to. You’re working hard for yourself. It’s a distinction you can feel. You have signed up to do your own work.” And by recruiting hundreds of bright, self-motivated people, SpaceX has maximized the power of the individual. One person putting in a sixteen-hour day ends up being much more effective than two people working eight-hour days together. The individual doesn’t have to hold meetings, reach a consensus, or bring other people up to speed on a project. > !

loc: 3,233 As he pressed send, Davis felt anxiety surge through his body knowing that he’d given his all for almost a year to do something an engineer at another aerospace company would not even attempt. Musk rewarded all of this toil and angst with one of his standard responses. He wrote back, “Ok.” The actuator Davis designed ended up costing $3,900 and flew with Falcon 1 into space. “I put every ounce of intellectual capital I had into that e-mail and one minute later got that simple response,” Davis said. “Everyone in the company was having that same experience. One of my favorite things about Elon is his ability to make enormous decisions very quickly. That is still how it works today.”

loc: 3,314 “There is a fundamental problem with regulators. If a regulator agrees to change a rule and something bad happens, they could easily lose their career. Whereas if they change a rule and something good happens, they don’t even get a reward. So, it’s very asymmetric. It’s then very easy to understand why regulators resist changing the rules. It’s because there’s a big punishment on one side and no reward on the other. How would any rational person behave in such a scenario?”

loc: 3,689 It’s worth pausing for a moment to meditate on what Tesla had accomplished. Musk had set out to make an electric car that did not suffer from any compromises. He did that. Then, using a form of entrepreneurial judo, he upended the decades of criticisms against electric cars. The Model S was not just the best electric car; it was best car, period, and the car people desired. America had not seen a successful car company since Chrysler emerged in 1925. Silicon Valley had done little of note in the automotive industry. Musk had never run a car factory before and was considered arrogant and amateurish by Detroit. Yet, one year after the Model S went on sale, Tesla had posted a profit, hit $562 million in quarterly revenue, raised its sales forecast, and become as valuable as Mazda Motor.

loc: 3,729 A funny thing happened, however. Tesla did just enough to survive. From 2008 to 2012, Tesla sold about 2,500 Roadsters. The car had accomplished what Musk had intended from the outset. It proved that electric cars could be fun to drive and that they could be objects of desire. With the Roadster, Tesla kept electric cars in the public’s consciousness and did so under impossible circumstances, namely the collapse of the American automotive industry and the global financial markets. Whether Musk was a founder of Tesla in the purest sense of the word is irrelevant at this point. There would be no Tesla to talk about today were it not for Musk’s money, marketing savvy, chicanery, engineering smarts, and indomitable spirit. Tesla was, in effect, willed into existence by Musk and reflects his personality as much as Intel, Microsoft, and Apple reflect the personalities of their founders.

loc: 3,782 A small team of Tesla engineers began the process of trying to figure out the mechanical inner workings of the Model S. Their first step in this journey took place at a Mercedes dealership where they test drove a CLS 4-Door Coupe and an E-Class sedan. The cars had the same chassis, and the Tesla engineers took measurements of every inch of the vehicles, studying what they liked and didn’t like. In the end, they preferred the styling on the CLS and settled on it as their baseline for thinking about the Model S. After purchasing a CLS, Tesla’s engineers tore it apart. One team had reshaped the boxy, rectangular battery pack from the Roadster and made it flat. The engineers cut the floor out of the CLS and plopped in the pack. Next they put the electronics that tied the whole system together in the trunk. After that, they replaced the interior of the car to restore its fit and finish. Following three months of work, Tesla had in effect built an all-electric Mercedes CLS. Tesla used the car to woo investors and future partners like Daimler that would eventually turn to Tesla for electric powertrains in their vehicles.

loc: 3,874 Tesla’s engineers came back and said that the temperature and vibration loads for the computers did not appear to be up to automotive standards. Tesla’s supplier in Asia also kept pointing the carmaker to its automotive division instead of its computing division. As Musk dug into the situation more, he discovered that the laptop screens simply had not been tested before under the tougher automotive conditions, which included large temperature fluctuations. When Tesla performed the tests, the electronics ended up working just fine.

loc: 3,881 The Tesla engineers were radical by automotive industry standards but even they had problems fully committing to Musk’s vision. “They wanted to put in a bloody switch or a button for the lights,” Musk said. “Why would we need a switch? When it’s dark, turn the lights on.” > Switches dont break! Tactile, simple, discoverable.

loc: 4,012 “One of the scariest meetings was when we needed to ask Elon for an extra two weeks and more money to build out another version of the Model S,” Javidan said. “We put together a plan, stating how long things would take and what they would cost. We told him that if he wanted the car in thirty days it would require hiring some new people, and we presented him with a stack of resumes. You don’t tell Elon you can’t do something. That will get you kicked out of the room. You need everything lined up. After we presented the plan, he said, ‘Okay, thanks.’ Everyone was like, ‘Holy shit, he didn’t fire you.’”

loc: 4,027 Musk’s eyes darted around for a few moments and then settled onto the sun visor. It was beige and a visible seam ran around the edge and pushed the fabric out. “It’s fish-lipped,” Musk said. The screws attaching the visor to the car were visible as well, and Musk insisted that every time he saw them it felt like tiny daggers were stabbing him in the eyes. The whole situation was unacceptable. “We have to decide what is the best sun visor in the world and then do better,” Musk said. A couple of assistants taking notes outside of the car jotted this down.

loc: 4,066 “It’s good to get a sense for just how bad the other cars are,” he said. When these statements fly out of Musk’s mouth, it’s momentarily shocking. Here’s a guy who needed nine years to produce about three thousand cars ridiculing automakers that build millions of vehicles every year. In that context, his ribbing comes off as absurd. Musk, though, approaches everything from a Platonic perspective. As he sees it, all of the design and technology choices should be directed toward the goal of making a car as close to perfect as possible. To the extent that rival automakers haven’t, that’s what Musk is judging. It’s almost a binary experience for him. Either you’re trying to make something spectacular with no compromises or you’re not. And if you’re not, Musk considers you a failure.

loc: 4,310 The guys like Straubel who had been at Tesla since the beginning are quick to remind people that the chance to build an awesome electric car had been there all along. “It’s not really like there was a rush to this idea, and we got there first,” Straubel said. “It is frequently forgotten in hindsight that people thought this was the shittiest business opportunity on the planet. The venture capitalists were all running for the hills.” What separated Tesla from the competition was the willingness to charge after its vision without compromise, a complete commitment to execute to Musk’s standards.

loc: 4,701 For more than a decade, she gave up her life for Musk, traipsing back and forth between Los Angeles and Silicon Valley every week, while working late into the night and on weekends. Brown went to Musk and asked that she be compensated on par with SpaceX’s top executives, since she was handling so much of Musk’s scheduling across two companies, doing public relations work and often making business decisions. Musk replied that Brown should take a couple of weeks off, and he would take on her duties and gauge how hard they were. When Brown returned, Musk let her know that he didn’t need her anymore, and he asked Shotwell’s assistant to begin scheduling his meetings.

loc: 4,709 Whatever the case, the optics of the situation were terrible. Tony Stark doesn’t fire Pepper Potts. He adores her and takes care of her for life. She’s the only person he can really trust—the one who has been there through everything. That Musk was willing to let Brown go and in such an unceremonious fashion struck people inside SpaceX and Tesla as scandalous and as the ultimate confirmation of his cruel stoicism.

loc: 4,720 Musk acts differently with his closest friends and family than he does with employees, even those who have worked alongside him for a long time. Among his inner circle, Musk is warm, funny, and deeply emotional. He might not engage in the standard chitchat, asking a friend how his kids are doing, but he would do everything in his considerable power to help that friend if his child were sick or in trouble. He will protect those close to him at all costs and, when deemed necessary, seek to destroy those who have wronged him or his friends. > He is Hpmor Harry?

loc: 4,730 The people who suggest bad ideas during meetings or make mistakes at work are getting in the way of all of this and slowing Musk down. He does not dislike them as people. It’s more that he feels pained by their mistakes, which have consigned man to peril that much longer. The perceived lack of emotion is a symptom of Musk sometimes feeling like he’s the only one who really grasps the urgency of his mission. He’s less sensitive and less tolerant than other people because the stakes are so high. Employees need to help solve the problems to the absolute best of their ability or they need to get out of the way.

loc: 4,738 When Musk announced in 2014 that Tesla would open-source all of its patents, analysts tried to decide whether this was a publicity stunt or if it hid an ulterior motive or a catch. But the decision was a straightforward one for Musk. He wants people to make and buy electric cars. Man’s future, as he sees it, depends on this.

loc: 4,870 Page said. “The way Elon talks about this is that you always need to start with the first principles of a problem. What are the physics of it? How much time will it take? How much will it cost? How much cheaper can I make it? There’s this level of engineering and physics that you need to make judgments about what’s possible and interesting. Elon is unusual in that he knows that, and he also knows business and organization and leadership and governmental issues.”