I walked across the empty streets of San Luis Obispo during this new outbreak. The restaurants, shops and cafes were closed, and the only people walking were the ones that lived on the streets. It looked like a scene from a movie. Then I came back to my apartment and looked at the news. The things I saw were left, right, up, down and negative — mostly negative. But there was a positive mixed in with the chaos. I saw that Elon Musk, the CEO of Space X and Tesla, wrote a tweet saying, “Giga New York will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible,” followed by, “We will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York.” Now that was a good thing to hear for a change.

I never liked Elon Musk and that is because many of his followers think that he is a god. Whatever he says, they think it’s the best thing that has ever happened. I thought that these Musk fans could start a new religion, but after his tweet I thought about giving him another chance. Even though I don’t own any of his products, from an outsider’s perspective, I’m impressed with what the guy has achieved. There’s no way around that. So, let’s look at his life for a bit.

Upbringing

Musk was born in South Africa in 1971. From an early age, he wrote software for computer games and showed great creative and intellectual skills. At the age of 14 he became depressed and had an “existential crisis.” Now, let that sink in. When I was 14, I was worried about nonsense most of the time. But he thought that he needed to face meaning in his life and began reading Frederick Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. These works, he claims, had a tremendous impact in his life, resulting in his life purpose “to maximize the happiness of the population, propagate into the future as much as possible, and understand reality.” And from this, everything else followed in his life.

Because of the lack of technology in South Africa, Elon knew he needed to be in the U.S. Nevertheless, his first stop was Canada because he was able to get citizenship there thanks to his mom. While in Canada, he worked at a weed farm for six weeks and after that began working as a boiler room cleaner for lumberjacks in Vancouver. After this, Musk needed to get an education, which was possible due to a scholarship he received from the University of Pennsylvania. There, he majored in physics and economics. After graduating, Musk planned to pursue a Ph.D at Stanford University, but the internet boom started to flourish. This led Musk to jump into action and begin building websites. Thus, his many companies were born.

PayPal

Musk was able to get a small office with his brother. There, he coded at night and slept very little during the day. They both had limited money considering that his brother was in the U.S. illegally and Musk had a student visa valid for only two years. And so, in the midst of all this struggle, they formulated a question: What can we do to make money work better? The question becomes an important part in Musk’s approach to business.

Musk sees money as an information system for labor allocation since prices dictate what happens in the demand and supply side of a free market. And so, currency becomes the potential database for guiding people as to what they should do. This foreshadows the crucial role PayPal will play as a database where payment transactions and other financial services take place.

Moreover, Musk and his brother saw how banks were unsecured databases. For example: The transfer of checks was unsecure as the transactions had high latency (they took a long time to process) and they had a lot of variability in terms of fees and other things. So, they wanted to build something that was real-time, secure and very fast.

Space X

Musk, concerned with his life purpose, thought about how the current NASA Mars project was undercut. He realized that the rocket technology was not up-to-date and had become extremely expensive over the years. And so, he realized that the only way to make Mars exploration possible was to make rockets reusable and less expensive.

What followed was a series of failures that led Musk to the brink of bankruptcy. He was holding on for dear life in 2008, but he finally made the first successful landing after six years of repeated failure. This led Musk to receiving a contract with NASA.

Tesla

Like the rocket situation, Musk saw that electric car technology was also underdeveloped. So, he decided to act and build his own car company.

At the beginning, he ran into the problem of not being able to bring knowledgeable people from the car industry into a small startup. He also couldn’t find any knowledgable people in the Silicon Valley area. Then, more problems seemed to reveal themselves such as the high cost of producing an electric car in California.

In order to overcome the competition, that being giant car manufacturers with decades of experience, Musk put all of his effort into making his design more compelling. This seemed to be the only way, as the cost of production was extremely expensive causing his automobiles to appear almost like luxury cars in the beginning. But I think Musk’s love for the product and his vision allowed the company to continue thriving today. Finally, this has allowed Musk to increase production in his company, which has decreased the price of the cars significantly. Tesla’s Model 3 is a great example of this and it aligns with his vision of making renewable technology affordable for more people.

What Can We Learn From Musk?

To be honest, I don’t know. Initially, I thought his intentions didn’t align with what he was proposing to do. I thought he was another businessman trying to generate profit with the “saving the world” approach. But I might be wrong. I think that after understanding his life journey and the things he has overcome, he is at last, standing for something greater than profit. I think he is someone that is betting everything on himself because he needs to fulfill his purpose.

Likewise, I am beginning to understand what type of person he is. Musk is the type of person that, when a challenge is presented, reacts in the most logical and thorough way he can. I don’t think there are second doubts about his approach because if he did, I don’t think he would have succeeded.

In the same way, when the Coronavirus started to spread, Musk thought about acting in the best way he could. He reacted in a way that could be beneficial instead of adding to the chaos that is there in the news and all around us. I think that this approach is the best one to have.

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