The Self-Made Man: Elon Musk

If you’ve heard of Elon Musk, it’s probably because of a) his weird name, b) his connection to PayPal, or c) Tesla Motors, possibly because of his Nixonian paranoia about preventing media leaks. Elon’s definitely an unusual guy, but that’s probably because he has an unusual background, which is a bold statement considering some of the other Self Made Men we’ve talked about so far.

For one thing, Musk was born in South Africa, and got away as soon as he could to avoid being conscripted into the military, whose chief responsibility at that point was maintaining apartheid. Musk, who is nothing if not moral, has since remarked that oppressing the country’s black population ?just didn’t seem like a really good way to spend time.? A wise observation, that.

The great Elon Musk

He ended up going to Canada without any parental support, and later made his way to the States, where he studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and left with undergraduate degrees in economics and physics.

Musk was another one of those early computer programmers who was itching to get out there and make some money, so he dropped out of Stanford (where he’d gotten into grad school) and started a company called Zip2 with his brother Kimbal. Musk would later start up and co-found Paypal, and made enough money from the sales of those companies to concentrate on what he really cared about: electric cars.

Musk founded Tesla Motors (which he named after famed inventor and visionary Nikola Tesla) in 2003, and immediately began work on what came to be the first fully electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster. It’s a superb machine, and hopefully someday it will cost less than a jillion dollars so people less rich than Elon can afford one. Tesla also makes electric vehicle powertrain components and is working on an all-electric sedan, and Musk is a fervent supporter of renewable energies, namely the kinds that he has a significant financial stake in (solar power and electric vehicles).

And while Musk is?no stranger to controversial statements, some of his views on entrepreneurship are quite level-headed. At a Churchill Club awards ceremony last year, Musk credited his success as a businessman to his difficult childhood in South Africa, which forced him to work hard and think big; in his words, ?a goal that’s world-changing? is essential to keeping oneself and one’s employees motivated. He also emphasized working smart instead of working hard, and regrets the days where he’d sleep under his desk and obsess about work.

Granted, Musk is still a workaholic who has a hard time maintaining a life beyond his job, but that’s still good advice.

Lately, Musk has been investing a lot of time and money into developing private spacecraft and advancing the idea of space tourism, which is another one of those awesome, fun-sounding things that non-millionares will probably never get to do.

But that aside, Musk is certainly the biggest thinker we’ve profiled here, and his goals lie far beyond the more conventional boundaries of doing something on the Internet and making money from it. He’s also right in saying that people shouldn’t be afraid to aim their sights high, because that’s how he and all the other entrepreneurs that TSB admires accomplished their goals and made a place in the world for themselves. You don’t have to geek out about space like Elon Musk does, but you shouldn’t be staring at the ground, either.


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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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