Elon Musk does not mess around.
The brilliant South African was a multi-millionaire by the age of 28 and a successful two-time entrepreneur by the age of 30.
Then he really started trying, deciding to solve the oil addiction, send man into space cheaply, and launch the car company of the future.
There have been rough times, but he’s managed to come out on the other side.
Today, SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity are all successful, building the new brands of the new millennium.
As a part of its Game Changers series, BloombergTV chronicled his insane life in an episode of “Risk Takers.” We hit the highlights.
'But then I came to understand that the dark just means absence of photons in the visible wavelength. ... I thought that was really silly to be afraid of the absence of photons.'
When Musk was a kid, he ran out of books and started reading the encyclopedia. He took computer classes when he was 12 but he was ahead of the teacher so he quit.
Eventually, New York Times, Hearst, and Knight Ridder signed up. In 1999, Alta Vista bought it for $307 million in cash and $34 million in stock options when Elon was 28.
He made '$21 or $22 million.' He bought a McLaren F1.
In early 2002, eBay bought the company for $1.5 billion. Musk walked away with $180 million.
'I could have bought a chain of islands. But again, that just wasn't of interest to me.'
'I wonder when we are going to Mars. I went to the NASA website and there was no plan to Mars.'
He traveled to Russia three times to try to find parts to buy refurbished ICMBs. He learned that 'rockets had not evolved since the 60s.' Quickly, SpaceX made '3-4x improvements' over every other rocket.
The idea for his next company came on a family trip to Burning Man. He financed his cousins who attempted to make the 'Dell Computer of solar panels,' according to Inc. writer Max Chafkin.
They succeeded, and SolarCity was born.
There were problems. The car they thought they could make for $65,000 cost $140,000. The business was dying. Musk recapitalized by himself. 'It was very scary because it would be very sad to have the fruits of my labour with Zip2 and PayPal not amount to anything. It was never a question. Tesla was too important to let die.' They replaced CEO Martin Eberhard, who sued for 'libel, slander, and breach of contract.'
His PowerPoint demo failed, so he had his team retrofit a Smart Car with a battery. They couldn't buy one in the United States, so Tesla sent a person to Mexico.
It worked as Tesla won a $70-million contact to make electric Smart Car batteries.
Justine, with whom he had five kids born in the span of two years, felt like a 'trophy wife.'
She got a lawyer and went public to Marie Claire and Times of London before accepting $10 million less than Musk originally offered.
Musk spent $100 million of his own money, and it looked like he was going to give up. Then, he announced they'd solved the problems and raised money to finance fourth launch.
Soon after, however, the market crashed.
'If it wasn't needed, we had to shut it down,' he said. 'There we were, a young company selling a very optional car.'
Backers pulled out of Solar City as well.
'We had a week's worth of cash left in the bank, maybe less.'
'He looked so forlorn,' she said. 'I was trying to humour him when he was saying, 'Oh, this is my rocket. And this is my car.' And they were all real.'
He proposed soon after at the end of a seven-day holiday in the US.
Musk stepped up.
'Well, I'm going to raise a $40 million round to save the company. I'm going to put it all in myself.'
It was his last $40 million and raised the total amount of money he invested in the company to $75 million.
He got it, and the launch of the Falcon9 was a success. NASA awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract. The company now has 40 launches under its belt and will likely replace the space shuttle.
The Falcon Heavy rocket will be ready in 2013. Man will get to Mars in Musk's lifetime.
The company's net worth went to $2 billion. Daimler and Toyota both invested $50 million, even though the company lost $51.4 million in Q4 of 2010.
It serves 10,000 customers.
'Solar City has been very, very impressive,' Chafkin says. 'It's having a big, visible impact on the world.'
It may be the way Musk changes the world.