The incredible story of Elon Musk, from getting bullied in school to the most interesting man in tech

Photo: Getty

What can’t Elon Musk do?

As CEO of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla, and cofounder of OpenAI, Musk seems to be everywhere all at once, pushing all kinds of incredible new technologies. He’s said he won’t be happy until we’ve escaped Earth and colonised Mars.

Between space rockets, electric cars, solar batteries, research into killer robots, and the billions he’s made along the way, Musk is basically a real life Tony Stark — which is why they used him as reference for the “Iron Man.”

But it wasn’t always easy for Elon Musk.

Here’s how he went from getting bullied in school to small-time entrepreneur to CEO of two major science-fictional companies…and how it almost made him go completely broke.

Elon Musk was born on June 28th, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa.

Wikimedia Commons

His father Errol Musk, an electronics engineer, once said, 'Elon has always been an introvert thinker. So where a lot of people would go to a great party and have a great time and drink and talk about all sorts of things like rugby or sport, you would find Elon had found the person's library and was going through their books.'

Elon's mother Maye Musk, a Canadian national, is a professional dietitian and model who has appeared on boxes of Special K cereal and the cover of Time magazine.

Maye Musk

In 1979, Errol and Maye Musk divorced. The nine-year-old Musk and his younger brother Kimbal decided to live with his father.

YouTube, Bloomberg News

In 1983, at the age of 12, Musk sold a simple game called Blastar to a computer magazine for $500. Musk once said it was 'a trivial gameā€¦but better than Flappy Bird.'

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

Source: WaitButWhy

Still, Musk's school days weren't easy. As related in the book 'Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,' he was once hospitalized when a group of bullies threw him down the stairs and beat him until he blacked out.


You can buy Vance's book here.

After graduating high school, Musk moved to Canada, along with his mother Maye, his sister Tosca, and his brother Kimbal. He spent two years studying at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario...

Wikimedia Commons

After graduation, Musk travelled to Stanford University to study for his PhD. But he ended up deferring his admission after only two days in California, deciding to test his luck in the just-beginning dot-com boom. He never returned to finish his studies at Stanford.

Facebook/Stanford University

Musk and his brother Kimbal (pictured) took $28,000 of their father's money started Zip2, a web startup that provided city travel guides to newspapers like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune.

Musk was named the CEO of the newly minted PayPal. But it wouldn't last long: In October, he started a huge fight among the PayPal cofounders by pushing for them to move their servers from the free Unix operating system to Microsoft Windows. PayPal cofounder and then-CTO Max Levchin pushed back, hard.

Getty / Drew Angerer

Even before the PayPal sale, though, Musk stayed on his hustle: A lifelong fan of science fiction, Musk conceived of a crazy plan to send mice or plants to Mars. He even tried to buy decommissioned Soviet missiles for that purpose. But the Russian sellers wanted $8 million or more for each, and Musk thought he could build his own cheaper...

Wikimedia Commons

Source: Bloomberg

SpaceX's first vehicles were the Falcon 1 and 9 rockets, named after the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars fame...

...and the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, named after the song 'Puff the Magic Dragon.' That name was Musk's jab at haters who told him that SpaceX would never be able to put vehicles into space.

In the long term, SpaceX's goal is to make it affordable to colonize Mars. He's said that SpaceX won't IPO until what he calls the 'Mars Colonial Transporter' is flying regularly.

Tech Insider/Recode/NASA

Source: Forbes

In the meanwhile, Musk was keeping plenty busy here on Earth. In 2004, he made the first of what would be $70 million of total investments in Tesla Motors, an electric car company cofounded by veteran startup exec Martin Eberhard.

Musk took an active product role at the company, and served as Chairman of the Board. He helped develop the all-electric Tesla Roadster, the company's first car, which launched in 2006.

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Tesla Roadster

Musk's extraordinary career was starting to get noticed in other circles, too. Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark in the 'Iron Man' movies is at least partially based on Elon Musk, and the entrepreneur even has a cameo in 'Iron Man 2.'

All the while, Musk's personal life has been in some kind of flux. In 2008, Musk started dating actress Talulah Riley. They got married in 2010 and divorced in 2012. In July 2013, they got remarried; in December 2014, Musk filed for a divorce but withdrew the paperwork; in March 2016, Riley filed for divorce.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Work is going well, though. By the end of 2015, SpaceX had made 24 launches on assignments like resupplying the International Space Station, setting lots of records along the way. Most recently, the SpaceX Falcon 9 made the first successful water landing of a reusable orbital rocket.

Musk can't stop coming up with new ideas, either. Even as he pushes for solar power, electric vehicles, and the colonization of Mars, Musk also designed what he calls the Hyperloop, a transport system that can get you between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes. But he didn't start a company to push that particular technology (yet).

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

And in late 2015, Musk unveiled OpenAI, a nonprofit he cofounded to do research into making sure that artificial intelligence doesn't destroy humanity. That's a serious concern of his.

That's even as Musk pushes Tesla's 'autopilot' self-driving car capabilities, available on a few select models today.


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