Elon Musk is predicted to become the world’s first trillionaire, thanks to SpaceX. Here’s how the dual CEO went from getting bullied as a child to becoming one of the most successful and controversial men in tech.

Elon Musk stands next to a replica spaceship
  • Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is worth $US242 ($AU324) billion.
  • He who was born in South Africa, has been married three times, and has six sons.
  • Musk is a controversial leader who has incited lawsuits and SEC investigations.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Elon Musk may already be the world’s richest person. But if one analyst’s prediction comes true, he could become the world’s first trillionaire.

Morgan Stanley Adam Jonas wrote this week that Musk could be the first person to reach trillionaire status, not because of Tesla, the publicly traded company he runs, but because of his private space venture, SpaceX.

But SpaceX is just a piece of the pie for Musk. Over the past five decades, he’s become the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, founder of The Boring Company, and cofounder of OpenAI and Neuralink, all while focused on his long-term goal: escaping Earth and colonizing Mars.

In fact, between space rockets, electric cars, solar batteries, and the billions he’s made along the way, Musk is basically a real-life Tony Stark, which is why he served as an inspiration for Marvel’s 2008 “Iron Man” film. But it hasn’t always been a smooth road for Musk – he almost went broke more than once and incited lawsuits and government scrutiny.

Here’s how he became one of the most beloved and controversial figures in the world of business.

This is an update to an article originally published in August 2016. Katie Canales and Matt Weinberger contributed to an earlier version of this story.

Elon Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa.
Pretoria South Africa
A general view of the Union Building is seen in Pretoria, South Africa. Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Musk’s mother, Maye, is a professional dietitian and model. She has appeared on boxes of Special K cereal and the cover of Time magazine. In 2017, at the age of 69, she landed a contract with CoverGirl.
Elon Musk and Maye Musk
Elon and Maye Musk. Getty Images/Charles Eshelman
After their parents divorced in 1979, the 9-year-old Musk and his younger brother, Kimbal, decided to live with their father. It wasn’t until after the move was made that his notoriously troubled relationship with his dad began to emerge. “It was not a good idea,” Musk said in a Rolling Stone interview about moving in with his father.
Kimbal musk elon musk brother
Musk’s brother, Kimbal. Fred Prouser/Reuters
Source: Rolling Stone
In 1983, at the age of 12, Musk sold a simple game called “Blastar” to a computer magazine for $US500 ($AU670). Musk described it as “a trivial game … but better than Flappy Bird.”
Blastar elon musk
Source: WaitButWhy
Still, Musk’s school days weren’t easy – he was once hospitalized after being beaten by bullies. The bullies threw Musk down a set of stairs and beat him until he blacked out.
School lockers
After graduating from high school, Musk moved to Canada with his mother Maye, his sister Tosca, and his brother Kimbal, and spent two years studying at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Queen's University
But he finished his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in physics and economics.
Elon musk caltech
Musk at Caltech in 2012, where he gave a commencement speech. Damian Dovarganes/AP
While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, Musk and a classmate rented out a 10-bedroom frat house and turned it into a nightclub. The move, which Musk undertook with Adeo Ressi, was one of his first entrepreneurial experiments.
Pennsylvania Penn State University PSU Campus Fraternity House Kappa Delta Rho KDR
The Penn State University Kappa Delta Rho fraternity house in State College, Pennsylvania. Gene J. Puskar/AP
Source: Vogue
After graduation, Musk traveled to Stanford University to study for his PhD – but he barely started the program before leaving it. He deferred his admission after only two days in California, deciding to test his luck in the dot-com boom that was just getting underway. He never returned to finish his studies at Stanford.
Stanford University community service
Source: Forbes
With his brother, Kimbal, Musk launched Zip2. A cluster of Silicon Valley investors helped to fund the company, which provided city travel guides to newspapers like The New York Times and Chicago Tribune.
Kimbal Musk
Kimbal Musk. Wikimedia Commons
Source: Rolling Stone
While Zip2 got off the ground, Musk literally lived in the office and showered at a local YMCA. The hard work paid off when Compaq bought Zip2 in a deal worth $US341 ($AU457) million in cash and stock, earning Musk $US22 ($AU29) million.
Elon musk champagne
Musk next started X.com, an online banking company. He launched the company in 1999 using $US10 ($AU13) million of the money he got from the Zip2 sale. About a year later, X.com merged with Confinity, a financial startup cofounded by Peter Thiel, to form PayPal.
PayPal IPO
Peter Thiel (left) and Musk PAUL SAKUMA/AP
Source: Investopedia
Musk was named the CEO of the newly minted PayPal – but it wouldn’t last long. In October 2000, he started a huge fight among the PayPal cofounders by pushing for them to move its servers from the free Unix operating system to Microsoft Windows. PayPal cofounder and then CTO Max Levchin pushed back, hard.
Max Levchin Sun Valley
Max Levchin (left), the former chief technology officer of PayPal. Getty / Drew Angerer
Source: Fortune
While Musk was en route to Australia for a much-needed vacation, PayPal’s board fired him and made Thiel the new CEO. “That’s the problem with vacations,” Musk told Fortune years later about his ill-fated trip in late 2000.
Elon musk at las vegas boxing match
Source: Fortune
But things worked out for Musk – he made another windfall when eBay bought PayPal in late 2002. As PayPal’s single biggest shareholder, he netted $US1.5 ($AU2) ($AU221) million of the $US1.5 ($AU2) billion price eBay paid.
Elon Musk
Source: Money
Even before the PayPal sale, Musk was dreaming up his next move, including a wild plan to send mice or plants to Mars. In early 2002, Musk founded the company that would be known as Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, with $US100 ($AU134) million of the money received from the PayPal sale. Musk’s goal was to make spaceflight cheaper by a factor of 10.
Elon musk
Source: Rolling Stone
Another early vehicle was named after the song “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The name of the spacecraft, the Dragon, was Musk’s jab at skeptics who told him SpaceX would never be able to put vehicles into space.
SpaceX dragon spacecraft
Space X’s Dragon spacecraft. Flickr/SpaceX
SpaceX’s long-term goal is to make colonizing Mars affordable. Musk has said that SpaceX won’t file for an initial public offering until what Musk calls the “Mars Colonial Transporter” is flying regularly.
Elon musk mars
Source: Forbes
Musk has also been keeping plenty busy here on Earth, particularly with Tesla Motors. In 2004, Musk made the first of what would be $US70 ($AU94) million of total investments in Tesla, an electric car company cofounded by veteran startup exec Martin Eberhard.
Source: Wired
Musk took an active product role at Tesla, helping develop its first car, the Roadster. The all-electric Roadster debuted in 2006, when Musk was serving as Tesla’s chairman. He’s now also its CEO.
Tesla Roadster
Tesla Roadster. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Source: Insider
As if that wasn’t enough, Musk came up with the idea for SolarCity, a solar energy company. Musk gave his cousins Peter and Lyndon Rive the working capital to get SolarCity off the ground in 2006. (In late 2016, Tesla bought SolarCity in a $US2.6 ($AU3) billion deal.)
Elon musk lyndon rive
SolarCity cofounder Lyndon Rive (left) and Musk. Mark Von Holden/AP
In 2007, Musk staged a boardroom coup at Tesla, first ousting Eberhard from his CEO seat and then from the company’s board and executive suites entirely.
Elon musk tesla
Source: Wired
In 2008, with the financial crisis seriously limiting his options, Musk personally saved Tesla from bankruptcy. Musk invested $US40 ($AU54) million in Tesla and loaned the company $US40 ($AU54) million more. Not coincidentally, he was named the company’s CEO the same year.
Elon-Musk-Risk
Source: Insider
But between SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, Musk nearly went broke. He describes 2008 as “the worst year of my life.” Tesla kept losing money, and SpaceX was having trouble launching its Falcon 1 rocket. By 2009, Musk was living off personal loans just to survive.
Elon Musk
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk stands on the podium as he attends a forum on startups in Hong Kong, China January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
Source: VentureBeat
Musk’s personal life was in upheaval too: Musk and his wife Justine, a Canadian author, got divorced in 2008. The couple got married in 2000 – their first son, Nevada, died of SIDS at 10 weeks old (the Musks later went on to have twin and triplet boys).
Justine musk
Justine Musk. Jason Merritt / Getty Images
Source: Marie Claire
Musk started dating actress Talulah Riley later that year. They went on to get married in 2010, then divorced in 2012. In July 2013, they remarried. In December 2014, Musk filed for a divorce but withdrew the paperwork. In March 2016, Riley filed for divorce; that divorce was finalized in October.
Elon musk talulah riley
Talulah Riley (left) with Musk. Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images
Source: Vanity Fair
Right around Christmas 2008, Musk got two pieces of good news: SpaceX had landed a $US1.5 ($AU2) billion contract with NASA to deliver supplies into space, and Tesla finally found more outside investors.
Elon Musk Tesla
Source: Ars Technica
By June 2010, Tesla held a successful initial public offering. The company raised $US2.6 ($AU3) million in the IPO, becoming the first car company to go public since Ford in 1956. To get his finances back on track, Musk sold shares worth about $US15 ($AU20) million in the offering.
Tesla elon musk
CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk waves after ringing the opening bell at the NASDAQ market in celebration of his company’s initial public offering in New York June 29, 2010. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Source: Wired
Musk’s extraordinary career was starting to get noticed in other circles, too, most notably in Hollywood. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” movies is at least partially based on Musk. Musk even had a cameo in “Iron Man 2.”
Elon Musk Iron Man 2
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCyLOWfIrCU Marvel Studios
Source: Vox
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. In 2016, the SpaceX Falcon 9 made the first successful ocean landing of a reusable orbital rocket.
Spacex may 6 2016 night launch stars time lapse
Source: The Verge
The Falcon Heavy, the successor to the Falcon 9 and the most powerful rocket SpaceX has built to date, completed a successful maiden launch in February 2018. The Falcon Heavy carried a unique payload: a dummy dubbed “Starman,” and Musk’s personal cherry red Tesla Roadster, which were launched toward Martian orbit.
Falcon heavy launch spacex
Source: SpaceX, Insider
Musk can’t stop coming up with new ideas, either, like the Hyperloop. A super-high-speed train that travels in a vacuum tube, the Hyperloop could theoretically transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.
SpaceX Hyperloop competition
Source: SpaceX, Insider
In a similar vein, Musk started another company in 2016 – The Boring Company, which has a mission to dig a network of tunnels under and around cities for high-speed, no-traffic driving.
Boring Company
Source: Insider
And in late 2015, Musk cofounded OpenAI, a nonprofit dedicated to researching artificial intelligence and ensuring it doesn’t destroy humanity. He later announced that he would step down from the board to avoid any potential conflicts of interest with Tesla, which has made strides into artificial intelligence for its self-driving car technology.
Elon musk robots
Source: Insider
Musk founded one more company, this one in 2017: Neuralink, which is trying to build devices that can be implanted inside the human brain.
Elon musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks before unveiling the Model Y in 2019. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Musk dated “Aquaman” actress Amber Heard, but the two broke up in 2017 after a year of dating. Musk later said in an interview with Rolling Stone that the breakup was very hard on him.
Amber Heard
Source: Rolling Stone
The year was a bit rocky from a political standpoint as well. Musk joined President Trump’s business advisory council, a move which caused a huge public backlash. He initially defended the move, but he quit after Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Musk said he tried to convince Trump not to withdraw.
Elon musk
Musk (center) with Steve Bannon (left), the former White House Chief Strategist, and President Donald Trump AP/ Evan Vucci
Source: Insider
In the spring of 2018, there was a new development in Musk’s personal life – he and the musician Grimes struck up a relationship. They reportedly hit it off after they both made the same nerdy joke about artificial intelligence.
Elon musk grimes dating
Elon Musk and Grimes attend the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018. Neilson Barnard/Getty
Source: Insider
Musk ran into some trouble in 2018 when he sent a tweet declaring he was considering taking Tesla private at $US420 ($AU563) per share and had already secured funding. Just a few days later, the SEC sent Tesla subpoenas about the company’s plans to go private and Musk’s comments.
Elon Musk SpaceX Tesla
Source: Insider
By September, the SEC had formally filed a lawsuit against Musk, accusing him of making “false and misleading statements.” Musk settled with the SEC, which resulted in both him and Tesla paying a $US20 ($AU27) million fine and Musk agreeing to step down as chairman of Tesla’s board. Additionally, Tesla was required to appoint a committee to oversee Musk’s communications.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a white shirt and tie exits the backseat of a white Tesla
Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Matt Rourke/AP Photo
Source: Insider
In November 2019, Musk debuted a new Tesla vehicle: the Cybertruck, Tesla’s first – and very highly anticipated – pickup truck. Since the unveiling, Musk has been spotted a few times cruising around in the truck, including on a night out to dinner at Nobu with Grimes.
FILE PHOTO: Nov 21, 2019;  Hawthorne, CA, U.S.A; Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils the Cybertruck at the TeslaDesign Studio in Hawthorne, Calif. The cracked window glass occurred during a demonstration on the strength of the glass.  Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY
News: Tesla Cybertruck Reuters
Source: Insider, Insider
One month later, Musk won a victory in court when a jury ruled he was not guilty of defaming the British diver Vernon Unsworth. Unsworth had filed a defamation lawsuit in 2018 after Musk called him a “pedo guy” on Twitter.
Image
Cave diver Vernon Unsworth lost his defamation case against Elon Musk. REUTERS/David McNew
Source: Insider
Grimes dropped a bombshell in January 2020 when she posted a photo of herself where she appeared pregnant. The musician later confirmed that she was expecting a baby with Musk.
Grimes Elon Musk
Source: Insider
Musk has been outspoken about the coronavirus crisis in the US since early March 2020 when he first tweeted that panic over the virus was “dumb.” Since then, he’s tweeted misinformation about the virus and called US shelter-in-place orders “fascist.”
Elon Musk
Source: Insider

 

Despite having a substantial real estate portfolio, Musk recently said that he “will own no house” and would sell almost all of his physical possessions. He has since reportedly sold several of his California properties.
Image
One of Musk’s southern California homes. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters; Sotheby’s International Realty; Yutong Yuan/Business Insider
Source: Insider, Insider
On May 4, 2020, Grimes gave birth to a baby boy who the couple named X Æ A-Xii Musk, or “X Ash A-12 Musk.” The couple calls him “X” for short.
Elon Musk Grimes baby
Source: Insider
SpaceX had two major milestones in 2020: First, in May, SpaceX partnered with NASA to complete its first launch of astronauts into space. Then, in November, SpaceX completed its first “operational” human spaceflight by sending four astronauts to the International Space Station for a six-month stay.
Image
Elon Musk celebrates after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Source: Insider
Tesla also had a good year: It joined the S&P 500 in December, which caused its stock to soar. Now, the company’s market value is over $US894 ($AU1,198) billion.
Tesla battery day
‘s Battery Day event earlier this year. Tesla
Source: Markets Insider
In late 2020, Musk announced that he had moved to Texas over a spat with the state of California over coronavirus lockdowns. He’s since said he wants to create a city around SpaceX’s launch facilities known as “Starbase.”
Image
Tesla CEO Elon Musk during a visit to Germany. Michele Tantussi/Reuters
Source: Insider
In May, Musk hosted “Saturday Night Live” for the first time. Grimes and his mother, Maye, both made appearances on the show.
Elon Musk and his mother Maye Musk during 'Saturday Night Live' on May 8.
Elon Musk hosted ‘SNL’ on May 8. His mom, Maye Musk, during his monologue. Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Source: Insider
In September, Page Six reported that Musk and Grimes had broken up after three years of dating. He said at the time that they were “semi-separated” but still loved each other and “are on great terms.”
Elon Musk Grimes
Source: Insider
Over the past few months, Musk’s longtime spat with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has reached new heights as SpaceX and Bezos’ rival company, Blue Origin, have bickered over NASA contracts and their competing satellite projects. When Musk surpassed Bezos to become the world’s richest person, he taunted Bezos with the silver-medal emoji.
Jeff Bezos Elon Musk
Source: Insider, Insider, Insider
Now, thanks to Tesla’s stock surging, Musk has a net worth of $US242 ($AU324) billion, making him the world’s richest person ahead of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Bernard Arnault – and Bezos.
Elon Musk