Elon Musk on Mars near a spacecraft

Discover How Elon Musk Made His Millions

By Charles Joseph | Editor, Financial Affairs
Reviewed by Corey Michael | Senior Financial Analyst

Have you ever wondered how Elon Musk, the real-life Tony Stark, made his millions and transformed into one of the most influential entrepreneurs of our time? This dynamic innovator, the brain behind tech giants like Tesla and SpaceX, has a story that’s as electric as his cars and as out-of-this-world as his rockets. Musk is not just a businessman, but a dreamer, an inventor, a risk-taker who turned his wild visions into profitable realities. But how exactly did he do it? How did Musk navigate the rocky terrain of startups, overcome countless setbacks, and ultimately establish some of the most groundbreaking companies of the 21st century?

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into Musk’s entrepreneurial journey.

The Early Years: Elon Musk’s First Ventures

Born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1971, Elon Musk was fascinated by computers and entrepreneurship from an early age. At the age of 12, he sold his first software—a game he created called “Blastar”. He moved to the US for higher education and attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned two bachelor’s degrees in physics and economics. His first major venture was a company named Zip2, a city guide software for newspapers, which he co-founded with his brother Kimbal in 1996. The company was later sold to Compaq for approximately $300 million in 1999, providing Musk with his initial wealth.

Musk’s Ambitious Journey with PayPal

After the success of Zip2, Musk started X.com in 1999, an online payment company. X.com later became PayPal after acquiring a company of the same name. Musk’s goal was to simplify and secure online payments, and PayPal successfully revolutionized the industry. However, Musk’s tenure at PayPal was filled with challenges and controversies, including his ousting as CEO. Despite this, he remained on the board. When eBay bought PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion, Musk, who was the largest shareholder, earned $165 million from the sale.

SpaceX: Pushing the Boundaries of Innovation

Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, in 2002 with the aim of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. SpaceX has made significant strides in the aerospace industry, developing reusable rockets (Falcon and Starship), launching the first privately-funded spacecraft (Dragon) to dock with the International Space Station, and initiating a project (Starlink) to provide satellite internet connectivity. Musk’s ambitious goals include establishing a human colony on Mars by 2050.

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Tesla: Revolutionizing the Automotive Industry

Elon Musk joined Tesla Motors (now Tesla Inc.) in 2004 as chairman, a year after its formation, and became its CEO in 2008. Tesla is known for producing electric vehicles (EVs), starting with a luxury sports car called the Roadster. Tesla’s significant contributions to the auto industry include proving that electric cars can be high-performing, creating a strong consumer demand for EVs, and helping to push the entire auto industry towards electrification. The company’s Model S, Model 3, Model X, and Model Y have all enjoyed popularity, and their ‘Autopilot’ feature is a significant step towards autonomous driving.

SolarCity: Making Renewable Energy Mainstream

In 2006, Musk co-founded SolarCity, a solar energy services company. His cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive were the company’s CEO and CTO, respectively. SolarCity was among the largest providers of solar power systems in the United States. It provided a range of services, including the sale and installation of solar energy systems. In 2016, Tesla acquired SolarCity, furthering Musk’s vision of sustainable energy. Today, it operates as Tesla Energy.

How Musk Capitalized on Sustainable Transport with Tesla

Tesla plays a crucial role in Musk’s vision of a sustainable future. He used the capital and the platform of Tesla to show that electric vehicles could be both functional and desirable, helping to shift public perception. Tesla has also invested heavily in building an extensive Supercharger network to alleviate ‘range anxiety’ associated with electric cars. Furthermore, Tesla is not just a car manufacturer; it’s also a technology and energy company. Its development of battery technologies and home energy solutions (Powerwall, Powerpack, and Megapack) aligns with the sustainable transport and energy vision.

The Neuralink Project: An Investment in the Future of AI

Neuralink, founded by Musk in 2016, is a neurotechnology company developing implantable brain–machine interface devices. Musk’s interest in Neuralink stems from his broader concern about artificial intelligence. He views the development of advanced AI as a potential existential risk to humanity and believes that by creating a symbiotic relationship between humans and AI (through the integration of technology with the human brain), we might better navigate the challenges of the AI era. The company’s long-term goal is to achieve human enhancement to help humans keep pace with AI.

Elon Musk’s Approach to Business and Risk

Elon Musk is known for his ambitious and disruptive approach to business, often taking on industries ripe for innovation. He is willing to take significant risks to achieve his goals. He once famously put almost all of his personal fortune into SpaceX and Tesla to save them from bankruptcy during the 2008 financial crisis. Musk’s approach is grounded in first principles thinking, which involves breaking down complex problems into their fundamental parts and building up solutions from there, rather than relying on analogies or existing conventions.

Key Investment Strategies of Elon Musk

Musk’s investment strategies align with his vision for the future. His investments often focus on technology-driven and sustainable solutions that address key societal challenges. Rather than diversifying his portfolio, he tends to invest deeply in his own ventures and technologies he strongly believes in, like AI and renewable energy. Importantly, Musk’s investments also aim to foster an ecosystem of interlinked technologies. For instance, Tesla, SolarCity (now Tesla Energy), and SpaceX have synergistic relationships that reinforce each other.

The Role of Cryptocurrency in Musk’s Wealth Accumulation

Elon Musk has shown interest in cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin and Dogecoin. Tesla bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin in early 2021 and for a period accepted it as payment for its cars, although it later reversed this decision due to environmental concerns about Bitcoin mining. Musk’s tweets about cryptocurrencies have been known to affect their value, although it’s not clear how much cryptocurrency contributes to his overall wealth. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the majority of Musk’s wealth comes from his holdings in his primary companies, like SpaceX and Tesla.

Elon Musk and His Vision for Future Innovations

Musk has shared numerous visions for future innovations. These include a high-speed transportation concept known as the Hyperloop; an ambitious project to establish a human colony on Mars; a global internet coverage system through SpaceX’s Starlink satellites; advancements in AI through OpenAI and Neuralink; and a transition to renewable energy via solar power and electric vehicles. He also proposed a futuristic concept called Neuralace, which would involve blending human minds with artificial intelligence.

Lessons to Learn from Elon Musk’s Million-Making Journey

There are several key lessons from Musk’s entrepreneurial journey. One is his commitment to ambitious, even seemingly unattainable goals. Another is his resilience in the face of failure. Musk’s companies have encountered numerous obstacles and setbacks, but he has remained steadfast in his vision. His approach to problem-solving, rooted in first principles thinking, also offers a valuable lesson in innovative thinking and breaking free from conventional wisdom. Finally, Musk’s success shows the importance of a strong mission—the desire to solve important problems can be a powerful motivator and a guide for decision-making.

Conclusion: The Unique Entrepreneurial Path of Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial path is characterized by his extraordinary vision, his willingness to take risks, and his commitment to addressing some of humanity’s most significant challenges.

His work across various sectors—such as space, automotive, energy, and neurotechnology—has made him one of the most influential tech entrepreneurs of our time.

His journey, marked by both impressive achievements and significant setbacks, serves as a testament to the power of innovation, resilience, and a strong, mission-driven approach.

Despite numerous challenges, Musk continues to push the boundaries of what is possible, fundamentally transforming the way we think about technology and our future.