Elon Musk: How The Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping the Future


Elon Musk is a successful billionaire with extravagant ambitions. With a stated life purpose of “turning humans into space colonizers,“ some people tag him as crazy. This book gives a compelling and detailed look at how Elon came to be as author Ashlee Vance interviewed the people around Elon and Elon himself. I personally enjoyed reading this book.

I particularly paid attention to Elon’s personality and his experiences in his younger years. I wanted to know how Elon Musk became The Elon Musk.


As a person:

Musk can come off as shy and borderline awkward.

When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity. – Navaid Farooq, Musk’s college friend at Queen’s University

Musk childhood:

Musk reads a lot that he could devour two books in a day.

It was not unusual for Musk to read 10 hours a day.

At 17, Musk left South Africa for Canada. He studied at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario for 2 years before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship.

During studies at Queen’s University, Elon Musk and his brother Kimbal would read the newspaper and find interesting people to meet. They would cold-call these people which include the head of marketing for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, a business writer for the Globe and Mail, a top executive at the Bank of Nova Scotia. That top executive from the Bank of Nova Scotia, Peter Nicholson, remembers meeting the Musk brothers. It took the brothers 6 months to finally get hold and set up a meeting with Nicholson. According to Nicholson, Elon came off as the geekier, more awkward counterpoint to the charismatic, personable Kimbal. Nicholson ended offering Elon a summer internship at the bank and became his trusted advisor.

Elon according to first wife, Justine. When Elon was trying to take her out, Elon would call non-stop. “You always knew it was Elon because the phone would never stop ringing. The man does not take no for an answer…”

Musk in college:

2 years in Queens University paying out-of-pocket, then transferred to University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship.

He was very active in college  (i.e. participated in public speaking contests)

Musk and his college friend Adeo Ressi rented a 10-bedroom house for cheap and transformed it into a nightclub to make money.

Elon never drank in college nor did drugs. This was according to Adeo Ressi. Ressi comments that Musk is the “most straight-laced dude” anyone would ever meet. The only vice Musk had in college was binging on video games.

Musk as an entrepreneur:

Musk could work all day. When he and  Kimbal was starting Zip2, Elon had a mattress next to the computer. He worked all day, slept a few hours, and then went back to work.

Elon took a vacation in Africa but got sick with malaria. Elon won´t to say, “Vacations could kill you.”

Musk’s companies would make things from scratch and try to rethink much that the aerospace, automative, and solar industries had accepted as convention.

He wasn’t just sniffing out trends, and he wasn’t confused by the idea of getting rich.

“When you interview make sure you can talk concretely about what you do rather than use buzzwords.”

Employee on musk, “He had a way of looking at you – a glare – and would keep looking at you until you understood him.”

Musk earned a reputation as a fearsome negotiator who indeed follow up on things personally. “If Elon was not happy, you knew it… Things could get nasty.”

Elon was also quick to fire people. He believes, “The longer you wait to fire someone the longer it has been since you should have fired them.”

Musk had grueling demands and deadlines. A project which engineers think could take weeks, Musk wants it done in days.

Elon was not afraid to get his hands dirty. During the early years of SpaceX, Elon was there with engineers to help fix issues with the rockets.

When you interview make sure you can talk concretely about what you do rather than use buzzwords.

He had a way of looking at you – a glare – and would keep looking at you until you understood him.

Musk earned a reputation as a fearsome negotiator who did indeed follow up on things personally. If Elon was not happy, you knew it.

The longer you wait to fire someone the longer it has been since you should have fired them.

On Tesla…the company would pick a plan of attack, and when it failed at something, it failed fast and tried a new approach.

Build quick and learn quickly was Elon’s philosophy.

The ability to stay focused in the midst of a crisis stands as one of Musk’s main advantages over other executives and competitors. Most people who are under that sort of pressure fray. Their decisions go bad. Elon gets hyperrational. He’s still able to make very clear, long-term decisions.

Elon tends to care less about whether or not the person gets the answer than about how they describe the problem and their approach to solving it.

SpaceX – Musk initially relied on textbooks to form the bulk of his rocketry knowledge. But as SpaceX hired one brilliant person after another, Musk realized he could tap into their stores of knowledge. He would quiz these employees until he learned ninety percent of what they know.

Musk will attest to his abilities to absorb incredible quantities of information with near-flawless recall. It’s one of his most impressive and intimidating skills and seems to work just as well in the present day as it did when he was a child vacuuming books into his brain.

Most impressive to Peter Thiel was Musk’s ability to find bright, ambitious people and lure them to his companies.

The way Elon talks about things is that you need to start with the first principles of a problem. What are the physics of it? How much time will it take? How much will it cost? How much cheaper can I make it?

“I don’t think we’re doing a good job as a society deciding what things are really important to do. I think we’re just not educating people in this kind of general way. You should have a pretty broad engineering and scientific background. You should have some leadership training and a bit of MBA training or knowledge of how to run things, organize stuff, and raise money. I don’t think most people are doing that, and it’s a big problem.” – Larry Page

Musk just seems to possess a level of conviction that is so intense and exceptional as to be off-putting to some.