Elon Musk ranks high among the cutting-edge entrepreneurs in the world. He’s not only an entrepreneur but also a technologist. According to Forbes, he now has a staggering net worth of $270 billion. At the age of 10, he was already using computers. By the time he was 12 years; he had created a computer game and sold it for $500. Today, we know Elon Musk to be a US mogul among the likes of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Musk’s journey began in South Africa as a child. This article will trace his roots back to his childhood.
Early childhood in South Africa
Elon Reeve Musk’s life dates back to 28th June 1971. He was born in Pretoria, South Africa (in an Apartheid suburb) to a Canadian mother and a South African father. His mother was from Saskatchewan, Canada and was pursuing a career as a dietitian and a model. On the other hand, his father was a white South African who was pursuing a career in electromechanical engineering. He was also a pilot, property developer, consultant, sailor, and pilot. At one point, he was a co-owner of Emerald Mine in Lake Tanganyika, Zambia.
Musk has two siblings – a sister, and a brother. His younger brother, Kimbal, was born in 1972. His younger sister, Tosca, was born in 1974. Musk’s maternal grandfather was He is an American-born Canadian and an explorer. He would bring the entire family along on record-breaking adventures in a Bellanca, a single-engine plane. They would travel as far as Australia and Africa. In addition, part of Musk’s ancestry is Pennsylvania Dutch, and British. As a child, the doctors suspected that Musk was deaf. For this reason, they removed his adenoids. During his youthful years, Elon Musk’s family was wealthy. For instance, his father was a representative in the city council of Pretoria, having been elected through the Progressive Party (anti-apartheid). Musk and his siblings shared their father’s beliefs about the apartheid movement. During an interview with the New York Times, the father reported that his children (Musk and his siblings) got along well with people from different backgrounds. This included their staff at home.
After his parents divorced in 1980, Musk spent most of his time in Pretoria with his father. He later regretted making this decision, especially because he ended up estranged from his father. He later got a half-brother and sister from his father’s side. Musk went to preparatory school at Waterkloof House and went to high school at Bryanston School. During his youth, Musk also attended Anglican Sunday School. He eventually graduated from high school at Pretoria Boys High School. While at school, he was an introvert and often got bullied. In one instance, he was thrown down a flight of stairs by a group of bullies from his school. He was hospitalized afterward. At 10 years old, he gained an interest in video games and computing. He then acquired a Commodore VIC-20. With the help of a manual, he learned about computer programming at 12 years old. After creating a basic Video Game, called Blastar, he sold it to a magazine for $500.
Moving to Canada
During the Apartheid regime, young white men were obligated to join the military. However, Musk decided to leave the country and enroll in university at a younger age instead. According to him, this is one of his key reasons for leaving South Africa after his high school graduation. While the US was the ultimate destination, getting in directly from South Africa was not easy. To get around this, he applied for a passport to Canada. From Canada, getting into the United States was easier. He used the fact that his mother was Canadian by birth to obtain his visa. While waiting to receive his passport, he joined Pretoria University. Enrolling there, even though it was for five months, was enough reason to be exempted from mandatory military service in the country. In 1989, Musk immigrated to Canada. For a year, he was living in Saskatchewan with his second cousin. He managed to get by with a few odds jobs, one in a lumber mill, and the other close to Waldeck at a farm. The following year, he joined Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. A couple of years later, he moved to Pennsylvania University. In 1977, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics (Wharton School), and a Bachelor of Arts in Physics.
Life in the US
In 1994, he secured an internship in two institutions. During the summer, he pursued an internship at Pinnacle Research Institute in Silicon Valley. They were developing electrolytic ultracapacitors to serve as storage units for energy. The second internship was at Rocket Science Games. A year later, Musk was accepted at Stanford University for a material science Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy). While in the US, he sent job applications to Netscape with no response. After two days of admission to the institution, he dropped out and decided to take advantage of the internet boom by launching his own online startup.
Zip2 was Musk’s first business in the US. He co-founded this company with Kimbal, his younger brother. They launched this with borrowed funds from their father. The venture was situated in Palo Alto at a small rental office. The company designed a virtual city guide and marketed it for the publishing industry, specifically newspapers. The components were maps, yellow pages, and directions. In the initial stages of the company, Musk and Kimbal could not afford rent, so they resorted to sleeping in the office. They had one computer between the two of them and would visit the YMCA any time they needed to take a shower. Their website was on during the day, and he would spend the night coding it. Later on, they secured contracts with Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. In 1999, Compaq acquired ZIP2, and Musk got $22 million, the value of his shares.
In the same year that ZIP2 was sold, Musk cofounded X.com, now known as PayPal. PayPal a digital e-mail payment and financial services company – at the time the first of its kind. Soon after launching this company, he got over 200k clients. To avoid competition in the market, the company merged with Confinity. Since the new leadership considered him inexperienced, Musk was replaced by Bill Harris that year. The new company built an established money transfer service and evolved dramatically from its days as X.com. It was only after the merger that they adopted the name PayPal. In 2002, PayPal was sold for $1.5 billion to eBay. As the biggest shareholder, Musk received $175.8 million.
In addition to Zip2 and X.com, Musk is an innovator and co-founder of many other successful inventions. Some of these inventions are famous across the world. They include:
Before the sale of PayPal, Musk developed an interest in space exploration. He was determined to make space ventures more affordable. Additionally, he wanted it to be to build a space tourism industry. Determined to make space travel a reality, he unveiled Space X in 2002. After four years, they got a contract from NASA. Their main role was to handle the transportation of cargo to and from space.
In 2004, Musk joined Tesla as its chairman and became part of the board of directors. Having invested over $6 million in buying shares, he became the CEO three years later. His vision of electric cars for a sustainable future made him the company’s lead architect for products.
Musk and his younger brother created the Musk Foundation in 2002. The main objective was to support four key areas: science and engineering, pediatric research, space exploration, and advocacy and research for sustainable energy. So far, more than $300 million has been donated to this foundation. They’ve made a name for themselves with their contributions to sustainable innovations, AI, and disaster relief.
Driven by his vision of a sustainable future through the use of renewable energy, Musk acquired SolarCity. In 2006, he invested $10 million into this company. After a short while, the company evolved into largest supplier of this product in the country. Due to close collaboration with Tesla, Tesla bought SolarCity in 2016.
Revolutionization of the automotive industry
Initially, the idea of electric cars seemed like a farfetched idea in the automotive industry. However, with Musk’s belief in sustainable energy, he was determined to make it a reality. When the Roadster was released into the market in 2008, the world’s perception of electric cars changed. This was the first electric model at Tesla Company. From then, the company secured the top position globally in automotive sales. The company is currently working on an electric car with a battery that can last a million miles.
The Boring Company
The Boring Company is among Musk’s recent ventures during his time in the US. The company specifically focuses on boring tunnels at an affordable rate. Their primary objective is to provide affordable technology while boosting public transportation via electric means. With this innovation, people will be able to travel between cities faster than before. The company recently acquired a contract worth almost $49 million USD to bore tunnels in Las Vegas.
Twitter is the company that Musk has had his eye on most recently. The deal was supposed to be worth $44 billion, but it hit a snag when Musk changed his mind – after signing off on the deal. He had planned to transform Twitter into a platform where people are free to share their views. He even talked about installing a new algorithm so that spam bots would not have a chance on this platform. His ultimate goal was to boost trust among users and human authentication. However, this was all before he changed his mind and was slapped with a lawsuit from Twitter. As we watch the Twitter vs. Musk trial unfold, whether or not he follows through with the deal remains to be seen.
Elon Musk spent his childhood in South Africa where he was born. For the next 17 years, he lived there and completed his education right from preparatory to high school. He then spent five months at the University of Pretoria before embarking on a journey to the US via Canada. He left South Africa at the age of 17 and made a name for himself as an immigrant founder of more than one “Unicorn” startup with a net worth of over a billion dollars.
What’s inspiring about Musk’s journey?
Startup founders can learn from Musk’s drive and focus on achieving his goals. Most importantly, he sticks to his ideals regardless of the situation. While it took years to reach the US, he never lost sight of his final goal. As a result, he launched ventures that were successful enough for him to build his future on. As a startup, sometimes patience and resilience are what you need to succeed. Above all, you must learn to commit to your goals because how you approach these goals will determine your success.
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