Not so long ago, if people were asked to single out a name of an innovator that has had a significant impact in an industry, the most common answer would be Steve Jobs. There is no doubt about his genius, and the legacy he left behind is reminiscent of his talent. But, there is one name that has risen in the past decades and has become the ultimate nerd king and entrepreneurial powerhouse: Elon Musk.
In this rapidly growing technological era, the boom has brought forth great inventions and technologies that are taking over our lives, mostly in the right way. Elon Musk is the person who has tested the waters in almost all potentially groundbreaking technologies and has successfully built big companies that have not only impressed the science geeks and enthusiasts but a layman equally.
Born in 1971 in South Africa, Musk was socially crude and spent most of his childhood reading books and studying science that always fascinated him. He had a business mind, just at the tender age of 12, he made a video game and successfully sold it to a magazine. Discouraged by the racial atmosphere in South Africa, he soon emigrated to Canada in 1988 and opt to work on his dreams by utilizing the latest opportunities offered in the North American regions.
He studied at Queen’s University and then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated with dual degrees in Physics and Economics. He had a competitive attitude and grasped the potential of the internet, which was a flourishing technology at that time. After brainstorming ideas with his friends, he founded one of his first companies Zip 2, that intended to provide directories and maps to online newspapers. It was soon bought by a big computer company and Musk, ever so creative, founded X.com, another startup that dealt with online financial services. You might not have heard of it but may have known what it morphed into – PayPal, which is one of the most successful online payment systems in the world.
A Look at Successful Ventures
Even though the focus of his early career was online technologies, he still had a soft spot for space travel. This love was created and fueled by the science fiction books that Musk read in his childhood, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a classic geek phenomenon endorsed worldwide by many sci-fi lovers. Thus, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) in 2002, with the broader aims of space travel, but initially focused on developing affordable and efficient rocket technologies. SpaceX’s journey reached to peak in a short interval of time, but it was not easy. Under the captaincy of Musk, it went on to one of the best, NASA-endorsed, companies in the world.
Just as he launched SpaceX, he also invested in an electric car company Tesla Motors (inspired by the genius Nikola Tesla), and introduced the first car in 2006, the Roadster. Musk believed that there was a dire need to shift to renewable energies and called electric vehicles as one of the potential solutions. Many bought into his vision, especially those who felt the need to use alternatives that don’t pose many threats like conventional vehicles.
His ideas were initially mocked, and many claimed that it will take him years to develop sophisticated technologies that can aid in achieving such big goals. There were always pushbacks in the dates of new product releases, which affected his position in Silicon Valley. Tabloids and haters ridiculed him, calling his plans and suggestions foolish and impossible.
For these huge plans, Musk and the team had to do immense efforts to get these companies on track. For rockets production, it was decided that it would be bought from Russia and then can be used to do experiments in space. But negotiations and meetings with the Russian developers didn’t go well, so Elon Musk decided to build rockets in the USA. Experts and local scientists were hired and by 2008, the Falcon 1 rocket successfully orbited the Earth after several failed attempts. Several versions have since been introduced with the aim to recycle the parts as well – something that is rarely done.
The Dragon spacecraft has been commissioned by NASA to carry the payload to the International Space Station and more work is been done to develop a spacecraft that can carry astronauts as well. Falcon Heavy is another worthy mention because it is the most powerful rocket and was launched in 2018 carrying a Tesla roadster into space. Not to be missed are the recently launched ‘Starlink’ satellites that could provide high-speed internet. It took almost 15 years for Musk to finally see his dream of space travel come alive.
As for Tesla, it has become one of the biggest manufacturers of electric cars in the world. In 2013, after the flagship car, the Model S was launched, Musk has been successful in propelling it to the top with more slick and efficient vehicles that catch everyone’s attention. But do note that this too, like SpaceX, took almost a decade to finally become an extraordinary hit. Although the idea for this company was conceived in the early 90s by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, it was Musk who poured his insight into its development and brought it to the position where it is today. He has become the face of the company even though he was not the original founder.
But that’s not it for Musk. Along with these two ventures, he has also invested in and founded companies that seek out and work on the most innovative and sustainable ideas. While Neuralink Corporation focuses on creating machine implants that can be connected to the brain and help in treating neural disorders, SolarCity provides solar panels that can generate energy for commercial and residential use. And then there is the Boring Company, a highly ambitious project in which such tunnels are going to be developed that can cut down commute times in highly busy areas such as Los Angeles.
The Unorthodox Genius
All this might sound overwhelming to an average person, but to someone like Musk, it is just a part of the work. He is a man of conviction who doesn’t back off from his jaw-dropping ideas. He works tirelessly to make sure that things are to perfection. His personality often comes off as harsh and directive, but that is what got him here. In Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, his life is laid out, and it is shown how sometimes he gets on the nerves of his employees. His work-life balance is nowhere to be seen (or probably rare) because work is his life. At times, his companies were on the verge of bankruptcy, he saved them all alone even though very few people were there to support. His work was decades in the making, but in the end, it was all worth it. Musk earned a high-rank tech-lovers, and the industry that once used to make fun of him now has to collaborate with him, for he has earned a rightful position at the top.
Not just that, the millennials and Gen Z value him even more highly for his online presence. From hosting Meme Reviews on YouTube to tweeting absurd jokes, he is the full package of smart and witty. He occasionally pops up in the pop culture and enjoys being made fun of, to a specific limit, of course. The over the top and extraordinary presentations for cars, pickup trucks, and rockets in nerdy attires make him everybody’s beloved entrepreneur/genius. But, he often gets into hot waters as well for his judgments and comments, and there are quite a few people out there who don’t agree with him and his seemingly overly ambitious and ‘absurd’ views.
Whatever the case, one cannot deny the genius of this man and the entrepreneurial success he has had. Not only is he worth billions, but he is also the one who has brought to the world out-of-the-box ideas that took a while to begin but nevertheless were successful. Every few months, SpaceX is launching rockets, and Tesla bringing out amazing cars, and the compelling persona of Musk is what fuels it all. He may be the one who might take us to Mars, and the charisma that he exudes makes us think that he can do more such crazy things. Musk leads the example of how innovative one can be in this era where new and groundbreaking ideas and inventions are being introduced, and the high technological pace hints towards an even bigger and developed future. We can’t wait to see what he has in stores for us (literally and figuratively)!
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Maham Maqsood is the Managing Editor at Scientia Pakistan. She is a senior at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad studying Biochemistry. An avid reader and a freelance writer, Maham has worked for several organizations including Globalizon and MIT Technology Review Pakistan.