“If you want to do something really innovative, you have to apply a First Principles analysis. Don’t reason by analogy. Analogies are referencing the past. First Principles mean you look at the fundamental truths in a particular arena—the things that are always indisputably correct, and you reason up from there to form a conclusion. If you see that the conclusion is at odds with what people generally believe, then you have an opportunity...When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” —Elon Musk

As of November 29, 2021, Elon Musk ( June 28, 1971 - ) is the richest person on Earth with a wealth of $282 billion. He didn't get there by accident. His father was an engineer from South Africa and his mother was a nutritionist and model from Canada. It was a long journey from Pretoria, South Africa to Canada, the USA, and the planet Mars if he has his way with SpaceX, the company he founded to explore space.

Baby Elon Musk wheeling and dealing. 

1981. Pretoria, South Africa, at 10 years old, Musk created a video game called Blastar and sold the source code for $500, which is roughly $1 520 in 2021. He also sold candies at 20 times their manufacturing cost door-to-door.

Elon Musk at 10 years old. “When Elon was young, I noticed that he read everything,” Maye Musk, Elon's mother, A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for a Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty and Success. Elon Musk is a fanatic reader. His younger brother Kimbal Musk said that it was common for Elon to read 10 hours a day and sometimes two books on the weekend. Elon learned how to code before he was a teenager by reading books. After he started SpaceX in 2002, Elon taught himself rocket science by also reading books.

Tough times don't last, tough people do

Musk had some terrible years as a teenager. But tough times don't last, tough people do.

Musk has been open about his difficult childhood, discussing it most recently in last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” interview. While he attended grade school in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk was not only the youngest and smallest kid in his class, but he was nerdier and much more into books than many jocks at school. In Ashlee Vance’s 2015 book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” Musk said gangs of boys would sometimes hunt him down, going so far as to push him down a flight of stairs in one instance and send him to the hospital. “I was almost beaten to death,” he added on “60 Minutes.” The bullying continued until he was 15 years old, when went through a growth spurt and learned how to defend himself by doing karate, judo, and wrestling. By 16, he said he was “dishing it out as hard as they’d give it to me." —Zameena Mejia, December 2018, CNBC

The physical bullying left Musk with a damaged nose that affected his breathing. He repaired it with corrective nose surgery around 2013—about two decades after the bullying. Proof that bullying leaves a mark. There's also the other perspective: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

What is the root cause of bullying? Let Zach Efron elucidate it for us in the movie 17 Again, "But people, Stan is a bully. Why? It'd be way too easy to say Stan preys on the weak simply because he's a dick. No, no. Stan here is much more complex than that. See, according to leading psychiatrists, Stan is a bully for one of three reasons. One, underneath all that male bravado, there's an insecure little girl banging on the closet door trying to get out. Two, like a caveman, Stan's brain is underdeveloped. Therefore, Stan is unable to use self-control. And so he acts out aggressively. Three, Stan has a small wiener."

Or the fourth reason for bullying is that the bully was bullied by friends and family and they're passing on what they know. It is how they cope according to their social conditioning. What became of those who bullied Musk? They aren't anywhere on the richest or most accomplished list, that's for sure. Lesson: Don't bully or disparage people when you can spend that time accomplishing your dreams.

January 21, 1989. 17-yeard old Elon Musk (right, red shirt) in Pretoria, South Africa with his younger brother Kimbal Musk and younger sister Tosca Musk.

1989. At 17 years old, Musk moved from Pretoria, South Africa to a second-cousin's farm in Waldeck, Saskatchewan, Canada, where he lived for one year and worked on the farm.

Elon Musk in his second cousin's farm in Waldeck, Saskatchewan, Canada. His mother, Maye Musk, was born in Canada.

Odd jobs in Canada

Farm in Waldeck, Saskatchewan, Canada—tending to vegetables and shoveling grain bins, and other farming tasks.

Lumber mill in Vancouver, B.C—cutting logs, cleaning out the boiler room.

Elon Musk's Education

1989. Pretoria Boys High School.

1990 - 1992. Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Transferred to the University of Pennsylvania after two years.

1992 - 1995. Wharton School of the Unversity of Pennsylvania (Ivy League business school). Undergraduate degree in economics.

1992 - 1997. University of Pennsylvania (BS, BA). Physics major.

1995. Stanford University. Musk planned to get a PhD in energy physics. However, he dropped out after 2 days to start his first Internet company Zip2.

The serial entrepreneur

In 1995, at 24 years old, Musk wanted to work for an Internet company. At the time, the Internet was still in its infancy, so it was difficult to find a good Net company to work for. He applied at Netscape Communications and hung out in the company's lobby. He was too shy to approach anyone and never got a reply.

The journey to the world's richest person began with one company.

Zip2: online directory

1995. Silicon Valley, California, Musk cofounded Zip2. The company provided online city guides, basically Yellow Pages online. When Zip2 was sold to Compaq Computer Corp. in 1999 for $307 million, Musk netted roughly $22 million.

Elon Musk in his Zip2 days. He and his younger brother Kimbal Musk rented an office instead of an apartment. To save money, Musk slept on the sofa and took showers at the YMCA across the street.

X.com (PayPal): online payment

1999. Silicon Valley, California, Musk cofounded x.com, which later merged with Confinity Inc. to become PayPal. eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion in 2002, and Musk netted roughly $180 million.

Cofounders Elon Musk and Peter Thiel in their PayPal days. PayPal pioneered Internet payment and eCommerce.

SpaceX: Space Exploration

2002. Hawthorne, California, Musk founded SpaceX (Space Exploration) to build reusable rockets. When he founded SpaceX, Elon tried to buy ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles) from the Russians, but was turned down several times. They mocked him and even spat on his shoes at the last meeting. This led Musk to create his own reusable rocket—the Falcon 9.

Elon Musk using Siemens' interactive design tools to build rockets. He learned to become a rocket engineer by reading books and probing the minds of the best rocket engineers he could find. 

As of November 2021, SpaceX is still a private company and its estimated market valuation is $100 billion. Musk owns roughly 51% of SpaceX. SpaceX's mission is to "preserve the light of consciousness", "increase the scope and scale of consciousness", and "make humanity a multi-planetary species". SpaceX is bustling at its Starbase City in Boca Chica, Texas building the Starship that will eventually ferry cargos and humans to Mars.

Tesla: automobiles and sustainable energy

2003. Palo Alto (part of Silicon Valley), California, Musk cofounded Tesla, a sustainable energy and electric vehicle company. As of November 29, 2021, Tesla's stock market value was $ 1.13 Trillion. Musk owns roughly 20% of Tesla stock.

SpaceX's first goal was to create reusable rockets to reduce the cost of space flight by a factor of 10x.

Image gallery: click or tap an image to enlarge it, then click or tap to close it.

SolarCity: energy from the Sun

2006. Musk cofounded SolarCity with his cousins.

Elon Musk cofounded SolarCity with his cousins Lyndon Rive and Peter Rive. Musk seeded the company with $10 million in 2006.

Almost lost everything

2008. It was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Tesla and SpaceX were on the brink of bankruptcy and Musk was almost forced to choose one or the other to keep afloat. Musk lamented that it was like he had to choose which child to keep alive. He chose to keep both companies afloat with his own money. It got so bad that he had to borrow money from his billionaire friends to pay his personal rent. He was literally broke. Fortunately, God (or the government)  stepped in at the right time.

In 2008, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to haul at least 20 metric tons of cargo to the international space station over 12 planned flights.

In 2010, Tesla received a government grant of $ 451.8 million from the Department of Energy. Tesla repaid the entire loan by 2013. To date, Tesla is the only automaker that has repaid the government bailout. GM, Ford, and Chrysler (now owned by Stellantis of the Netherlands) collectively received $23.4 billion in 2008 from the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) program and have not repaid the taxpayers.

2013. Musk published his “alpha paper” which theorized that aerodynamic aluminum capsules filled with passengers or cargo could be propelled through a nearly airless (vacuum) tube at airliner speeds of up to 760 mph.

Although he envisioned Hyperloop, Musk isn't building it. Companies such as Virgin Hyperloop, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Transpod, and others are taking the mantle. 

2016. Tesla bought SolarCity for $2.6 billion. At the time, Musk was the largest single shareholder of both companies.

Since 2016, Musk has founded The Boring Company (a subsidiary of SpaceX); cofounded OpenAI and Neuralink.

“Don’t confuse schooling with education. I didn’t go to Harvard but the people who work for me did.” —Elon Musk
The Boring Company plans to reduce road traffic by building underground road systems. The company also plans to build habitats on Mars with a series of interconnecting tunnels.

Although OpenAI isn't in the spotlight and hasn't made money in 2021, it could be the sleeping giant in the next decade. Most businesses, even software engineering, are using algorithms to improve procedures and processes.

How many industries will Elon Musk pioneer, revolutionalize, or reinvent when he's done? Steve Jobs did it with computers (Apple, Next), music (iTunes and iPods), movies (Pixar), communications (iPhone).

"I operate on the physics approach to analysis. You boil things down to the First Principles or fundamental truths in a particular area and then you reason up from there." —Elon Musk

FIRST PRINCIPLE: A first principle is a basic proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption. In philosophy, first principles are from First Cause attitudes and taught by Aristotelians, and nuanced versions of first principles are referred to as postulates by Kantians...In layman's terms, first principles thinking is basically the practice of actively questioning every assumption you think you 'know' about a given problem or scenario—and then creating new knowledge and solutions from scratch.

In brief, First Principle isn't about how things have been done, but finding the best way to do them. The adage, "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" doesn't apply. Incremental improvement concepts such as CANI (Constant And Never Ending Improvement) also don't apply. In order to apply First Principle, history has to be forsaken, and we start with a clean paper. The best idea wins, not the idea that has been around the longest, or the idea that is widely used.

“Always go beyond memorizing formulas, passing tests; to always go deep into the underlying principles of a subject, to track any problem down to the ROOT CAUSE buried in the dirt, in the dark.” —Elon Musk

If knowledge is power, then knowledgeable people, such as librarians and the well-read, would run the world. However, knowledge is power only when it's applied. To apply knowledge correctly, it has to be analyzed.

"I could watch it happen or I could be a part of it." —Elon Musk

You can go through life watching the world change or you can be the person who is the change. You can have your way with the world or the world will have its way with you.

"There's a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering...Failure is an option at SpaceX. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough." —Elon Musk
"I don't spend my time pontificating about high-concept things; I spend my time solving engineering and manufacturing problems...The path to the CEO's office should not be through the CFO's office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design." —Elon Musk
Tesla's products are its factories: The machines that build the machines. “Tesla is building the car factory of the future. With our giant casting machines, we are literally trying to make full-size cars in the same way that toy cars are made.” —Elon Musk, January 2021

The vehicles and energy storage packs are not Tesla's products. Tesla's products are its factories: The machines that build the machines. Tesla is the largest robotics company in the world.

"My biggest mistake is probably weighing too much on someone's talent and not someone's personality. I think it matters whether someone has a good heart...Some people don't like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster." —Elon Musk

Charles Darwin noted that, "Intelligence is the ability to adapt...It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

The only constant in the Cosmos is change. Adapt to change at home, the workplace, and the world, or fall behind. Or become extinct like the dinosaurs.

"It is a mistake to hire huge numbers of people to get a complicated job done. Numbers will never compensate for talent in getting the right answer (two people who don't know something are no better than one), will tend to slow down progress, and will make the task incredibly expensive...People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.." —Elon Musk
Elon Musk is busy building roughly 1000 Starships at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas to ferry cargo and people to Mars.
"I don't believe in process. In fact, when I interview a potential employee and he or she says that 'it's all about the process,' I see that as a bad sign. The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You're encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren't that smart, who aren't that creative." —Elon Musk
"Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. This improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you're putting in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you're doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve." —Elon Musk
The boss of bosses. The real life Iron Man/Tony Stark. The richest person on Earth. Time Person of the Year 2021. The person who will make Humans a multi-planetary species.
"Due to inflation, 420 went up 69...Drug dealers know more about running a business than 95% of college professors." —Elon Musk
“In order to have your voice be heard in Washingon, you have to make some little contribution.” —Elon Musk

Records are made to be broken

Elon Musk is the first person to start two companies worth over $100 billion: Tesla and SpaceX.

Musk has the opportunity to surpass Steve Jobs in reinventing more than 4 industries. Steve Jobs did it with,

  • personal computer (Apple, Next),
  • music (iTunes and iPods),
  • movie (Pixar),
  • communication (iPhone).

Musk has or will reinvent several industries:

  • automobile (Tesla)
  • aerospace (SpaceX)
  • transportation (The Boring Company, a subsidiary of SpaceX)
  • artificial intelligence (OpenAI)
  • biomechanic (Neuralink)
  • space exploration (SpaceX)
  • energy (Tesla Energy (formerly SolarCity), a subsidiary of Tesla)
  • robotic (Tesla—Tesla Bot)

OpenAI may be the sleeping giant but gets little press compared to his other companies. OpenAI is working to make software engineering autonomous, or as close to it as possible. Everything, from vehicles to toasters, is reliant on software nowadays.

Musk could also become the first person to start four companies with a market valuation of over $1 billion. Jim Clark did it in the 2000 Internet heydays with Silicon Graphics, Netscape Communications, and Healtheon. Although Musk cofounded SolarCity and seeded the company with $10 million, he wasn't active enough in the company to be considered a true "cofounder". When SolarCity was sold to Tesla for $2.6 billion in 2016, Musk did not get credit for having cofounded a company with over a $1 billion market valuation.

First Principles: Elon Musk's Method of Thinking

Justine Musk: Visionaries are people who can see in the dark

Justine Musk, Elon Musk's first wife, is the mother of his first six children (the first one passed away from SIDS—Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). SIDS and autism are listed as side effects (adverse reactions) of many infant vaccines.