Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

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  • Author: Ashlee Vance
  • Genre: Biography

The author:

Ashlee Vance is a columnist and an author.

Vance started his career writing for The Register (March 2003 to August 2008).  In September 2008, he moved to The New York Times.  He then moved to Bloomberg Businessweek in January 2011.  Vance covered various topics about business and technology during his tenure in Bloomberg Businessweek.

In 2007, Vance wrote the book Geek Silicon Valley, on the history of silicon valley. The book was featured in popular publications such as The Economist, CNN.com, and CNET. He then went on to write Elon Musk’s biography in 2015.

Elon Musk:


Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1971. Musk’s mother was a model and father was an engineer, sailor, and pilot. There were indicators that he would become an entrepreneur later on in his life. He had multiple endeavors to sell and build as a kid. At just age 12, he started selling his very own game.

As a kid, Elon was often bullied. He spent most of his time reading. In fact, he once ran out of books to read and started reading the encyclopedia. Musk was heavily influenced by the comics he read as a kid. According to him, it seemed like the characters were always trying to save the world. Soon, he started to see it as a personal obligation to save the world. Whether this would be done by creating electric cars or sending rockets to Mars. He was ready to do it.

Elon Musk life story and career rise: PHOTOS - Business Insider

Photo Source: Bloomberg News, YouTube


At age 17, Musk decided to move to Canada. In order to avoid serving the military of South Africa. When Elon arrived in Canada he had nowhere to go and nothing to do. He worked around the country at odd jobs to make a living. Elon ended up attending Queens University in Ontario, Canada. During his time in Canada, Elon and Kimbal (Kimbal Musk, Elon’s brother) would read the newspaper to find interesting people they would like to meet. Then, they would take turns calling those people to ask if they would be available to have lunch with them.

Elon’s first startup

After his time in Canada, Musk enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania to study physics and economics. Afterwards, he started taking classes in Standford, however, he dropped out after 2 days. Elon’s arrival in California was timed perfectly. He had arrived during the internet boom. Elon and Kimbal decided to open their first start-up (1995) in California.

Elon and Kimbal had the ambition to open a company before going to California. During their road trip prior to the summer, Elon started Standford. They discussed possible options for startups. Elon and Kimbal came to the conclusion that the medical industry could be disrupted. They decided to open an online network for doctors, however, let go of the idea after some time. They reportedly said they did not love the idea.

Their first startup was a digital version of yellow pages. Elon got the idea from the time he worked at a software company as an intern. While he was in the office of the company a salesman walked into pitch a digital version of yellow pages. The salesman clearly struggled with his pitch, he had no grasp of what the internet actually was or how someone would find businesses on it. Later that day he called Kimbal to tell him about the idea of opening an online directory for businesses. Elon said, “These guys clearly don’t know what they are doing”.

In 1995 they created the Global Link Information Network, which would later be renamed to Zip2. At the time, only a small amount of businesses understood why they needed a website or list their business on the internet. Musk often explained the concept through pizza, saying that everyone had the right to know where the pizza restaurant was in their area.

After some time the Musk brothers sold Zip2 to Compaq computers for 22 million dollars.

Elon Musk Success Story - Millionaire Mind


Paypal originally known as X.com would be Elon’s second startup. Elon was now a .com millionaire, he was looking for an idea that would disrupt an industry with lots of money. He was looking to accelerate the efficiency of the industry he chose through the internet.

Elon began thinking about his time as an intern in the bank of Nova Scotia. During his tenure, he had spotted an obvious business opportunity. Elon had pitched the idea to the bank, however, they were risk-averse. In the following years, he thought about opening an online bank. In fact, he pitched the idea to a group of scientists during his internship at Pinnacle Research in 1995. Elon lectured the scientists on the shift that would happen to the finance industry due to the internet. However, the scientist tried talking him down, telling him it would take decades for Web security to be good enough to win over customers.

Elon remained convinced about how the finance industry could use an upgrade. However, as the scientist had pointed out. People were barely comfortable buying a book on the internet. They might not want to enter their credit card information on the internet. However, Elon would solve the problem by gifting people 5$-10$s for creating an account.

He called his new company X.com. Later on, the name would cause a dispute within the company and cause a coup. Whilst embarking on his new venture, Elon reserved 4 million$ for personal use. He invested the rest of his fortune in Paypal. After some time, Paypal was sold to eBay. Elon had made 100 million$ from the sale.

Peter Thiel

Elon Musk and Peter Thiel


Elon now had 100m$ at his disposal. Most people would retire or spend the money on a lavish lifestyle and luxury goods. However, Elon wanted to embark on more ambitious projects. Elon was done with the start-up life and silicon valley. He felt like he was living in a trade show where everyone worked in the technology industry and talked about funding, IPO’s, and chasing big paydays.

Elon decided to move to Los Angeles with his former wife Justine to start a new chapter of their life. After being pushed out of Paypal, Elon had started thinking about his childhood fantasies around space travel and rockets. He was not sure about what he wanted to with space, however, he figured the people around him that were interested in aerospace would help him refine his ideas.

The more he thought about space, the more important exploration seemed to him. He feared mankind had lost its ambition about space travel. One day, Elon visited the NASA website to see their plans for Mars. He was pretty surprised, there were no plans.

After multiple endeavors, Elon founded SpaceX. Everyone expected SpaceX to be a failure. There had been lots of wealthy men that had tried space travel, however, they had ended up failing. When Elon came along, most people thought he would be another failure.

SpaceX had a rough start, their first three launches were unsuccessful. Elon did not know much about rockets when he first started SpaceX. In fact, one employee of SpaceX said “Elon would quiz me, first I thought he was testing my knowledge. Then I figured he was learning from me”. Elon would quiz his employees until he knew 99% of what they knew.

After some time, SpaceX started proving people wrong one by one. Minor triumphs on the behalf of SpaceX soon made SpaceX a viable option for space travel and colonization.

A man who worked with Elon Musk at SpaceX reveals 3 keys to success

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX      Getty Images


Originally, Elon was the chairman of Tesla. He had only invested in Tesla, however, he took over as CEO after Martin Eberhard resigned from his position as CEO. Tesla became the laughing stock of everyone. The media constantly ridiculed them in the beginning. Tesla had failed to deliver the Tesla roadster on time and had gone over budget.

Elon soon found himself burning through his fortune. There was a period of time where both Tesla and SpaceX nearly went bankrupt. Elon did not have much leftover in 2008, he had two choices. He would rather invest the money he had in one company and let the other die or invest in both of them which had the risk of killing both companies. It was a dilemma for Elon, after some thinking. He decided to attempt reviving both companies. His attempt was successful.

Now, Elon’s vision seems to not be too far fetched. He has reinvented how we view the aerospace and automobile industries.


Image source: https://www.petrostathis.com/news/elon-musk-tesla


Overall, Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk is amazing. This book is one of the rare quality Elon Musk biographies out there. The book itself is 400 pages long.

Elon Musk is one of the most intriguing men on this planet. It is extremely hard to write about every aspect of his life. We tried our best to summarize Elon Musk and his endeavor to save humanity. We recommend you check out the book itself to learn more!

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