What, me worry?

Call him a visionary or a crazy entrepreneur, Elon Musk is a man on a mission to do the unthinkable

By Mathures Paul
  • Published 9.09.18

I don’t know — I mean, the one time I met Steve Jobs, he was kind of a jerk,” Elon Musk had told GQ in 2015. Don’t let that cloud your impression of the founder of the world’s two most followed companies — Tesla and SpaceX — because the Apple founder too had many failings. Yet, the two are alike in some ways — they are men of not just ideas, but big ideas.

Over the last 15 years, Tesla and SpaceX, under Musk’s leadership, have gone from start-up mode to being game changers. Speaking to The New York Times in August this year, he said: “If you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me know. They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better? They can have the reins right now.” Nobody has put in an application and the entire board at Tesla is behind him. Why? Let the timeline explain.

1995: Elon Musk develops Zip2 with his brother Kimbal borrowing $28,000 from their father. It’s a company that develops online city guides and it was sold to Compaq for $307 million in 1999.

March 1999: Co-founds X.com, an online banking and financial services company. Soon, X.com merges with Confinity to form PayPal. According to The New York Times, he took the company public and sold it to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Musk was left with about $170 million after selling his stock. He invests $100 million into SpaceX, $50 million into Tesla and $10 million into SolarCity (a subsidiary of Tesla that specialises in solar energy services).

May 6, 2002: SpaceX (a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services) comes alive. The company almost goes out of business as the first three launchings of the small Falcon 1 rocket fails. The fourth launch is a success. NASA awards SpaceX a cargo contract in 2008, and in 2012, the company launches the first private craft to dock with the International Space Station.

July 1, 2003: Tesla is born. Its first electric car arrives in 2006 and the car attracts a lot of interest despite a $100,000 price tag.

June 5, 2010: Musk launches on Twitter, the communication platform for his active and controversial thoughts! His first tweet: “Please ignore prior tweets, as that was someone pretending to be me :) This is actually me.”

August 13, 2013: The Hyperloop transport system is announced for California. He calls the super-fast, environment-friendly mode of transportation a “cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table”. 

December 21, 2015: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully lands upright on solid ground at Cape Canaveral, Florida. At the moment, rockets that travel into orbit are either destroyed or lost, driving up cost. If rockets can be reused, space flight can become a lot more affordable.

May 4, 2016: In an earnings call, Musk says Tesla aims to produce as many as one million vehicles by 2020. And then he reveals that he’s been spending nights on the factory floor in a sleeping bag to get the job done. A week later, he tweets: “It’s probably the Ambien.”

April 10, 2017: Tesla briefly becomes the most valuable American car maker, leapfrogging Ford and General Motors in terms of market capitalisation.

April 24, 2017: His relationship with actress Amber Heard is confirmed in an Instagram post (he has since deleted his Instagram account because the platform “is so thirsty, yet gives you Death by Water”.)

June 1, 2017: The Tesla CEO leaves President Donald Trump’s council after the US withdraws from the Paris Accord.

July 28, 2017: He hands over 30 units of Model 3 electric vehicles, a $35,000 car designed for the masses, at the company’s factory in Fremont, California. The car has been one of the catalysts behind the construction of the company’s massive $5 billion battery factory.

July 30, 2017: Musk takes to Twitter to announce that his mental health is suffering: “The reality is great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. Don’t think people want to hear about the last two.”

September 29, 2017: Plans are unveiled for a new spacecraft that Musk says would allow his company SpaceX to colonise Mars. The spacecraft, codenamed the BFR (Big F***ing Rocket), hopes to have the first launch by 2022.

November 17, 2017: Tesla’s first electric semi-truck is shown in Los Angeles. According to the man, this one can haul 80,000lbs.

January 3, 2018: Announcement about Model 3 production being behind expectations. Six months earlier, he had predicted that Tesla would be able to make 20,000 Model 3s a month by December. 

February 6, 2018: SpaceX fires a Tesla Roadster out of earth’s orbit while playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity. A day later, the company announces a $675 million quarterly loss.

March 23, 2018: One of the company’s Model X cars — in Autopilot mode — crashes into a roadside barrier and catches fire in California. The driver dies soon afterwards.  “The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive,” reads a statement from the company.

April 1, 2018: Musk jokingly tweets about Tesla going bankrupt and two days later tweets that he is “back to sleeping at factory. Car biz is hell…”

May 3, 2018: During a conference call with analysts, he says, “We have no interest in satisfying the desires of day traders. I couldn’t care less. Please sell our stock and don’t buy it.” And then to a question about “capital requirements”, he says, “Boring bonehead questions are not cool.”

May 7, 2018: He attends the Met Gala in New York with his new girlfriend, the Canadian musician Grimes, who is seen sporting a necklace in the shape of a Tesla logo.

June 12, 2018: Tesla lays off up to nine per cent of its employees.
June 28, 2018:
He spends his birthday in the factory. “First bday I’ve spent in the factory, but it’s somehow the best,” he tweets.

July 7, 2018: Musk sends help to trapped children in a Thai cave. His plans involve building a submarine using a part from a SpaceX rocket. A diver involved in the rescue operations calls it a “P.R. stunt” and to “stick his submarine where it hurts”. The CEO responds with a (now deleted) tweet that the diver was a paedophile.

August 7, 2018: The business magnate tweets that he would take Tesla private at $420 a share. The company’s stocks soar and the Tesla board, blindsided by the announcement, goes into damage control mode.

August 16, 2018: He gives an interview to The New York Times during which the entrepreneur alternated between laughter and tears. “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside. This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends…. The worst is over from a Tesla operational standpoint. But from a personal pain standpoint, the worst is yet to come,” he said.

September 7, 2018: Sips whisky and smokes marijuana during a two-and-a-half-hour podcast with California comedian Joe Rogan. He says, “It’s very difficult to keep a car company alive.”