Book Review: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Oliver Ahedo, undergraduate business student at Southampton, give his verdict on Vance's "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future".
Oliver Ahedo, undergraduate business student at Southampton, give his verdict on Vance’s “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future”.

Elon Musk is a 45-year-old, self- made billionaire who has founded some of the biggest, most impacting, multi-million dollar companies in today’s market. Some of the companies he is most known for are PayPal (now owned by eBay), SpaceX, Tesla Motors and SolarCity. Ashlee Vance is the author of his biography and has not only managed to capture the most intricate details of his claim to success, but has also gone into great depth and trouble to find even the most accurate and specific people, dates and emotions throughout the period of his whole life. He has interviewed many people associated with Elon, including business partners, old employees, childhood friends and even people at his internship. Vance has managed to write the life of Elon Musk in such a way that it is easy to follow and connect with not only the writer, but with the story.


Musk currently valued at over $13 billion, was first born in South Africa, 1971. When he finished school he decided to move to Silicon Valley, and managed to convince his brother, Kimbal. This was during the early 1990s and the Internet had just started making a name for itself. The Musk brothers agreed that it would be something very impacting in the near future, so with only $28,000, given to them by their father, they set up their first Internet based company. It was founded in 1995 and was initially called Global Link: a company that provided newspapers with a map of the city, and started off with code that Elon had written. He got into Stanford University, but dropped out after only two days to pursue the Internet and Global Link. In Elon’s early stages of a businessman his social skills are what made investors interested. He was a great speaker and just a year later the company’s name changed to Zip2 after receiving an investment of three million dollars. As time progressed, they hired the best engineers, and the company grew. But Elon’s decisions were being questioned, the board was not sure he was dealing appropriately with certain things. They removed him as CEO, and in 1998 they had plans to merge with their main competitors, but later in that year it was canceled. Elon complained and also lost his chairman title.


At this point, his life had changed from sharing a car and an apartment with three people, to moving and buying himself a sports car and new home. Shortly after losing his chairman title a computer company offered over $300 million for Zip2. They accepted the offer. Elon came away with over $22 million. He used this money to buy himself a new house and a very rare sports car. Previous to owning this money, Musk had devised a plan. He had found a gap in the banking market. So after Zip2 had sold he started up, an online banking and invested $12 million of the money he had made. In the mean time two Canadians with finance experience had joined the company: Fricker and Payne. These two along with Elon and Ho, a Zip2 engineer, were thought to have created the company. Elon was the largest shareholder as he made the biggest investment. Fricker wasn’t agreeing with Elon’s decisions as CEO. He threatened Musk. If he did not make him CEO he would take everyone and leave.


Once again Elon had been left with a handful of people loyal to him. Musk got back on the street and started recruiting new engineers. Soon was exploding and had a competitor called Confinity. For a long time they competed but soon decided to stop spending each other’s money and merged. The company was still called and Elon remained CEO and main shareholder. Some time after, with the numerous problems of going into overdraft and battling hackers, one of the founders of Confinity, Thiel, threatened to leave. Once again unhappy with Elon’s decisions as CEO, some of the employees gathered and decided to overthrow Musk and reinstate Thiel. Elon was on a plane at this time, and by the time he landed, he could do nothing. They rebranded the company as PayPal; Elon embraced it, continued investing and remained main shareholder. In July of 2002 eBay had offered $1.5 billion for the company. They accepted and Elon walked away with $180 million.


Musk and Vance both agree this was the most important stage in Elon’s life. At that point in time Elon had made his fortune and learned from his mistakes, making the set up of his other two major companies: Tesla Motors and SpaceX, much smoother and with less problems.


After selling PayPal Musk moved to Los Angeles and started looking into the space sector. Rockets at the time had very high risk of failure and were very expensive, so people in this sector were stoked to have ‘another rich guy’ fund them. After getting a feel for the market he decided to open up is own company, SpaceX and create the Falcon 1. In 2008 the Falcon 1 had liftoff and reached orbit. SpaceX now makes the Falcon 9 and the Dragon, a massive breakthrough, both used for carrying tones to the International Space Station and the help of the colonization of Mars.


A year after SpaceX was founded, in 2003 Tesla Motors started. Out of all the companies this one is the only one that Elon didn’t start up himself. He was approached by three men who wanted to create and electric car powered by a lithium battery. Elon fell in love with the idea, soon funded them and became chairman and main shareholder. The first car made was the Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car. It was introduced in 2006 and sold out fast. Musk financed over 105 million over the upcoming years. Tesla now has four models, more are in development, and has an annual revenue of over 7 billion.


Vance has taken the reader through the journey of Elon Musk’s life with incredible detail and precision. For Elon, Vance describes his moving on to start up other businesses and having learnt from his mistakes is his way of leveling up in the business world. For anybody interested in the world of business and technology, this is a book that takes you on the journey of one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.

The views in this article represent those of the author. This article is part of the ‘Making Our Work Real’ series.

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Book Review: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, 7.0 out of 10 based on 5 ratings

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