“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” – Robert F. Kennedy
There are few people that have lived this mantra more than Elon Musk, a pioneer not only of space, but also of the concept of what is, and what is not possible. To him, things seem “logical” and “quite obvious”.¹
From the age of twenty-four, Musk has been crafting companies that have changed the way we do things. The way we shop, the way we pay for things, the way we view space and how we move from one place to another have all been revolutionised thanks to Elon Musk.
Musk wasn’t a school drop out that stumbled upon success. Graduating in 1997 from the University of Pennsylvania with two degrees, a Bachelor of Science (Physics) and a Bachelor of Science (Economics) from the university’s renowned Wharton School of Business, Musk catapulted himself into the business world armed with an intricate understanding of science and business.
From Zip2, X.com to PayPal, something that became inherently obvious was that Elon’s brilliant mind didn’t necessarily equate to strong leadership skills – in some cases being outed by the boards from companies he and his brother founded. There was something about Elon Musk that these people didn’t understand – they simply couldn’t see what Musk could see.
Even today his Solar City and Tesla businesses send shivers through investment banks around the world – with investors not always tolerant of Musk’s attitude of “oh, it will work, it is just a question of when”.²
At 29, Elon walked away with $22 million from the sale of Zip2. In 2002, three short years later, PayPal was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion in stock, of which Musk received US$165 million – leaving him a war chest to follow his ultimate dream – space.
Taking $100 million from earlier ventures, in 2002 Musk founded SpaceX, a company focused on commercialising space travel, cargo and transportation. Backed by global juggernauts Facebook, NASA and a range of government, military and corporate organisations, through its Falcon Program, SpaceX mastered the ability to successfully land a rocket back from a space mission.
Through Musk’s vision, SpaceX has become the intergalactic version of FedEx, delivering a precious payload and safely returning unmanned crafts back to earth to be reloaded.
Musk has a vision “I would like to die thinking that humanity has a bright future”³ – how does that stack up against any corporate visionary you’ve ever read about?
Throughout the growth of SpaceX, Musk has founded or taken over companies such as Tesla, Solar City, Hyperloop, OpenAI, The Boring Company and Neuralink, which aim to solve problems the human race currently has or is set to experience, taking social entrepreneurship to a new level.
Why is Elon Musk so different?
Like most visionaries and entrepreneurs, Elon Musk observes the world with a different lens. Similar to Bobby Kennedy – and his older brother JFK who facilitated the original moon landing – he doesn’t look for the reasons why something can’t be done – but how it can be done.
According to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, by definition, a social entrepreneur is a leader or pragmatic visionary who drives social innovation and transformation in various fields including health, education, environment & enterprise development. They are people who strive to leave the world a better place than when they found it.
An entrepreneur works by a similar mantra, except they are driven by profit, not solely by the benefit to society. Although a company may be built to assist the members of another organisation or to help start-ups take the next plunge to commercialising products – at the end of the day, it’s all executed for a profit.
The difference between Elon Musk and most people – entrepreneurs or not – is that he will stop at nothing to ensure that he is changing the world for the better.
When you’re next sitting in front of your computer, at a café or taking a walk, consider what Elon Musk was thinking when he was in your shoes. Was he thinking about taking over the world? About making a buck? Or was he thinking about how to make things easier for people, remove pain points and make life better?
Through social entrepreneurship and ‘disruptive innovation’ Elon Musk has changed the way we do everything. Do you have what it takes to create the next big mission?
In the words of British philosopher Edmund Burke, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – definitely a thought worth considering when you next put off that next big idea for the ultimate startup!
Ducere and the University of Canberra’s bachelor degrees in Applied Business deliver enterprise skills for the 21st Century innovation economy across management, marketing and entrepreneurship.
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1 Carr “Elon Musk has no fear”, Fast Company, July August 2017 p.68 2 Musk as quoted in “Elon Musk has no fear”, Fast Company, July August 2017 p.68 3 Vance (2015), “Elon Musk – How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping our world”, Virgin Books