What can't Elon Musk do?
On Thursday, Musk turned 47 years old, and he's already racked up a long string of victories.
As CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, founder of The Boring Company, and cofounder of OpenAI, Musk seems to be everywhere all at once, pushing all kinds of incredible new technologies. He's said he won't be happy until we've escaped Earth and colonised Mars.
Between space rockets, electric cars, solar batteries, research into killer robots, and the billions he's made along the way, Musk is basically a real-life Tony Stark — which is why he served as an inspiration for "Iron Man."
But it wasn't always easy for Musk. Here's how he went from getting bullied in school to small-time entrepreneur to CEO of two major companies that seem like they're straight out of science fiction — and how he almost went broke along the way.
"Where a lot of people would go to a great party and have a great time and drink and talk about all sorts of things like rugby or sport, you would find Elon had found the person’s library and was going through their books," Musk's dad, electronics engineer Errol Musk, said.
Maye Musk, a Canadian national, has appeared on boxes of Special K cereal and the cover of Time magazine.
Musk felt sorry for his father, whose three children had gone to live with their mother after the divorce. It wasn't until after the move was made that his notoriously troubled relationship with his dad began to emerge. "It was not a good idea," Musk said in a recent Rolling Stone interview about moving in with his father.
Musk described it as "a trivial game … but better than Flappy Bird."
The bullies threw Musk down a set of stairs and beat him until he blacked out, according to Ashlee Vance in his book "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future."
Musk moved to Canada with his mother Maye, his sister Tosca, and his brother Kimbal.
The move, which Musk undertook with Adeo Ressi, was one of his first entrepreneurial experiments.
He deferred his admission after only two days in California, deciding to test his luck in the dot-com boom that was just getting underway. He never returned to finish his studies at Stanford.
A cluster of Silicon Valley investors helped them fund the company, which provided city travel guides to newspapers like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune.
The hard work paid off when Compaq bought Zip2 in a deal worth $341 million (over R4 billion) in cash and stock, earning Musk $22 million (over R301 million).
He launched the company in 1999 using $10 million (R136 million) of the money he got from the Zip2 sale. About a year later, X.com merged with Confinity, a financial startup cofounded by Peter Thiel, to form PayPal.
In October 2000, he started a huge fight among the PayPal cofounders by pushing for them to move their servers from the free Unix operating system to Microsoft Windows. PayPal cofounder and then-CTO Max Levchin pushed back, hard.
"That's the problem with vacations," Musk told Fortune years later about his ill-fated trip in late 2000.
As PayPal's single biggest shareholder, he netted $165 million (over R2 Billion) of the $1.5 billion (over R20 billion) price eBay paid.
A lifelong fan of science fiction, Musk even tried to buy decommissioned Soviet missiles for the purpose. But the Russian sellers wanted $8 million (over R109 million) or more for each, and Musk thought he could build his own for less.
Musk's goal was to make spaceflight cheaper by a factor of ten.
The rockets were called the Falcon 1 and 9.
The name of the spacecraft, the Dragon, was Musk's jab at skeptics who told him SpaceX would never be able to put vehicles into space.
SpaceX won't file for an initial public offering until what Musk calls the "Mars Colonial Transporter" is flying regularly, he said.
In 2004, Musk made the first of what would be $70 million (R958 million) of total investments in Tesla, an electric car company co-founded by veteran startup exec Martin Eberhard.
The all-electric Roadster launched in 2006, when Musk was serving as Tesla's chairman. He's now its CEO also.
Musk gave his cousins Peter and Lyndon Rive the working capital to get SolarCity off the ground in 2006.
With Eberhard as CEO, Tesla was burning way more cash than it was taking in. In 2007, Musk staged a boardroom coup, first ousting Eberhard from his CEO seat and then from the company's board and executive suites entirely.
Musk invested $40 million (over R547 million) into Tesla and loaned the company $40 million more. Not coincidentally, he was named the company's CEO the same year.
He describes 2008 as "the worst year of my life." Tesla kept losing money, and SpaceX was having trouble launching its Falcon 1 rocket.
Musk got two pieces of good news: SpaceX landed a $1.5 billion (over R20 billion) contract with NASA to deliver supplies into space, and Tesla finally found more outside investors.
Tesla raised $226 million (over R3 billion) in the IPO that June, becoming the first car company to go public since Ford in 1956. To get his finances back on track, Musk sold shares worth about $15 million (R205 million) in the offering.
Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark in the "Iron Man" movies is at least partially based on Musk. Musk even had a cameo in "Iron Man 2."
In 2008, Musk started dating actress Talulah Riley. They got married in 2010 and divorced in 2012. In July 2013, they remarried. In December 2014, Musk filed for a divorce but withdrew the paperwork. In March 2016, Riley filed for divorce; that divorce was finalized in October.
He lamented in a Rolling Stone interview late last year how difficult the breakup was for him.
By the end of 2015, SpaceX had made 24 launches on assignments like resupplying the International Space Station, setting lots of records along the way. In 2016, the SpaceX Falcon 9 made the first successful water landing of a reusable orbital rocket.
The Falcon Heavy has three reusable boosters.
A super-high speed train that travels in a vacuum tube, the Hyperloop could theoretically transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes, cutting commutes and traffic congestion down exponentially. Recognizing how busy he was running SpaceX and Tesla, among his other projects, Musk is letting other companies build their own versions.
Upgraded SpaceX/Tesla Hyperloop pod speed test soon. Will try to reach half speed of sound (and brake) within ~1.2km.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 8, 2018
Launched in 2016, the Boring Company's mission is to dig a network of tunnels under and around cities for high-speed, no-traffic driving. Now, the Boring Company is starting to dig, with permits for test tunnels in Baltimore and California.
Musk has expressed concern that the race for better AI could end up sparking a third world war. More recently, Musk announced he was stepping down from the board of OpenAI in February 2018 to avoid any potential conflicts of interest with Tesla, which has made strides into artificial intelligence for its self driving car technology.
Tesla's "autopilot" system is available on all three of its models, including the new Model 3 — a lower-cost car launched in early 2017 that brings the company closer to its goal of making electric vehicles that are affordable for the masses.
The acquisition brought Musk's two big green-tech ideas under one roof.
Musk joined President Trump's business advisory council, a move which caused a huge public backlash. He initially defended the move, saying he would be able to use his proximity to the White House to effect change. But he quit after Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
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