The Wired Entrepreneur: The Early Years of Elon Musk
“I didn’t really expect to make any money,” he says of his first venture. “If I could make enough to cover the rent and buy some food that would be fine. As it turns out, it turned out to be quite valuable in the end.”
He might have dropped out of Stanford University after just two days, but Elon Musk was no slouch when it came to learning. He just wanted to do things his own way. Indeed, Musk moved all the way from his hometown in South Africa to pursue his ideas on cutting edge technology in North America. The first company he founded, Zip2, would be sold to Compaq for $307 million in cash. His second company, PayPal, was not only later sold to eBay for $1.5 billion, but it changed the way the world does business online. Now, Musk is turning his attention to the skies, producing space launch vehicles with his new company SpaceX. This is one entrepreneur who puts no limits on his dreams.
Those dreams began on June 28, 1971 in South Africa. Born to a South African engineer father and a Canadian dietician mother, Musk’s father had a strong impact on the young boy’s life. He inspired Musk’s love of technology. When Musk was just ten years old, he bought himself his first computer. Not knowing anything about computers to begin with, Musk taught himself how to program. Just two years later, he had created a space game called Blaster, and was selling it commercially.
When Musk was 17 years old, he graduated from Pretoria Boys High and decided to leave home against his parents’ wishes. He did not want to take part in the South African military’s compulsory service. “I don’t have an issue with serving in the military per se,” says Musk, “but serving in the South African army suppressing black people just didn’t seem like a really good way to spend time.”
Musk decided to make North America his next home. “I think South Africa is a great country,” he says. However, “if you wanted to be close to the cutting edge, particularly in technology, you came to North America.” Musk first made his way to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Even with working part-time jobs, Musk found he was barely making ends meet, living on just $1 a day. His fate would soon change, however, when he was awarded a prestigious scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “Tuition costs are outrageous,” he recalls. “Fortunately, they gave me a scholarship…so I only had to cover living expenses, books, etc., by working.”
Musk graduated from Wharton with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He decided to stay in Pennsylvania for another year to complete a second bachelor’s degree in physics. At that point, Musk was not quite sure what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew there were three “important problems” that he wanted to get into: “One was the Internet, one was clean energy and one was space.”
In 1995, Musk was accepted into a high energy physics graduate program at Stanford University. After just two days, he decided it was not for him and dropped out. He had an idea for a company and he figured a graduate degree would not get him any closer to achieving his goals.
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