Elon Musk

by Ashlee Vance
ISBN: 0316017930
Finished 11/8/16
Amazon page for details and reviews



The story of the world’s most inspiring entrepreneur. The main takeaway: think bigger. This book provides a lot of insight into his often-troubled personal and business relationships, as well as many of the most important decisions that shaped his companies. It reads more like a thriller than a biography.


1. Elon’s World

Despite his size, Elon is sheepish in his manner and takes a few minutes to warm up

Musk is concerned about us creating evil artificial intelligence by accident

At the SpaceX HQ, there is a poster of Mars that looks mostly like Earth with green landmasses and oceans

His stated life purpose is turning humans into space colonizers

Inside Silicon Valley, he is the new Steve Jobs. But outside, he is more like a modern day P.T. Barnum

Musk is a confident guy, but doesn’t always do a good job at displaying this

After the tech bubble implosion, playing it safe became the hot thing to do in Silicon Valley. Innovation was on the decline

In 1995, fresh out of college, he founded Zip2, a primitive Google Maps meets Yelp. Compaq bought it in 1999 for $307 million. Musk made $22 million and poured almost all of it into his next venture, which would morph into PayPal.

Musk was the largest shareholder in PayPal. eBay acquired it for $1.5 billion in 2002

He moved to Los Angeles and threw $100 million into SpaceX, $70 million into Tesla, and $10 million into SolarCity

Musk’s foes build weapons and countries for a living

Musk is one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth around $10 billion

He wants to save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation

For the moment, he is still making rich people’s toys, and his budding empire could be an exploded rocket or massive Tesla recall away from collapse

On the other hand, Musk’s companies have already accomplished far more than his loudest detractors thought possible

2. Africa

In 1984, a South African publication published the source code to Blastar, a space-themed game Musk had designed

Musk came to see man’s fate in the universe as a personal obligation

Following an existential tragedy at age 14, he decided that most of the truisms found in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy resonated with him most deeply

While Musk enjoyed an upbringing of privilege in South Africa, he was an outsider to the culture. He plotted an escape from his surroundings, and saw America as the place to make his dreams a reality

Elon’s unusual tolerance for risk may have been inherited directly from his jet-setting grandfather

From a young age, his frequent staring into space made his parents think he was deaf. But after removing his adenoid glands, the problem persisted. It was a function of the way he was and not his hearing

It was not unusual for him to read 10 hours a day as a child. If it was the weekend, he could go through 2 books in a day

His fascination with books made him come off as a complete know-it-all

Both Elon and his brother, Kimbal, talk about having to endure some kind of psychological torture with their father

Despite this, he was able to get a computer at a young age: a Commodore VIC-20

Without their parents knowing, the boys nearly opened a video arcade. This plan foiled when they had to get someone over 18 to sign a legal document

Elon had a nose job to deal with the lingering effects of a beating in high school

Musk was selected for an experimental computer education program in high school

He also experimented with writing. He wanted to create something like Lord of the Rings but more science fiction and technology centric

At 17, Musk left South Africa for Canada. This was a way for him to get to the US and avoid mandatory military service. In the five months leading up to the move, he attended university but dropped out

3. Canada

Musk planned to visit an uncle, but he had moved to Minnesota. Musk stayed at a youth hostel instead

He found another relative and worked odd jobs for the next year

As Musk made his way around Canada, his brother, sister, and mother were figuring out how to get there as well

In college at the University of Queens, Musk studied business, competed in public speaking contests, and began to display the brand of intensity and competitiveness that marks his behavior today

In 1992, after two years at Queens, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania on scholarship. He pursued dual degrees in economics and physics

His girlfriend, Justine, stayed at Queens and the two maintained a long distance relationship

His roommate at Penn would turn their house into an unlicensed nightclub, hosting as many as 500 people

Musk will have an occasional vodka and diet coke, but he’s not a big drinker, and does not really care for the taste of alcohol

He wrote a paper “The Importance of Being Solar” as a business plan for a class assignment. Another paper dwelled on ultracapacitors. Through these papers, Musk displayed an ability to master difficult physics concepts in the midst of actual business plans

He thought about getting into the videogame business, but considered the games not quite grand enough a pursuit

He viewed the internet, renewable energy, and space as the three areas that would undergo significant change in the years to come, and as the markets where he could make a big impact

4. Elon’s First Startup

Musk had worked at the videogame startup Rocket Science and got a taste for the Silicon Valley life

The brothers formed Global Link Information Network, which would be renamed to Zip2

Few businesses at the time understood anything about the internet, let alone having a Yellow Pages-like listing online

Zip2 created a searchable directory of businesses and tied the content into maps

Musk did all the original coding by himself, while Kimbal did more business development

At Zip2, Elon and Kimbal occasionally got into fist fights over business decisions

In 1996, the company received an investment of $3 million. The company grew and expanded the platform from just the Bay Area to a national audience

The VCs pushed Musk into the CTO role and hired Rich Sorkin, formerly of Creative Labs, as CEO

Musk really wanted to have operational responsibility, but starting Zip2 and watching it grow boosted his confidence

For Elon, the word no does not exist, and he expects that attitude from everyone around him

The investors helped Elon and Kimbal get their visas and gave them $30,000 each for new cars. Kimbal got a BMW 3-Series, and Elon got a Jaguar E-Type that often arrived at the office on a flatbed

Zip2 targeted the media, as these agencies were scrambling with the arrival of services like Craigslist

Elon wanted to work directly with consumers, but the board decided to take a conservative path and stay focused on commercial clients

The company announced a merger with its main competitor, CitySearch. The deal was valued at around $300 million. But after reviewing the books of CitySearch, the deal was cancelled. Musk also lost his chairman title

In February 1999, Compaq suddenly offered $307 million in cash. The board accepted the offer

Musk and Kimbal came away with $22 million and $15 million, respectively

Musk had yearned to be a leader, but the people around him struggled to see how he could be a CEO

5. PayPal Mafia Boss

Musk did not have much nice to say about bankers’ competence. He thought they just copied each other

Musk was convinced he could have a major influence on banking with a relatively small investment

He wanted to build a full-service financial institution online, with savings and checking accounts as well as brokerage and insurance

He kicked this new plan into action before Zip2 had even been sold. X.com was incorporated the month after the Zip2 sale

At 27, Musk was a millionaire. He moved from a shared apartment to buying an 1800 sq. ft. condo and renovating it. He also bought a $1 million McLaren F1 and a small prop plane

Musk treated the McLaren as a daily driver and parked it on the street

He crashed the car while trying to show off to a friend

Despite his tendency to show off, he did put most of his money from Zip2 into X.com. His $12 million investment left him with only about $4 million

He assembled an all-star crew to grow the new company

The more the cofounders outlined their plan of their attack, the more they found regulatory issues would prove insurmountable

Musk and Harris Fricker were in a power struggle to be the leader of the company. Fricker took many of the key employees and formed a new company. X.com was now a shell of a company with a couple employees

X.com got an investment, hired new employees, and built one of the first FDIC insured online banks

Among the bank’s greatest innovations was a person-to-person payment system. It was an early success

A competitor, Confinity, was trying to allow people to send money via Palm Pilot infrared ports. The duo, Max Levchin and Peter Thiel, actually rented their office apace from X.com

Confinity soon moved out and focused on web and email based payments with their service PayPal

Whichever company got bigger faster would win

The investors pushed Musk out for a new CEO, but the company soon turned on him and Musk was again the CEO

In March 2000, the two companies decided to join forces

Musk was the largest shareholder of the combined company, X.com

The two teams did not see eye to eye. Most of the company favored the PayPal brand

2 months into the merger, Thiel resigned and Levchin threatened to leave

Problems worsened as the user base expanded

Employees organized a coup against Musk, bringing Thiel back in as CEO. Thiel soon rebranded the company as PayPal

Musk became an advisor to the company and increased his stake as largest shareholder. Musk actually supported Thiel after his own role diminishment

At this time, the company had a revenue of about $240 million per year. It looked like it would go public.

In July 2002, eBay offered $1.5 billion. Musk and the rest of the board accepted. Musk netted about $250 million from the sale, or $180 million after taxes

The collection of super-bright employees has become known as the PayPal Mafia, which is more or less the current ruling class of Silicon Valley. Musk is its most famous and successful member

One can still argue that PayPal sold out too early. By 2014, PayPal had amassed 153 million users and was valued at close to $32 billion

While Musk’s goals can sound absurd in the moment, he certainly believes in them, and when given enough time, he tends to achieve them

Musk’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend and wife, Justine, was rocky. He set expectations as if she was his employee

A vacation in Africa left him bedridden for 6 months. According to Musk, “That’s my lesson for taking a vacation: vacations will kill you.”

6. Mice in Space

Silicon Valley had gotten old for Musk

Elon and Justine decided to move their family to Los Angeles

The city was a favored location of the aeronautics industry since the 1920s

Musk gave a large donation to an organization interested in travel to Mars, the Mars Society. He wanted to pursue a $20 million mission to send mice into space and back. He founded his own organization, the Life to Mars Foundation

The more he thought about space, the more its exploration seemed important to him

He hired Michael Griffin, who was an industry thought leader. In 2005, Griffin took over as head of NASA

A new plan emerged, known as Mars Oasis. A robotic greenhouse would be sent to Mars. It would produce the first oxygen on the planet

It seemed like Musk wanted to spend somewhere between $20 and $30 million on the stunt, but everyone knew the cost of a rocket launch would eat up that money and then some. There were immense technical challenges regarding the greenhouse as well

In late October 2001, he went to Moscow to try to buy a rocket. The Russians tried to rip him off. He even tried to buy a British satellite company

Musk sought to build a lower-end rocket that carried smaller payloads. The cost per launch would be drastically lower and on a more regular schedule

While noodling on the rocket idea, Musk’s net worth had increased from tens of millions to hundreds of millions with the PayPal sale

In April 2002, Musk fully abandoned the publicity stunt idea and committed fully to a commercial venture

Space Exploration Technologies was founded in June 2002. They worked out of a warehouse in El Segundo

The company would build its own engines and fine tune the assembly process to make rockets faster and cheaper than anyone else

The company intended to build rockets to get to multiple launches per month. SpaceX would also avoid the cost overruns associated with former rockets

At a time when carrying a 550 lb. payload started at $30 million, he promised that a 1400 lb. payload would cost $6.9 million

The initial timeline was incredibly ambitious: the first launch was scheduled for November 2003. We would have been to Mars by the end of the decade

The company did not have a budget that could support a string of explosions. At best, the company had three or four shots at a launch

Their first child died shortly after birth, but in subsequent years, Elon and Justine would give birth to twins then triplets

After the infant’s death, Elon directed most of his attention toward SpaceX. He decided to build most of the rocket in-house

It was not unusual for Musk to call top aerospace students directly in an attempt to recruit them

The SpaceX team would work for 10 days at a time at a Texas test site, then come back to the office, sometimes on Musk’s private jet

12-hour days, six days a week were considered the norm

At 8 PM, the whole team would take breaks and play first person shooter videogames

In December 2003, Musk decided to unveil a prototype of Falcon 1 to the public. They left it outside the FAA’s HQ in Washington DC. An accompanying press conference would make it clear to Washington that a modern, smarter, cheaper rocket had arrived

Elon can be very demanding, but he’ll make sure the obstacles in your way can be removed

Before the first rocket was completed, a second, larger rocket was announced. It could also supply the ISS, opening SpaceX up to some large NASA contracts

Musk frequently paid visits, sometimes surprise ones, to check up on his contractors

The kiss of death was proving Elon wrong about something. Many top engineers were fired for things they didn’t do

In May 2005, a five-second burn was accomplished. But they were not welcome at the Air Force base

They moved to a Hawaiian island where the air force welcomed them

The energy, smarts, and resourcefulness of the SpaceX team still could not overcome their inexperience or the difficult conditions

On March 20, 2006, the launch was successful, until a fire broke out about 25 seconds in. The vehicle was destroyed. It was most likely due to a crack from corrosion due to the salty air on the island

On March 15, 2007, a successful test fire took place. Then, on the 21st, the rocket flew successfully for a few minutes, until turbulence caused dramatic shifts of the fuel, and the rocket exploded

7. All Electric

J.B. Straubel converted a Porsche into electric, winning the world record for the fastest electric quarter mile. It was constrained in distance by battery problems, however

Lithium-ion batteries had gotten much better than most people realized

You could go almost 1,000 miles by stringing hundreds of li-on batteries together

Straubel built a concept car around the batteries but it was more a proof of concept to get people thinking about the power of li-on batteries

In the fall of 2003, Straubel met Elon Musk. He loved the idea, and gave Straubel $10k of the $100k he was seeking

Straubel and Musk met AC Propulsion, who had developed the tzero electric sports car. The company did not want to scale up to mass production, but the visit solidified Musk’s interest in bringing electric cars to life

Martin Eberhard, another entrepreneur, had also tried to get AC Propulsion to scale up using lithium batteries, but was unable to do so.

At the time, the battery technology seemed to favor a small, lightweight sports car

The average salary of GM EV1 owners was $200k

On July 1, 2003, Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning incorporated Tesla Motors

The last successful startup in the auto industry was Chrysler, founded in 1925

The Tesla creators thought naively that they could access the same suppliers as the big companies

The plan was to license some technology from AC Propulsion and to use the Lotus Elise chassis and body. They would avoid dealers and sell direct

The cofounders had Elon in their mind as the primary investor. He invested $6.5 million and became the largest shareholder and chairman

Straubel wasn’t looped in until May 2004, when he was invited to the office and immediately hired

The team moved into a 10,000 square foot industrial facility in San Carlos

No one had ever tried to combine hundreds of lithium ion batteries in parallel, so Tesla ended up at the cutting edge of the technology

The most important engineering challenge was keeping the battery packs cool

Efforts to build the car began in earnest on October 18, 2004 and a car was completed by 18 engineers on January 27, 2005

Musk put in $9 million of a $13 million funding round, and the company planned to launch to consumers in early 2006

The roadster would have close to 7,000 batteries, and the engineers realized on July 4, 2005 that fire was a major concern

A number of explosion tests put Tesla on the verge of developing battery technology that would put them years ahead of rivals

Musk insisted on practicality improvements such as larger doors than the Lotus. In May 2006, the company grew to about 100 employees, and built EP1, or engineering prototype 1

Musk put in another $12 million of a $40 million round

A second car, EP2 was built in July 2006, and both prototypes were put on display to the automotive press. The press was impressed: 0-60 in 4 seconds, 250 miles per charge, $90,000. 30 People had committed to buy the cars

Musk promised that a four seater that cost under $50,000 would arrive in about 3 years. Over time, they would transition to lower cost higher volume

At the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, people lined up to write pre-order checks

Computer simulations saved Tesla money on costly crash testing. They also had equal access to testing grounds

Tesla’s engineers had decided on a 2-speed transmission for fastest acceleration. This proved to be one of the most difficult challenges. The transmission contractors were not putting their A-team to work for the tiny Silicon Valley startup

As Musk learned about the numerous manufacturing challenges the company faced, he called in a fixer

An analysis showed that each roadster could cost up to $200,000 to make, when the company planned to sell the car for around $85,000

To Musk, these figures meant Eberhard had grossly mismanaged the company by allowing the parts costs to soar so high

In August 2007, the board demoted Eberhard and named him President of Technology. He left the company in December

Michael Marks, formerly CEO of Flextronics, was tapped as interim chief. By this time, the company was in a bigger facility

A 100-day plan was implemented to resolve all issues. The goal was to package the company into something that could be sold to a larger company. The strategy worked well until Musk’s and Marks’ vision diverged. Elon wanted neither to sell the company nor to lose control in a partnership

Musk and Straubel had a side project around the Smart car. This led to Daimler buying a 10% stake in the company

In Dec 2007, Ze’ev Drori replaced Marks as CEO. He started a computer memory company that sold to AMD

Drori came to be seen as an executor of Musk’s vision and didn’t fit well with the company culture

Around this time, the company started opening showrooms

Much of the original team left, but the company would keep recruiting top talent

Heading into 2008, the company was running out of money. The Roadster had cost about $140 million to develop, way over the $25 million originally estimated in 2004

During the financial crisis, Musk had to convince investors to put up tens of millions of additional dollars

8. Pain, Suffering, and Survival

Robert Downey Jr., actor in Iron Man, set up his movie studio inside Howard Hughes’ hangar. But it was his visit to SpaceX during the production of the movie that inspired his larger-than-life character. A pre-production Tesla Roadster was included in Tony Stark’s workshop as a symbol of Downey’s connection to Musk

Musk was not a partier, but his connections in Hollywood brought him out quite often

The press had picked up on the fact that Musk tended to talk a huge game and then struggled to deliver on his promises in time. But they didn’t much care: the game he talked was so much bigger than anyone else’s that the reporters gave him leeway

Musk’s businesses and public persona began to suffer. At the same time, his marriage with Justine was on the rocks

Elon tried to shield his money woes by training employees to make the right tradeoffs between cost and productivity, and keeping a close eye on each company’s books

Musk worked 7 days a week and had no time for the kids. Justine needed a change

Musk filed for divorce on June 16, 2008

The media coverage and divorce freed Justine to write liberally about private life with Musk on her blog

Justine had signed a postnuptial agreement during the Tesla days, but was pushing loudly for payment, a house, and significant portions of Musk’s stock

Justine got the house, $2 million in cash, $80k a month in child support for 17 years, and a Tesla Roadster

Musk and Bill Lee were on a trip to try to cheer Elon up. At a club in Mayfair, Musk wanted to leave, but Lee got them into the VIP section. A 22 year old actress named Talulah Reilly was invited to the club and hit it off with Elon

Musk showed her photos of his rockets and car, but she originally thought he only worked on the projects, not that he was the owner

They went out to dinner the next night after accepting Musk’s invitations

He invited her back to the US but she turned him down. They kept in touch via email for a couple weeks, then she booked a flight

He proposed after just five days in California. She accepted

Her parents were extremely skeptical, but relented

Musk was running extremely short on cash, and both SpaceX and Tesla would need an enormous cash infusion by the end of the year in order to pay the employees

SpaceX had also started development of the Falcon 9, an even larger rocket that was intended to replace space shuttle

On July 30,2008, the Falcon 9 had a successful test fire in Texas. 2 days later, they would try to launch Falcon 1 with a payload. The first launch aborted, but the second launch was successful until a malfunction occurred between the first and second stages

The failed third launch meant the company never got to see if it resolved the wobble problem of the second flight

There was only enough money for flight 4. If it was successful, it would instill confidence in Musk and potential clients

The fourth launch took place on Sept 28, 2008. The launch was successful, meaning it was the first privately-built machine to reach orbit

Musk held a party and announced continued development of the Falcon 9 and another machine, the Dragon Capsule, that could be used to take supplies, and one day humans, to the ISS

The company hired many more employees and moved into a larger HQ, but it also struggled to make payroll

Musk ran calculations, and it occurred to him that only one company would likely have a chance at survival. As 2008 came to an end, Musk had run out of money. He had to start borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his friend, and Reilly’s parents offered to remortgage their house. He took Southwest instead of his private jet

Tesla was burning around $4 million a month and needed to close another funding round. Sergey Brin, Bill Lee, and even Tesla employees wrote checks to keep the company going. Tesla had set prepayment money for the Roadster aside, but now they were dipping into that pool as well

Musk made a last ditch effort to put all his personal money into Tesla, by taking out a loan from SpaceX and selling some shares of SolarCity. He seized about $15 million when Dell acquired a company he had invested in. He cobbled together $20 million

At the last minute, however, Tesla’s investment broker, Vantage Point, interfered and refused to sign paperwork. Musk took another bold risk and characterized the round as debt instead of equity, knowing that Vantage Point could not interfere with a debt deal

This was abnormal for VCs who were not used to debt deals. Musk bluffed and said he would take another loan from SpaceX to fund the whole thing himself. The tactic worked

The deal closed on Christmas Eve, hours before the company would have gone bankrupt

On December 23, 2008, people inside NASA backed SpaceX to become a supplier to the ISS. The company received $1.6 billion as payment for 12 flights

Under stress, Elon tends to make hyper rational decisions. The harder it gets, the better he gets

9. Liftoff

SpaceX sends a rocket up about once a month, carrying satellites and supplies for the ISS

Where Lockheed and others rely on potentially shaky foreign suppliers, SpaceX makes all of its machines from scratch in the US

Each launch costs $60 million, much better than Europe or Japan

The total market for satellites, related services, and rockets has exploded in the past decade from about $60 billion a year to about $200 billion a year

A while new breed of satellite makers has cropped up, providing advanced analytics

Each year the US makes about 1/3 of all satellites and takes about 60% of all satellite revenue

SpaceX is now testing rockets that can land and be reused

Since getting past the issues of 2008, it has been profitable, and is estimated to be worth $12 billion

Musk interviewed almost all of SpaceX’s first 1000 hires and has continued to interview engineers

Employees, even most of those who have been fired, refer to Musk like some kind of deity

SpaceX manufactures between 80% and 90% of its rockets, engines, electronics, and other parts

SpaceX has had to work for years to prove to NASA that standard electronics have gotten good enough to compete with the more expensive, specialized gear trusted in years past

Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, has been particularly guilty of poaching SpaceX engineers and designs. At SpaceX, the competitor is known as BO. Musk and Bezos’ are no longer aligned despite their shared visions of space

In an intimidating way, Musk will ask you numerous questions about what you know until he knows 90% as much as you. His recall is equally impressive

Musk picks the most aggressive time schedules and pushes people behind their limits. He’s an optimist by nature. Everything he does is fast

Elon also has the capacity to make enormous decisions very quickly

The absolute worst thing one can do is inform Musk that what he is asking is impossible. Every time he has fired someone and taken his job, he has delivered on what he asked for

Oftentimes a change in procedure meant obtaining government approval, which could take a week or longer. Musk would lay into these people for not moving fast enough

SpaceX has started testing a larger rocket, the Falcon Heavy, and it has an even larger rocket on the way

Unlike the quick spinning up of the air travel industry after the Wright brothers (within about 20 years), the space equation remains costly because of the government and the high cost of transport

SpaceX’s main domestic competitor is United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin formed in 2006

ULA was buying engines from the Russians, but switched its contract to Blue Origin for American-made alternatives

SpaceX’s main competitor for ISS resupply missions is Orbital Sciences, founded in 1982. Many of its suppliers are Russian. When one of its rockets blew up on the launchpad in 2014, it reached out to SpaceX to see if it could handle the excess capacity

In 2012, a launch from Kennedy Space Station reached the ISS. It was the only private company to dock with the ISS

Soon, SpaceX received $440 million from NASA to keep developing Dragon so that it could transport people

The Dragon 2 capsule is roomy, unlike past capsules. It will also be able to dock with the ISS without the aid of a robotic arm

SpaceX is also building a spaceport, capable of handling multiple launches per hour, in Brownsville, TX

During each launch, there are dozens of secret objectives SpaceX is testing. Musk asks people to do the impossible on top of the impossible

SpaceX staff is paid well but by no means exorbitantly. The question is when all of this work will pay off

Musk is hesitant to offer an IPO, especially because it is hard to articulate a Mars-based business model and because of the distracting volatility

10. The Revenge of the Electric Car

In the middle of 2012, Tesla began shipping the Model S, stunning the auto industry

The S could go more than 300 miles on a charge and reach 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds. It has much higher interior volume than competitors

The volume on the stereo naturally goes to 11

The car can be recharged for free at highway stations located around the US, and soon, the world

Cars are 10-20% efficient at turning the input of gasoline into the output of propulsion. The Model S ends up being about 60% efficient, getting the equivalent of about 100 mpg

Tesla sells the car directly through its own website and retail stores

Tesla brings the car to you. You also have the option of picking it up from the Silicon Valley factory and treating friends and family to a complimentary tour of the facility

The car was able to be repaired through software updates. An app lets you turn on the air conditioning and see the car’s location on a map

The car was a major sales hit, and is nearly ubiquitous in Silicon Valley

The car was named Motor Trend car of the year in the first unanimous vote anyone could remember. Consumer reports named it likely the best car ever built and gave it the highest ranking ever of 99/100

It was about this time that Tesla’s share price began to soar and that GM, among others, put together teams to study the car and Musk’s methods

The Model S was not just the best electric car, it was best car, period, and the car people desired

One year after the Model S went on sale, the company posted a profit

Before the Roadster was launched, Musk had to announce a price hike from $92k to a $109k base price

The Roadster was recalled twice for minor repairs in the first two years. Every time a snafu was hit, Musk has taken the opportunity to show off the company’s attention to service

From 2008 to 2012, Tesla sold about 2,500 Roadsters

Tesla’s next car, codenamed White Star (which came to be known as the Model S), would be made from scratch and structured to take full advantage of Tesla’s technology developments

Musk hired Henrik Fisker, a renowned auto designer, to pen the Model S, in 2007

Most of Fisher’s Model S designs were terrible. It turned out that Fisker was working on his own competitive company. The Fisker Karma hybrid was unveiled in 2008.

Musk launched a lawsuit against Fisker that year but Fisker prevailed

Tesla had considered a hybrid but decided it would be too much of a compromise

Tesla purchased a Mercedes CLS and refitted it with an electric drivetrain as the original prototype

Franz von Holzhausen joined the company as its new designer. He had worked on the design of the New Beetle. He also worked for GM and was a head designer at Mazda.

Musk had also tried to hire Tony Fadell (iPod, iPhone) but he stayed at Apple then went on to found Nest

The Tesla design center came to life inside the SpaceX factory

A second Mercedes-Benz CLS was purchased. This time it was completely stripped down to be refitted with Tesla’s parts

The center touchscreen would be used for nearly every task except those required by law to have a physical button

Since the Model S would weigh so much, the engineers always sought ways to reduce weight in other parts of the vehicle. A major part of this problem was solved by using aluminum instead of steel

At the time, North American car manufacturers had almost no experience with aluminum for body panels

At the Model S unveiling event, the chassis was still from the Mercedes CLS and the body panels were barely held on

Even in times of peace, so many U.S. assets are employed in supporting the economic pipeline around oil

Tesla had been looking for between $100 and $200 million, grossly underestimating what it would take to build the Model S. They sought out government loans

Daimler expressed interest in an electric Mercedes A-Class. Within the span of a month, Tesla produced two prototype vehicles for them. Daimler then ordered 4,000 battery packs for a fleet of test vehicles in Germany

Daimler acquired a 10% stake for $50 million. They also provided the battery packs for 1,000 Smart cars

In January 2010, the DOE struck a $465 million loan agreement to build battery packs and cars in the U.S.

GM and Toyota had recently closed their Fremont, CA auto plant. Tesla paid $42 million for a large portion of the factory, once worth $1 billion. Toyota invested $50 million in Tesla for a 2.5% stake. Tesla essentially secured the factory, and a boatload of equipment, for free

The company needed as much capital as possible, so it decided to file for an IPO. It went public on June 29, 2010 and raised $226 million

The rear falcon wing door on the Model X was designed so a parent could place a child in the second row without having to bend over or twist at all

Musk believes all design and technology choices should be directed toward making the car as close to perfect as possible

Musk personally inspected all completed vehicles for the first few months of production

In the midst of good fortune, Musk and Riley had divorced

At the outset the company could only produce about 10 sedans per week and had tons of backorders

In September 2012, the company unveiled its network of charging stations. 6 locations were unveiled with hundreds more on the way

Tesla even developed its own proprietary battery chemistry

Musk personally guaranteed the resale price of the Model S

Because so many people were holding out for the next version, the company shut down the factory temporarily. Musk planned a deal for Google to acquire Tesla. He wanted to retain control for 8 years to see out the vision

As this deal was being fleshed out, the 500 people Musk quickly turned into car salesmen started selling huge volumes of cars

Tesla moved enough cars in 14 days to end up with a blowout fiscal quarter. The company posted its first profit of $11 million on May 8, 2013

The shares soared from about $30 a share to $130 a share. Tesla paid off its government loan early and with interest

Tesla suddenly had become too expensive to buy and the talks with Google ended

It had been possible all along to replace the Model S battery pack in seconds, but the company hadn’t told anyone. At Supercharging stations, owners could now quickly have their batteries swapped out via robot in 90 seconds, at a cost of filling up a tank of gas

After accidents causing fires, Musk attacked reporters with data pulled from the vehicles. A titanium underbody shield was added to the cars

In 2014, a new all-wheel-drive Model S was announced with two motors: one in the front, one in the back. It could go 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. A new software suite was announced that gave the Model S Autopilot functions

The man who had been awkward in front of media during the PayPal years had developed a unique, slick stagecraft

Tesla does not designate model years. It produces the best Model S it can at the time, and that’s what the customer receives. Features are added one by one as they are ready

Tesla makes its profits off the initial sale of the car and then some optional software services. They do not make money off service

Fisker Automotive filed for bankruptcy and was bought by a Chinese auto parts company in 2014

11. The Unified Field Theory of Elon Musk

The Rive brothers, relatives of Elon, wanted to reduce the barriers to entry for solar. They formed SolarCity in 2006

They bought the panels but developed software and most of the other system components

The customer did not have to pay upfront for the installation. Instead they leased the panels at a fixed monthly rate

Musk helped with the business plan, becoming chairman and the largest shareholder (about 1/3)

6 years later, the company became the largest solar installer in the US

The company benefited timing-wise because of the market influx of cheap Chinese panels

SolarCity also sells to commercial clients

The company went public in 2012. Two years later it was valued at close to $7 billion

People had thrown money at green technology because it seemed like the right thing to do, not because it made business sense. SolarCity was the exception

Enough solar energy hits the earth’s surface in about an hour to equal a year’s worth of worldwide energy consumption of all sources put together

Starting in 2014, the company began selling energy storage systems through a partnership with Tesla

In June 2014, it acquired a solar cell maker called Silevo for $200 million. It would make cells at a factory in New York. The cells were more efficient than typical alternatives

Now the company represents a small utility

The unified field theory of Musk: each one of his businesses is interconnected in the short and long term

Multiple states competed for Musk’s battery factory, with Nevada winning and throwing him $1.4 billion in incentives

All together Musk employed about 15,000 people at the end of 2014

The Model 3 will come out in 2017 and cost around $35,000. They expect to sell hundreds of thousands per year

In 2014, Musk announced plans to build the world’s largest lithium ion battery factory in conjunction with Panasonic

In early 2014, Tesla raised $2 billion by selling bonds

Musk remains willing to lose it all

He struggles to fathom why other automakers with deeper pockets aren’t making similar moves

For us to get to Mars, a methane fueled engine is imperative

Musk remarried Riley near the end of 2012

Musk would only be on the first trip to Mars if he was confident SpaceX could run on its own if he died. The point is enabling large numbers of people to visit the planet

The Hyperloop was the concept of a large scale pneumatic tube for intercity travel

Efforts are underway to build a Hyperloop between Los Angeles and Las Vegas

Musk may seem difficult to work with, but it is just his highly impassioned nature

Musk is likely not autistic but what psychologists would classify as gifted

Musk announced in 2014 that Tesla would open source all of its patents. He wants people to make and buy electric cars, and this could accelerate electric car development

Musk wings most speeches and announcements, and fires off press releases when he is done. This is in stark contrast to Steve Jobs, who rehearsed public announcements extensively

Musk spends so much time talking about man’s survival but isn’t willing to address the consequences of what his lifestyle does to his body

Musk wishes to die in Mars, but not on impact. He wants to visit, come back to earth, then return to Mars in old age

Appendix 1:

Musk’s academic record is suspect. The University of Pennsylvania granted his degree two years after he claimed it was granted. Standard cannot confirm he was ever admitted for a PhD in physics

People believe Musk fibbed about getting into Stanford to boost his entrepreneurial credentials and then had to stick with the story once Zip2 took off

It was confirmed he was accepted to a Graduate program in materials science and engineering at Stanford, but never enrolled

The Penn issue was two missing credits that were to be taken at Stanford. Later Penn dropped the requirement and issued him the certificate