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“Good ideas are always sounds crazy until they’re not” – Larry Page (Page 396)

If someone ask me “What was your favorite coincidence?” I would say: “discovered Elon Musk via BBC News app“.

It was in 2015, on campus’ parking lot. A story of Hyperloop and Elon Musk first popped and enter my life unwittingly. Long story short, I ran a Google search on Elon and find that he is dubbed as “real-life Tony Stark”, which I thought was overrated because nobody would ever be on par with fictitious Tony Stark and his ingenious mind.

Since then, I only know Elon Musk for being dubbed as real-life Tony Stark without ever discovering who he really is.

Last month, I strolled to Periplus, an import bookstore near the office. I have this habit of buying new books every month, but because I’m far from being financially secure, I’d run a Goodreads search on every book. The top contender was: Charles Duhigg’s the Power of Habit, Chris Guillebeau’s the $100 Startup, Freakonomics, and Adam Grant’s Originals. After finding that Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk biography scored 4.2, which, quite rare in Goodreads, without hesitant I bought this book, snatch away the plastic cover, and start reading.

THE STORY HIGHLIGHT

Like any other biographies, the book solely focused on the life of Elon Musk. Elon Musk himself was born in South Africa, way far from the United States of America, but he moved from there to Canada, and eventually, the USA.

The story began from his childhood, as per usual, the “bullied kid” narrative could be found here, and Elon was bullied hard because he was this quiet, nerdy, and ordinary kid with no billionaire symptoms anywhere. He never took any leadership position, be on the podium beside the brightest kids from his class, or any signs of “oh-he’s-going-places”. He’s just usual.

Apparently, he’s doing that on purpose. He said “I just look at it as ‘What grade do I need to get to where I want to go?’ There were compulsory subjects like Afrikaans, and I just didn’t see the point of learning that. It seemed ridiculous. I’d get a passing grade and that was fine. Things like physics and computers–I got the highest grade you can get in those. There needs to be a reason for a grade. I’d rather play video games, write software, and read books than try to get an A if there’s no point in getting an A“.

He was fed up growing up on South Africa and went to Canada and USA instead, where he could find something more interesting. Which he did.

Long story short, he and Kimbal Musk, his brother, went to found Zip2, an online city guide company in 1995, and then sold to Compaq for $307 million.

Elon then found X.com afterwards, an email payment and online financial services company. Found a competitor named Confinity, founded by Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and Luke Nosek. Both then merged to be the world-renowned online payment service, PayPal. Which then acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion.

With fortunes acquired by Elon from Zip2 and PayPal acquisition, he then started Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX, holding his conviction of carrying man to Mars.

Almost right at the same time, he also start building electric cars with a company he invested on, Tesla. Up until now, Tesla has produced several cars and will produce more. Replacing gas stations, Tesla built Supercharged station for recharging, spread around US and soon, worldwide.

Together with Rive brothers Lyndon and Peter, Elon founded SolarCity, now second largest solar power system provider in the USA. Elon is the largest shareholder there.

And just recently, Elon unveiled Hyperloop, an ultra-fast transportation that looked like an MRT, but with a pod and super high speed.

MY TAKE ON THE BOOK

I will always remember this book as one canonical business book that establish my fondness of starting a business.

You can tell me Dale Carnegie’s book is all-time best, Jack Welch’s MBA book is a must-read, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habit is on best seller list. But no other biography or business books that will give me tremendous amount of effect than Elon Musk’s.

I’d have to thank Ashlee Vance for tailoring sentence after sentence eloquently that it became an obvious page-turner for me. I enjoy reading Elon’s childhood, the rising of Zip2 and X.com, and mainly the Tesla and SpaceX arc.

Pestering is what I loather, but I share some trait with Elon, albeit his 14 hour work per day is unparalleled, his love of technology, being geeky, likes to be different, are traits I share with him. That made me feel like I was standing in the same ground (but different dimension) with the business magnate, and every time I read a page, I feel a significant increase in confidence.

It is somewhat blasphemous to place Elon with other big business owner, I mean, in terms of net worth, they are probably on par or even above the par from Elon, but if we’re speaking vision, Elon has the upper hand.

Elon said that human could be a multiplanetary species, he work on it, he incrementally make it true. That’s the thing I admire the most from him. He walk the talk–no, he run the talk, in lights speed.

The fact that he hold a top management position in 5 different companies is beyond imagination,  even being a CEO in one company is tremendously difficult and a hair-falling journey.

His work ethic is…. ineffable. Putting 100 hours a week for years straight is insane! But he nailed it anyway.

Oh, I couldn’t even tailor words properly to describe how I admire Elon Musk. Not merely because he’s a business magnate and I’d like to be on his position sort, but more like he’s a prove that being geek is starting to be cool and outplay the quarterbacks and muscular and shredding guitarists with eargasmic riffs.

But even with all that winnings in life, a price must be paid, too. All that relentless hard work and demand for perfection makes Elon’s attention to human relation a bit abandoned. He had two wives, Justine Musk and Talulah Riley which had divorced him because of different way of life. Justine had been with Elon for eight years, while Talulah spent an on-off four years.

Elon is also known for having sky-high demand for his employees, high standard, high working hours, despite high earnings. Temper problem is his feat, too. He had some quarrel with former co-founders such as Martin Eberhard of Tesla, former designer of Tesla, Henrik Fisker (who eventually establish his own electric car company, Fisker Automotive) and a lot more.

It was Mary Beth Brown, former right hand of Elon Musk, a woman who devoted her 12 years to SpaceX and Elon, who witness this first hand. She was indirectly fired from her job for asking a raise. There were two version of this story, one from Elon’s side (written in the book and a Quora answer written by Justine Musk herself) and other narratives who said that Brown was fired right away by Musk. From the book, Musk said this:

“As Musk recalled, “I told her, ‘Look, I think you’re very valuable. Maybe that compensation is right. You need to take two weeks’ vacation, and I’m going to assess whether that’s true or not.’ Before this came up, I had offered her multiple all-expenses-paid vacations. I really wanted her to take a vacation. When she got back, my conclusion was just that the relationship was not going to work anymore. Twelve years is a good run for any job. She’ll do a great job for someone.” According to Musk, he offered Brown another position at the company. She declined the offer by never showing up at the office again. Musk gave her twelve months’ severance and has not spoken to her since.”

Former employees found that Elon’s harsh, too. He would fire someone whom he think being an obstacle.

However, most of people, including me, found that it was not because Elon is a major league asshole. More like because he’s so driven that he knows what to do and sweep away the gravels from his road. Besides, when you work at the company who wants to move humankind to a new planet, which CEO would love to see you be a laid back person?

I found it funny and feel honored when Musk said that Artificial Intelligence is a threat to humankind, this may not be widely covered in the book but, my bachelor thesis covered that same concern, too. Yet people still being pessimistic and skeptical about that. I was wondering why, but now I know.

VERDICT

For those who wanted to get motivation on business and previously feel like “okay, this idea is not gonna work”, I’d recommend this book in any given day for your panacea. The only flaw of this book was you’d feel like you read a writing of someone who has a crush, fangirling/fanboying. But I jumped on the bandwagon, too. I couldn’t help but be a cheer squad for Elon.

This is a book that I would read more than twice, because it is my surefire panacea for being insecure about starting a business.

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