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Elon Musk Quotes & Biography: His Childhood, Business, and Success

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For some of us, our success will be limited by the size of our thinking.  It requires big thinking to conceptualize worldwide solutions like the international movement of money from one currency to another, a private company creating a space ship, or creating an electric car, so that’s why it’s paramount to study people who seem to master big thinking like Elon Musk.

To see this biography and the quotes in video, check it out here:

The Elon Musk Early Childhood Story

Despite what looks like a life full of success, Elon Musk wasn’t always the multi-billionaire we see today.  He was born June 21, 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa, as raised as the third child to Errol and Maye Musk.  His father was a South African-born British electromechanical engineer, and his mother was a Canadian-born model and dietitician.

In interviews, his parents have said that Elon had early inclinations towards computers and technology.  He got his first personal computer at age 9: the Commodore VIC 20, and his interests immediately expanded into the world of computer programming.

Despite his growing interest and newfound technological discoveries, alot of personal challenges were taking place.  At age 10, his parents divorced, and Elon and his siblings stayed with their dad.  Errol was reportedly very tough to the point of abuse, and would often lecture Elon and his brothers for hours.  Added to the toughness of his father, Elon also reported that he’s been bullied quite a bit in school.  Regarding his childhood, he said:

“I had a terrible upbringing. I had a lot of adversity growing up. One thing I worry about with my kids is they don’t face enough adversity.”

Even with the controversy, Elon continued to explore and hone his skills with technology.  He began teaching himself computer programming, and at age 12, he’d built a video game, and sold it for $500!

For more on the Elon Musk early childhood, check out this video:

Elon Musk “Follows the Action” and Immigrates

Regarding some early observations he made about where the “action was”, Elon said:

“Whenever I’d read about cool technology, it’d tend to be in the United States or, more broadly, North America. […] I kind of wanted to be where the cutting edge of technology was, and of course within the United States, Silicon Valley is where the heart of things is. Although, at the time, I didn’t know where Silicon Valley was. It sounded like some mythical place.”

As a result of what he’d noticed, at age 17, he decided that after graduating from secondary school, he’d leave South Africa, and immigrate to the US without his parent’s support.  He wasn’t able to get into the US right away, so in 1989, he moved to Montreal, Canada with relatives.  From there, he worked himself up the economic ladder; starting with very low paying jobs that teetered the brink of poverty.

At 19, he attended Queens University where he met his future wife Justine Musk, who gave birth to their five children: Damian, Griffin, Xavier, Saxon, and Kai.  Unfortunately, after eight years, Elon divorced Justine, and remarried a Turkish actress named Talulek Riley, then later divorced her in 2014.

After two years of studying in Ontario, Musk was able to relocate to the US from a scholarship at The University of Pennsylvania.  He earned two degrees: his Bachelor of Science in Physics and his Bachelor of Science in Economics.  By the age of 24, Musk was pursuing a PhD in applied physics from Stanford University!

“(Physics is) a good framework for thinking,” he’d later say. “Boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there,” said Musk.

Elon Musk Goes into a Depression and Ponders Life Meaning

Though Elon was having amazing successes in his education, he began spiraling into a season of adolescent depression.  His depression led him to research heavily in philosophy and religion in effort to find the meaning of life.  He explored these areas until his “aha” moment where he came to the conclusion that:

  • The most difficult thing is to come up with the right questions
  • He wanted to pursue the things that would have the greatest impact on the future of humanity
  • He decided to pursue the internet, the transition to renewable energy sources, and space colonization

Elon Musk Launches Zip2 | His First Company

In 1995, he and his brother, Kimball, launched an online business called Zip2 with $28,000 of their dad’s money and funds raised from angel investors.  With the internet beginning to evolve into the largest information resource center, newspapers were struggling to figure out how to get in on the craze.  Zip2 helped companies like the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times to get in on the internet world.  Musk acquired big contracts and created online city guides for newspaper publishers.

Even with their success, there was still lots of tension as Elon wanted to be CEO and the board stood firmly against.  With the dotcom crash looming, the board decided to sell Zip2 to Compaq for $304 million plus $34 million in stock options.  In the sale, Elon received 7%, or $22 million.

For more on Zip2 and Elon’s life before Paypal, check out this interview:

After Adversity and a Sale, Elon Musk Launches Company 2 – X.com Later Known as Paypal

As Justine, his first wife said it, “most of his newfound fortune, he’d rolled into his second company, a banking institution, X.com, that later became Paypal”.  In fact, $10 million from the sale of Zip2 was carried over into the startup of X.com.

One year after the X.com startup, in 2000, the dotcom crash was fully underway.  Musk and his team spotted an opportunity to buy a company who was shutting its doors.  They decided to purchase Confinity and its money transfer service Paypal.  X.com quickly saw that the money transfer service was the most important element of the company, and renamed themselves to Paypal in 2001.

As in Zip2, there were debates about Musk being in the role of CEO.  Eventually, he was removed from the CEO chair over technical arguments, and the board decided to sell.  In 2002, Paypal was sold to Ebay for $1.5 billion dollars in stock. Elon received $165 million for his 11.7% stake in the company.

Elon Musk SpaceX Launch

Even before the Paypal sale had closed, Elon Musk started to dream up ideas about an experimental greenhouse on Mars called “Mars Oasis”.  He hoped that he could inspire further space exploration.

In 2001, Musk flew to Moscow to shop for Interconnected Ballistic Missiles, but after two trips, and attempted negotiations, the Russian space experts didn’t come to an agreement, or even take him seriously.  As a result, Elon started his own company on his flight back from Russia that would create affordable rockets using vertical integration and the modular approach of software engineering.  These ideas resulted in the launch of SpaceX.  Elon Musk started SpaceX with an investment of $100 million in 2002, and since, they’ve made several headlines including:

  • Falcon 1: The first private-funded liquid fueled rocket to put a satellite into Earth’s orbit
  • Being the first commercial company to send its SpaceX Dragon vehicle to dock with the International Space Station (2012)
  • The first to successfully land the first stage of the Falcon Rocket back at the launch pad (2015)
  • Acquiring multiple NASA contracts to develop space vehicles: including one $1.6 billion contract to develop a Falcon 9 launch vehicle in 2008

For more information on Elon Musk and SpaceX, check out this video:

Elon Musk Tesla Motors

Second-nature to Elon Musk, he brought innovation and big thinking into Tesla, a startup company that was incorporated in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning.  The two Tesla startup entrepreneneurs funded the company’s development until the Series A round of funding in 2004.

At that time, Elon Musk came in as a leading investor, investing $7.5 million into the nascent car company.  Musk went “all in” on the company: bringing cash, his reputation, and leading the development of the Tesla Roadster.  In 2008, Musk became the CEO of Tesla motors leading the organization’s first car to sell 2,500 vehicles.  Since, Tesla continues to work on the advancement of the electric car, and has opened the use of their technology patents to automobile manufacturers.

While continuing to work on space exploration and Tesla, Elon Musk has also taken on other projects including:


Improving the use of solar energy and increasing the number of vehicle charging stations.  SolarCity has become the second largest provider of solar power in the US, and Musk is the largest shareholder.  Tesla became the formal owner of SolarCity in 2014.


Elon Musk has set out to solve the problem of traffic congestion with the invention of underground tunnels that skate vehicles miles in seconds.  Hyperloop has begun digging the tunnels and plans to complete a 5-mile Hyperloop tunnel in Los Angeles as a part of a pilot program.


In addition to all of his other innovation, Musk is also a part of the advancement of artificial intelligence technology thru his company Neuralink.  Thru Neuralink, they are discovering how to integrate artificial intelligence with the human brain.

Elon Musk Net Worth

Despite his humble beginnings, experts say Elon Musk has been able to build his asset portfolio to a net worth of $23.6 billion dollars!

Why Elon Musk Quotes?

When you listen to Elon Musk speak, he has a way of nonchalantly being a big thinker.  He doesn’t just ponder a problem like traffic.  He quantifies how substantial the problem is for the world, and he is unafraid of thinking big enough to potentially solve the problem for everyone.  Most people think about smaller problems and run into walls several times when even attempting that, so it’s helpful to analyze some foundational quotes that serve as the philosophical root of his ability to think so big…

Elon Musk Quotes on Space and Mars

  • “We’re establishing cargo flights to Mars that people can count on,”
  • “The Earth-Mars orbital rendezvous is only every 26 months, so there’ll be one in 2018; there’ll be another one in 2020. And I think if things go according to plan, we should be able to launch people probably in 2024 with arrival in 2025.”
  • “I never had a job where I made anything physical. I cofounded two Internet software companies, Zip2 and PayPal. So it took me a few years to kind of learn rocket science, if you will.
  • I had to learn how you make hardware. I’d never seen a CNC machine or laid out carbon fibre. I didn’t know any of these things. But if you read books and talk to experts, you’ll pick it up pretty quickly. […] It’s really pretty straightforward. Just read books and talk to people–particularly books. The data rate of reading is much greater than when somebody’s talking. “You can learn whatever you need to do to start a successful business either in school or out of school. A school, in theory, should help accelerate that process, and I think oftentimes it does. It can be an efficient learning process, perhaps more efficient than empirically learning lessons. There are examples of successful entrepreneurs who never graduated high school, and there are those that have PhD’s. I think the important principle is to be dedicated to learning what you need to know, whether that is in school or empirically.”

Elon Musk Quotes on Tesla and the Future of Cars

  • “When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars, people said, ‘Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet he made, and it worked.”
  • “The fundamental problem with cities is that we build cities in 3D. You’ve got these tall buildings with lots of people on each floor, but then you’ve got roads, which are 2D. That obviously just doesn’t work. You’re guaranteed to have gridlock. But you can go 3D if you have tunnels. And you can have many tunnels crisscrossing each other with maybe a few meters of vertical distance between them and completely get rid of traffic problems.”
  • “The reality is that autonomous systems will drive orders of magnitude better than people. In terms of accidents per mile, it’ll be far lower. Technologically, I think it’s about three years away for full autonomy.” [2015]“Owning a car that is not self-driving, in the long term, will be like owning a horse–you would own it and use it for sentimental reasons but not for daily use.”

Elon Musk Quotes on Business and Success

  • “Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.”
  • “It shouldn’t be that you’ve got these grades where people move in lockstep and everyone goes through English, math, science, and so forth from fifth grade to sixth grade to seventh grade like it’s an assembly line. People are not objects on an assembly line. That’s a ridiculous notion. People learn and are interested in different things at different paces. You really want to disconnect the whole grade-level thing from the subjects. Allow people to progress at the fastest pace that they can or are interested in, in each subject. It seems like a really obvious thing.”
  • “It’s better to approach this [building a company] from the standpoint of saying–rather than you want to be an entrepreneur or you want to make money–what are some useful things that you do that you wish existed in the world?”
  • “Always solicit critical feedback, particularly from friends. Because, generally, they will be thinking it, but they won’t tell you.”
  • “I don’t think everything needs to change the world, you know. […] Just say: ‘Is what I’m doing as useful as it could be?’””Whatever this thing is that you’re trying to create, what would be the utility delta compared to the current state of the art times how many people it would affect? That’s why I think having something that makes a big difference but affects a small to moderate number of people is great, as is something that makes even a small different but affects a vast number of people.“
  • “I think the profit motive is a good one if the rules of an industry are properly set up. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with profit. In fact, profit just means that people are paying you more for whatever you’re doing that you’re spending to create it. That’s a good thing.”
  • “There’s no map. By its nature, it’s unknown, which means you’re going to make false moves. It must be OK to make false moves.”
  • “I certainly have lost many battles. So far, I have not lost a war, but I’ve certainly lost many battles […] more than I can count, probably.  We came very close to both companies not succeeding in 2008. We had three failures of the SpaceX rocket, so we were 0 for 3. We had the crazy financial recession, the Great Recession. The Tesla financing round was falling apart because it’s pretty hard to raise money for a startup car company if GM and Chrysler are going bankrupt. […] Fortunately at the end of 2008, the fourth launch, which was the last launch we had money for, worked for SpaceX, and we loved the Tesla financing round Christmas Eve 2008, the last hour of the last day that it was possible.”
  • “Fundamentally, if you don’t have a compelling product at a compelling price, you don’t have a great company.”
  • “We don’t think too much about what competitors are doing because I think it’s important to be focused on making the best possible products. It’s maybe analogous to what they say about if you’re in a race: don’t worry about what the other runners are doing–just run.”
  • “You’re not going to create revolutionary cars or rockets on 40 hours a week. It just won’t work. Colonizing Mars isn’t going to happen on 40 hours a week.”
  • “The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”
  • “I don’t create companies for the sake of creating companies, but to get things done.”
  • “The biggest mistake in general that I’ve made–and I’m trying to correct for that–is to put too much of a weighting on somebody’s talent and not enough on their personality […]. It actually matters whether somebody has a good heart. It really does. And I’ve made the mistake of thinking that sometimes it’s just about the brain.”
  • “I want to accentuate the philosophy that I have with companies in the startup phase, which is a sort of ‘special forces’ approach. The minimum passing grade is excellent. That’s the way I believe startup companies need to be if they’re ultimately going to be large and successful companies. We’d adhered to that to some degree, but we’d strayed from that path in a few places. That doesn’t mean the people that we let go on that basis would be considered bad–it’s just the difference between Special Forces and regular Army. If you’re going to get through a really tough environment and ultimately grow the company to something significant, you have to have a very high level of dedication and talent throughout the organization.“

Elon Musk | A Video Playlist

If you found these Elon Musk quotes and his bio interesting, you’ll love this playlist we’ve compiled!  In this playlist, you’ll find Elon Musk documentaries, interviews, lectures, and inspirational compilations to help encourage and motivate you to start a grow your business.  Check it out!

Recommendations for More on Elon Musk

In addition to loads of video content you can use to learn more about Elon Musk, there’s also a recent book that was written with great details about his life, his businesses, and how he’s been able to achieve all that he has.  We recommend taking a look at this recent publication and documentary.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Elon Musk Risk Takers Bloomberg Documentary

Final Words on these Elon Musk Quotes and Biography

The goal of this article was to show the example of a big thinking risk taker named Elon Musk in hopes that it can inspire you to think big and create massive solutions in your business. There are very few people who conceptualize solutions like Elon Musk, therefore, if you want to expand your horizons and grow your big thinking skills, you should definitely pursue the recommendations for further reading and study!  If you have questions or concerns about this, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section.  I’d love to help you out!

If you’re looking to start or grow a business, check out my free e-course. It will give you a 10-step roadmap to start or grow a business: from idea to enterprise. Check out the e-course here.

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Now, it’s Your Turn…

What’s your favorite takeaway from these Elon Musk quotes and biography?  What do you do to scale your thinking so you can conceptualize large solutions?  Leave your comments below.


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