Musk made his first fortune from the online guide company Zip2 which he kicked off with funds from a group of investors alongside his brother Kimbal and Greg Kouri
Today he might be heralded as the rockstar in the modern world of entrepreneurship, but Elon Reeve Musk rose to the top spot through a humble beginning. It was 1995 when the South Africa-born American started to develop successful tech ideas, and they kept coming.
Despite the ups and fewer downs, the 49-year-old business tycoon kept his cool and created headlines for reasons like building a behemoth car company from scratch and shooting his personal car to Mars' orbit - carried by his own spacecraft – just another "usual" Musk thing.
Zip2 and PayPal: A modest start
Musk made his first fortune from the online guide company Zip2 which he kicked off with funds from a group of investors alongside his brother Kimbal and Greg Kouri.
The Stanford drop out used to sleep at the company office in Palo Alto, being unable to afford an apartment.
"The website was up during the day and I was coding it at night, seven days a week, all the time," Musk said years later.
His relentless effort to get the company up and running made him a multi-millionaire within four years as it was bought by Compaq in 1999 for $307 million. For his shares, Elon made a "modest" $22 million.
Soon after the handover, Elon formed X.com which was an online financial service and e-mail payment company and just a year later, it was merged with an obscure company that had its own money-transfer service called "PayPal".
In 2001, the merged company started operating under the name PayPal and the rest is history. Although Elon was ousted from his position of CEO for internal conflict later, he remained on the board.
For holding the largest number of shares, when eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion, Musk made $165 million.
SpaceX: simple calculation to the infinity
In the year 2001, Musk was returning empty-handed from Russia after failing to purchase space rockets at an affordable price for his Mars Oasis project – which aimed on vegetating planet Mars.
He calculated that it would cost him a fraction of a rocket's price to start a company for building the rocket parts.
That was the moment when the seeds were sown for Space Exploration Technologies Corp, commonly known as SpaceX. Musk founded the company with $100 million of the money received from the PayPal sale in 2002.
SpaceX has achieved what most other private launch companies can only dream of. Musk realised his goal of cutting down spaceflight cost by 10%. Its long-term goal is to make colonising Mars affordable. Even NASA used SpaceX to resume human spaceflight launch.
Future rides a Tesla
Musk and Tesla sounds synonymous now but the multi-billion dollar company was not in-fact founded by him. In 2004, Musk made $70 million of total investments in the electric car company sensing its potential. It paid off big time under Musk's active leadership. Since the unveiling of their first vehicle, a sports car named Tesla Roadster in 2006, Tesla went on to become the most valuable American automaker ever in just 14 years.
On 10 January 2020, Tesla had a market capitalization of $86 billion and it surpassed those of BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen combined on 10 June that year.
Musk still remains CEO of Tesla, making him the longest-serving one in any motor company. In 2020 alone the company gained him $150 billion, thanks to a rally in Tesla's share price, which surged to a whopping 743%. It made him the richest person on earth for a limited time in January 2021.
SolarCity, OpenAI and Neuralink
2006, the year when Tesla Roadster hit the road, Musk funded SolarCity, a solar power company of his cousins Peter and Lyndon Rive. By 2013, it had become the second-largest provider of solar power systems in the US.
In 2016, SolarCity merged with Tesla after it was bought in a $2.6 billion deal and became its Solar Division.
The same year, Neuralink was co-founded by Musk for developing implantable BMIs or Brain-Machine Interfaces. A company blog report published in 2017 revealed that Neuralink aims to make devices to treat serious brain diseases in the short-term, with the eventual goal of human enhancement.
An artificial intelligence research laboratory called OpenAI was co-founded by Musk in 2015 for deeper researching to promote and develop friendly AI in a way that benefits humanity. As Musk characterises AI as humanity's "biggest existential threat," the company was structured as a non-profit so that they could focus its research on creating a positive long-term human impact.
Hyperloop-ing through The Boring Company
After shaking up space and electric car industry, Musk attempted to reinvent public transportation with Hyperloop based on his 2013 concept for a high-speed transportation system incorporating reduced-pressure tubes driven by linear induction motors and air compressors.
Musk's proposal, once realised would make Hyperloop travel cheaper than any other mode of transport for such long distances.
Aside from his earth-shattering next-gen stuff, Musk had time to establish a less 'exciting' company called "The Boring Company", an infrastructure and tunnel construction services with the primary goal of building test tunnel for Hyperloop R&D.
The future goals, however, are less boring for the everyday passengers as it plans to enhance tunnelling connection and boost speed enough such that establishing a tunnel network is financially feasible.