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Business Leader Spotlight: Elon Musk

What do we know about Elon Musk and his businesses? We know him as the charismatic South African-born entrepreneur who co-founded the electronic-payment firm PayPal and formed SpaceX, a maker of launch vehicles and spacecraft. He was also one of the first significant investors in, as well as Chief Executive Officer of, the pioneering electric car manufacturer Tesla. He holds Bachelor’s degrees in physics and economics, and he is on pace to become the world’s first-ever trillionaire.

Musk developed a relentless work ethic, (and is known to work as many as 80 to 120 hours a week), and a tenacious, single-minded vision for innovation and disruption. ”Physics is a good framework for thinking”, he would say later. “Boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there.” In other words, he’s a hard act to follow.

Here at Bartercard, we’re inspired by Elon Musk’s professional development and take inspiration from his leadership skills and qualities.

Elon Musk’s Business Tenets

First and foremost, it isn’t about the money. According to Justin Rowlatt of Business Daily on the BBC, who interviewed Musk, he doesn’t have anything against the pursuit of wealth, “if it’s done in sort of an ethical and good manner”, but said it just isn’t what drives him.

Secondly, he says, “don’t be afraid to think big”. One of the striking things about Elon Musk’s businesses is how audacious they are. He wants to revolutionise the car industry, colonise Mars, build super-fast trains in vacuum tunnels, integrate AI into human brains, and upend the solar power and battery industries.

Thirdly, you need to be ready to take risks. While you have to have ‘skin in the game’ to do well, Elon Musk has taken more risks than most. By 2002 he had sold off his holdings in his first two ventures, an internet city guide called Zip2, and the online payment company PayPal. He had just entered his 30s and had almost $200m in the bank.

He says he planned to put half his fortune into the businesses and keep the other half. Things didn’t work out like that. His new companies faced all sorts of teething troubles. SpaceX’s first three launches had failed, and Tesla had all manner of production problems and supply chain and design issues.

Then the financial crisis struck. Musk said he faced a stark choice. “I could either keep the money, then the companies are definitely going to die, or invest what I have left and maybe there is a chance.” So he kept pouring in money. The rest is history. He is now the richest person in history with a $300B fortune.

Be Inspired by Elon Musk’s Business Ethics

Kiwi Hamish McKenzie worked for Musk at his Tesla plant and eventually wrote a book about his time there. He was amazed at Musk’s work and business ethics and impressed by Musk’s perspective on fossil fuels. “First, he wants to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels. Here’s what the entrepreneur had to say about that. “We’re drawing upon deep gas fields and deep oil fields that haven’t seen the light of day since the Cambrian era. If the last time something saw light was when the most complex organism was a sponge, you really have to question whether that is a wise move.”

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Musk’s early interests in philosophy, science fiction, and fantasy novels are reflected in his sense of idealism and concern with human progress—and his business career. He works in the areas that he has identified as crucial to our future, specifically the Internet, the transition to renewable energy sources, and space colonization.

Tesla has changed the mission statement on its website from “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport” to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”.

By joining Bartercard, you may not be setting up the next Elon Musk-calibre business, but you can certainly take some inspiration from his journey and use your own experiences to build your business and gain more customers.


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