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Elon Musk: The Edison of the 21st Century

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is probably one of the most well-known people of the 21st Century. Born in South Africa in 1971, he’s now one of the wealthiest people on this planet, and that’s not enough for him – the man wants to reach Mars. In 2016, Forbes placed him on their list of The World’s Most Powerful People. This is a brief list of the different companies started by him.

Zip2

In 1995, Musk dropped out of his Ph.D. program in applied physics and materials science at Stanford University and started Zip2 with his brother Kimbal. Zip2 was a city guide, made to exploit the growing popularity of the Internet among newspaper companies. He soon secured contracts with The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Musk wanted to be CEO, but the Board of Directors did not allow it. In February 1999, Zip2 was sold to Compaq for $307 million in cash and Musk received $22 million from the sale of his 7% stake in the company.

X.com and PayPal

Musk was now flush with money after the sale of Zip2. In March 1999, he started a financial services company called X.com with $10 million of his own money. X.com was meant to revolutionize the finance industry by forming an online bank which had an e-mail payment function. However, in 2000, X.com merged with its closest rival, Confinity (the parent company of PayPal) against Musk’s wishes. The joint entity focused more on the money transfer business of PayPal. Musk was outed as CEO in October 2000 due to disagreements with other company leaders, of which one was about the decision to transfer from Unix to Windows. In October 2002, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion in stock of which Musk, the biggest shareholder with 11.7% of the shares, got $165 million

SpaceX

In 2001, Musk started a program called “Mars Oasis” with the aim to land a greenhouse on Mars and grow plants in the Martian atmosphere. Musk had to find a rocket to take his payload into space. The cheapest option, the Russian made Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, were still higher than Musk’s envisaged cost. He believed that he could make a rocket in 3% of the amount needed to buy one. This prompted him to start Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX in 2002 with $100 million of his own money. The company’s first two launches were called Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 in a nod to the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. Their first spacecraft was the Dragon. In September 2008, SpaceX became the first private company to put a satellite in Earth’s orbit. This was followed up by berthing with the International Space Station in May 2012. It was only in 2016 that Musk revealed his plan to colonize and explore Mars. Currently, SpaceX is planning to send a Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon Heavy rocket to Mars in 2018. Musk is currently the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Technology Officer of his company.

Tesla

Musk isn’t technically a founder of this company, which was incorporated by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in July 2003. However, without Musk’s initial support and funding, the company as we know it today would not exist. Musk invested in Series A funding and took a place on the company’s Board. In 2008, he took over the role of CEO. Tesla’s first electric car was the Roadster which they launched in 2008. They sold about 2,500 vehicles. Tesla then launched their Model S four-door sedan which was an instant hit, followed up by the Model X SUV. Their most recent launch is the Model 3, a sub $30,000 car which Musk hopes will bring electric vehicles in the reach of common people. Musk has widely been compared to Henry Ford and his attempts have revolutionized the industry. Tesla is now working to perfect autonomous driving and launch a new car.

SolarCity

SolarCity was founded in 2006 by Musk’s cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive.  SolarCity aims to bring affordable solar power to people all over their world. They began with a disruptive financial model where consumers leased solar panels instead of buying them and hence were always updated on the latest technology. SolarCity is currently the second largest producer of solar energy in the United States. The company, in association with Panasonic, manages the Tesla Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York where the company manufactures solar module components. Tesla formally acquired SolarCity in 2016.

Hyperloop

On August 12, 2013, Elon Musk revealed a concept for a revolutionary, high-speed transport system which he christened “Hyperloop”. The system involves pods riding on a cushion of air being propelled in an almost-vacuum tube at very high speeds. Musk made all his research on the Hyperloop public knowledge in order to enable anyone to work on it. He aims to greatly reduce transportation time and costs. Many companies all over the world are working on building a Hyperloop model.

Neuralink

Musk founded Neuralink, a neural intelligence start-up which aims to integrate the human brain with artificial intelligence. The company is still in its early stages but aims to create devices that can be implanted in the human brain with the aim of helping human beings merge with software. The company also aims to create devices to cure serious brain diseases.

The Boring Company

On December 17, 2016, Musk tweeted, while stuck in traffic, that he would “build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging”. His idea came to life when he created the Boring Company in late 2016. The company aims to dig tunnels deep below the Earth’s surface and transport vehicles at 125 miles per hour on electric sleds through these tunnels. The company aims to greatly reduce travel time by avoiding traffic. As of February 2017, the company had begun digging a test tunnel at the SpaceX headquarters. By July 2017, Musk uploaded a video showing the successful functioning of their car elevators.

The Elon Effect

Elon Musk is a man ahead of his time. Through his companies and investments, he aims to create a world completely sufficient on renewable energy sources. All his companies complement each other in this regard. Musk has made most of his patents on new technology open-source to encourage people and big companies to adopt these technologies in their products to make our lives more environmentally friendly.

– Siddharth Pai

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