10 Lessons to Learn from Iron Man Personified: Elon Musk

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There’s an enigma that surrounds Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors & CEO, CTO of SpaceX and also Chairman of SolarCity. For starters, Tesla Motors is the first company to produce electric cars and SpaceX earns the distinction of being the first private company to launch rockets into space (with further goals of being the first company to aid colonization of human life on Mars by 2030). From being co-founder of PayPal to heading the most technologically futuristic companies, Musk has never shied away from shifting gears and taking the meaning of innovative disruption to the next level. At 42, Musk’s net worth is estimated at over $12 billion and he has already pledged all of his personal income to philanthropy.

Here are ten success mantras that one can learn from Elon Musk:

#1 There’s no substitute for hard-work: Between SpaceX and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk clocks 100 working hours a week. Compare this to most average people who spend 40-50 hours a week working, and you will know what it takes to build two of the most innovative and extraordinary companies in the world.

#2 Address challenges & aspirations through your business ventures: The key to having a successful business venture is to recognize the challenges that mankind is facing and to come up with an idea concrete enough to tap into the potential. Success of a business does not just depend on how great the idea is but also on whether it meets any latent demands and has any potential customers. 

#3 Let your imagination soar beyond the ordinary: If you dare to look beyond the mundane and keep your head high no matter what others have to say about your iconoclastic ideas, then you are looking at the right place for inspiration. With awe-inspiring ideas which aim to transform today into future, this innovator has enjoyed first mover advantage in all his business ventures. After conceptualizing interplanetary transport & Hyperloop rail system what is next in line?

#4 Failure is an option but giving up isn’t: If you are ready to try, then you need to be ready to try even harder. Neither Tesla Motors nor SpaceX became overnight sensations. Theirs is a story with all the usual villains – challenges of product failure and financial strains. Even after SpaceX’s third launch attempt of Falcon 1 was a dud, Musk did not let either his own morale or of his 300+ SpaceX employees to be shattered. They had lost a battle, but the war was far from over. Both companies were on the verge of bankruptcy in 2008 and Musk himself had to borrow money from friends to cover living expenses in 2010. However, he never let these constraints get the better of him and the results are for everyone to see.

#5 Invest in quality manpower: Often it’s the human capital of a company that distinguishes the great from the good. Unquestionably the brains behind Musk’s companies are the best in business. PayPal’s initial team was a talent powerhouse and is still known as PayPal mafia owing to their subsequent successful business ventures. Elon Musk himself admits that getting super talented manpower with the capability to drive innovation is his biggest challenge.

#6 Know your exit strategy well in advance: If you want to be a serial entrepreneur, you need to know when is the time to let go. Paypal’s successful exit at the peak of internet boom earned Musk a cool amount and enabled him to take the next quantum leap.

#7 Do not rest on past laurels: With successful business ventures like Zip2 and PayPal to bank upon, at 32, Elon Musk had amassed more wealth than what most of us do in a life time. From there onwards, all he could have done was to live life king size. Rather than being satisfied with his achievements, he moved on quickly to newer domains where his disruptive thinking could bring about a real difference and thus were born SpaceX & Tesla Motors.

#8 Plough back what you earn: If you believe in your ideas, then gain investor confidence by backing your own ideas with your personal fortune. After exiting PayPal successfully with $165 million in his kitty, Musk invested $100 million in SpaceX.

#9 Take criticism into your stride to come out with superior products: Elon Musk welcomes constructive criticism and uses insights to further improvise on the quality of his company’s products. He also intends to spend a good amount of time to take a cross-country drive of about 3200 miles in Tesla’s Model S along with his kids. This isn’t bound to be just a good marketing campaign but also an opportunity for Musk to have a consumer’s perspectives about the product.

#10 Be technically sound enough to have others respect you: A South African by birth, Musk immigrated to Canada at the age of 17, and subsequently to USA where he was awarded Undergraduate degrees in Economics & Physics. He started work on his PhD in Applied Physics at Stanford University which he left within two days of enrolling. Leading a team of the best scientific minds in business is no joke and Musk’s educational background helps him draw respect from highly talented employees. 

This genius already has his name taken in the same breath as Henry Ford and Steve Jobs. The enormous amount of respect Elon Musk draws is evident from the fact that Fortune Magazine named him as the Businessperson of the Year 2013. Jon Favreau, director-producer of Iron Man admits that the character of Tony Stark has been tailored around Elon Musk. At 42, what more can you ask for?