Elon Musk is a man of many talents. Indeed, while some may know him as the face behind Tesla, a leading automotive company, others recognise him from his ambitious pursuits to colonise other planets.
Over the years, the ambitious entrepreneur has had lots of irons in the fire and has led multiple noteworthy ventures. It seems that Musk is in a restless pursuit of pioneering technology, ground-breaking innovations and sustainable developments. Indeed, he has achieved a fleet of accomplishments on his way to the top.
Without further ado, here are 30 of Elon Musk’s greatest achievements.
1. He read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica at nine years old
Musk was an avid reader from a very young age. He would spend, on average, 10 hours a day reading science fiction novels and anything else he could get his hands on. In fact, at the age of nine, he ran out of books to read at the library, so he ended up reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica before he finished fourth grade.
2. He taught himself to programme in three days
Musk’s interest in technology started evolving when he was 10 years old. Determined to teach himself more about programming, he learned the BASIC language after finishing a six-month course within just three days. His efforts were not in vain, either: at 12 years old, he managed to create his own video game and sell its code for the respectable amount of $500.
3. He landed his first internship with a cold-call
While in college, Musk made a habit of calling executives he read about in magazines and asking them to meet for lunch. Indeed, this bold stunt landed him his very first internship at the Bank of Nova Scotia. His experience there was particularly useful, as years later he would go on to launch his own online finance business.
4. He ran a speakeasy to pay rent
As a self-funded college student, Musk had to come up with inventive ways to earn some income, a problem to which he found an ingenious solution to: rent a 10-bedroom frat house and turn it into a club. According to Musk, he and his roommate would make an entire month’s rent in just one night!
5. He completed a double major
After spending two years at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship ride. There, he pursued a double major in business and physics and graduated from the prestigious Wharton School.
6. He sold his first company for $307 million
On his first bid to make a break in the internet industry, Musk collaborated with his brother Kimbal to start their own company, Zip2. It wasn’t long before their startup was sold to a bigger company for a whopping $307 million. This transaction landed Musk with $22 million – not too bad for a 27-year-old!
7. He cofounded PayPal
PayPal was the result of a merger between Musk’s startup X.com and Confinity, a competitor internet finance company. Musk served as the CEO of PayPal after the merger, but his executive years were shortlived as he was fired while on his honeymoon. Despite the fallback, he remained on the board and continued investing in PayPal. In fact, his contributions played an instrumental role when the company was sold to eBay two years later for a whopping $1.5 billion, earning Musk $180 million.
8. He founded SpaceX
Before the PayPal sale was even finalised, Musk diverted his interests to space exploration. The business mogul was determined to make space travel more accessible, and in a bid to develop and manufacture his own space launch vehicles, SpaceX was established in 2002. By 2006, the space rocket company landed a contract with NASA to handle scheduled cargo transport to the International Space Station in 2008.
9. He created the Musk Foundation
In 2002, Musk and his brother set up a private foundation in support of four distinct areas: renewable energy research and advocacy, human space exploration research and advocacy, paediatric research, and science and engineering education. With almost $300 million donated to date, his foundation has focused on disaster relief, AI and sustainable innovations.
10. He became the CEO of Tesla
Musk initially joined Tesla’s board of directors as its chairman in 2004. Being one of its lead investors, he assumed his role as CEO in 2007. His vision to build electric cars and make way for a more sustainable future also made him the lead product architect of the company.
11. He revolutionised the electric car industry
As a huge advocate for sustainable energy, Musk was determined to create a product that would redefine the car industry. After Tesla’s first electric car, the Roadster, hit the market in 2008, the company successfully shifted the world’s perception on electric cars and has assumed its place as one of the top automotive sellers in the world. Currently, Tesla is working towards taking another innovative step: an electric car battery with a million-mile lifespan.
12. He landed a billion-dollar contract with NASA
After three failed launches, SpaceX managed to successfully launch a fourth rocket into space in 2008. This was a breakthrough moment for Musk’s company as it earned them a $1.6 billion contract with NASA. This was also a significant personal achievement for Musk, who’d used the last of his savings to fund the making of the fourth rocket.
13. He debuted Tesla’s Model S
In 2009, Musk introduced Tesla’s Model S vehicle. Since its initial launch, the luxurious vehicle made history after receiving the highest ever Consumer Reports rating of 99/100 in 2013, and the highest safety rating in history from the National Highway Safety Administration. Tesla managed to top its own record rating in 2015 after scoring 103/100 for its newest model.
14. He launched the Falcon 9 Rocket
In 2012, the Falcon 9 rocket made its journey to the International Space Station with 1,000 pounds of supplies for the astronauts stationed there. The mission made SpaceX the first ever private company to send a spacecraft to the ISS, and Falcon 9 completed a fleet of other flights for NASA from thereon.
15. He joined the Giving Pledge
In 2012, Musk joined other billionaires of the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg by signing the Giving Pledge. This committed the business tycoon to donate the majority of its fortune in a bid to support philanthropic causes.
16. He sent a reusable rocket to space
In 2015, SpaceX made a big leap towards affordable space travel by successfully landing a rocket on Earth after it was launched into space. By 2017, SpaceX became the first company to launch a NASA resupply mission on a previously used rocket, making it the first reusable rocket to reach orbit.
17. He set the Hyperloop in motion
In another bid to revolutionise transportation technology, Musk introduced the Hyperloop in 2013. Its main objective was to slash travel time between major cities via ultra-fast pods that would run on renewable energy. With several prototypes ran and tested, India and Missouri are the first locations to have launched preliminary investigations for Hyperloop’s installation.
18. He created OpenAI
In late 2015, Musk announced the creation of OpenAI, a San Francisco-based organisation aiming to advance artificial intelligence to benefit humanity and to develop AI technologies that can surpass the human brain. However, as Tesla became increasingly involved in AI, Musk had to step down as the OpenAI’s chairman in 2018 to avoid any conflict of interest.
19. He acquired SolarCity
Initially, Musk invested $10 million into SolarCity back in 2006. Soon enough, SolarCity became the largest installer of solar panels in the US. After closely collaborating with Tesla, the company bought off SolarCity and made it a subsidiary in 2016.
20. He founded the Boring Company
One of Musk’s most recent ventures is the Boring Company, a transportation startup dedicated to boring and constructing tunnels. Its main objective is to combine affordable technology with electric public transportation to enable rapid transit across cities. Unsurprisingly, the entrepreneur’s side venture is doing exceptionally well, having recently landed a $48.7 million contract to build an underground tunnel in Las Vegas.
21. He debuted the Powerwall
In his pursuit of sustainable technology, Musk took Tesla one step further with the introduction of the Powerwall. The innovative solar-charged battery pack hit the market in 2015 and offers a more affordable and sustainable way to power homes.
22. He cofounded Neuralink
As if space exploration, transportation tunnels and electric cars weren’t enough, Musk started a new passion project back in 2016. The business tycoon founded Neuralink, a neural tech company, with the aim of developing neurotechnology that could integrate artificial intelligence into the human brain.
23. He instituted the Big Falcon Rocket
In September 2017, Musk revealed an updated design for the Big Falcon Rocket (recently renamed Starship). With the capacity to carry over 100 passengers, the spacecraft was another leap towards the entrepreneur’s overarching goal to colonise Mars. With launch tests still underway, Musk believes that the first unmanned mission could take place as early as 2022.
24. He was named one of the World’s Most Powerful People
The business tycoon was ranked 25th on Forbes’ 2018 list of the world’s most powerful people. According to Forbes’ editors, the rankings are based on the individuals’ capital control, the number of people they impact and their influence on the industry they work within. With Musk’s fleet of achievements, winning a spot on this prestigious list comes as no surprise!
25. He launched Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai
One of Elon’s latest achievements is Tesla’s Gigafactory 3, based in Shanghai, China, which he was able to set up in record time: it took just 168 days to have it up and running! As Tesla’s second largest market, China was a strategic move on Musk’s part, making Gigafactory 3 the first large-scale plant outside the US.
26. He was awarded the Axel Springer Award
The tech visionary received the Axel Springer Award, one of Europe's most prestigious awards, in 2020. The award honours people with outstanding achievements, celebrating innovation and social responsibility. Musk was praised for his ‘’inventive and innovative spirit’’ and dubbed as an inspiration for an entire generation because of his achievements.
27. His Crew Dragon spacecraft transported astronauts to the ISS
Musk’s Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully launched two NASA astronauts into orbit on 30 May 2020. This marked the first time that a private company sent astronauts to space, and the first time that SpaceX launched humans into orbit. The mission was also a success for NASA, which had been relying on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts to the International Space Station since the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
28. He was Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”
The billionaire, who has been described as the "real life Tony Stark," was named “Person of the Year” by Time in 2021. The magazine’s criteria when selecting a person or group for this title is for them to have influenced the previous 12 months, for better or for worse. In his case, in 2021, Musk became the world’s richest person while Tesla’s worth hit $1 trillion.
29. He provided internet to Ukraine during Russia’s invasion
On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in an attempt to take control of its territory. In the midst of the chaos, Musk used SpaceX’s Starlink, a satellite broadband service, to provide internet access to Ukrainians. This was after the country’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, sent Musk a direct plea over Twitter, asking him for help. The billionaire entrepreneur worked with the Ukrainian government to establish the network in secret, and it played a vital role in coordinating the defence against Russian forces.
30. He was named the world’s richest person
Thanks to Space X and Tesla’s continuous profitable growth, Musk became the world’s richest person, according to Forbes’ 2022 billionaires list, at $219 billion. This accomplishment also placed Jeff Bezos second on the list for the first time in four years, following Amazon’s 3% stock drop and charitable giving.
Watch the video for a timeline of Elon's success:
There is something to be said about Elon Musk’s unwavering drive. His steadfast determination, budding curiosity and zeal have helped him become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time.
With a long trail of achievements behind him, the leading tycoon shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, his ambitions might, quite literally, end up taking him to another planet altogether.
So, if you’re an aspiring businessperson, take a page out of Musk’s book. While the road to success is never easy, a lot can be accomplished if you have enough determination and persistence.
Which of these do you consider Elon Musk’s greatest success? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 1 November 2019 and contains contributions by staff writer Hayley Ramsey.