Elon Musk is a business magnate and an entrepreneur, and probably the best known for being an early stage investor, Product Architect and Chief Executive Officer of Tesla Inc., the electric vehicle maker. He is also the founder, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Engineer of the Space Exploration Technologies Group (SpaceX).
What is not as commonly known is that Elon has been involved in many other successful businesses over the years, including being co-founder of OpenAI and Neuralink, and the founder of The Boring Company. Musk is also one of the three richest people in the world, sharing the top three with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and is also a centi-billionaire.
Musk has been criticized often due to unscientific and unorthodox stances and highly publicized controversies. He was charged with defamation in 2018 by a diver who was an advisor in the cave rescue at Tham Luang. A Californian jury however later ruled in Musk's favor.
Also in 2018, Musk was sued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as he had falsely tweeted that he had obtained funding for taking over Tesla privately. Musk settled the case, and had to accept limitations on his usage of Twitter, while also stepping down temporarily from his chairmanship.
Musk has also been spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. He was often criticized by experts for a wide range of his other views, including on things like public transport and artificial intelligence.
Like many other successful individuals and entrepreneurs, Elon Musk had a set of rules that he applied to both his business and his life. Let's have a more detailed look at what drives Elon and see have we can apply his principles to our own life.
Never Give Up
I'll start the list with Elon's favorite rule – never give up. If you've read the stories of successful individuals, especially entrepreneurs, you'll know that before they achieved success, they failed at least one, two, or even more ventures.
Elon is no exception to this, and failed three times in a row before reaching his success with Tesla. Rather than giving up, these individuals use their failure to learn, and then move on to their next venture until they eventually make it.
When an interviewer asked Elon if he wanted to pack it in after his third failure in a row, he answered that he never ever gives up.
Expect to Fail
When you build a company, the question ‘Will you make mistakes?' is not important. This is because the answer to this question is known – everyone that has ever started building something new makes mistakes.
The success of a company depends much more on the question ‘How quickly are you to fix the mistakes?' It is important to recognize when you have made a mistake, acknowledge it, and then take action to correct it. Ideally, you should also put steps in place to try and ensure that you don't make those mistakes again.
Both successful startups and those that are not have made mistakes. This is a universal truth that can't be changed. The difference is that successful ones recognized the mistakes they've made, fixed them as quickly as possible and learn from them, while the unsuccessful ones try to deny that there are mistakes. In the latter mindset, the mistakes that have been made can unfortunately never be fixed.
Physics students and practitioners are taught to always question themselves. They are taught that they always have to assume that they're wrong, and not that they're right. They have to prove to themselves that they're not wrong.
Elon says that the physics framework has taught him to expect to fail. It is a very effective method to learn to do things counter-intuitively, things that are not obvious.
Elon adds that he doesn't like failure – nobody does. If you however only ever do things that you know for sure will succeed, then you're not giving yourself the opportunity to learn new things, and you will also only do very obvious things.
Really Like What You Do
Life is too short to waste time doing things you don't like. That's why it is important that you really like what you do, irrespective of the area you get into.
Even if you're the best at what you do, that won't guarantee that you are successful as there's still always a chance that you may fail.
If you like what you're doing, you will think about it all the time, even when you're not working. It will be something that your mind is constantly drawn to.
If you try to do something that you don't like, you will be thinking about other things all the time and your mind will not spend as much time on what you're doing as what it should. This will make it really difficult to make it work and to become really successful.
The time to take risks is always as soon as possible, especially when you're still young. When you're young, you won't likely kids yet and the older you get, the more your obligations increase.
Once you reach the stage in life where you have a family and you start taking risks then, the risks you take are no longer just for yourself, but also for your family.
It gets much more difficult to do things that may not work out as the consequences of that will have an impact on your whole family, and not only you.
The time to take risks is therefore now, while you're still young and before you have all those obligations that invariably arrive as you get older and build a life for yourself.
Do something bold and risky – you won't regret it.
Do Something Important
Elon was once asked in an interview how he figured out that he was going to start an electric car company (Tesla) and be successful at it.
His answer was that he originally thought that he would most likely fail and didn't really think Tesla would be such a huge success. He did however think that he wanted to at least change the faulty perception that people had about electric cars. This perception was that people thought that electric cars would always be boring, slow, and ugly like a golf cart.
The reporter then asked why he even tried if he thought the company wouldn't be successful.
Musk believes that if something is important enough you should try it, even if you may fail.
Elon's answers in this interview show that he believes in rules 2 and 4 – Expect to Fail, and Take Risks, because that is exactly what he did when he started Tesla.
Focus on Signal Over Noise
Elon says that Tesla focuses on signal over noise. This means that they only spend money on things that actually make the product better. He adds that many companies get confused and get this wrong and they spend a lot of money on things that don't make the product better.
He gives the example that Tesla has never spent money on advertising but has rather chosen to put all their money into design, manufacturing and R&D, to make their cars as good as possible.
He firmly believes that this is the right way to go.
His advice to any company is to constantly keep thinking about if all the efforts its people are making are really resulting in a better service or product. If the answer is “No,” those efforts should be stopped.
Find Problem Solvers
When Elon interviews someone to work for the company, he asks them to describe a problem they worked on and how they solved it. If someone really solved the problem they describe, they will answer on multiple levels, and in great detail.
If they can't do that, they'll get stuck while they describe how they solved the problem. If this happens, you'll know that this person wasn't really the one who solved the problem, because anyone who struggles hard with a difficult problem will never forget it.
Attract Great People
Musk believes that the most important thing to do when starting a company or joining an existing company, is to attract great people.
If you are building a new company you have got to get together a team of great people. If you're joining a company, find a group of people that you really respect and are that are amazing.
At the end of the day, any company is actually simply a group of people that are working together to create a service or product.
The success of the company will be determined not only by how hard-working and talented the group is, but also by the degree to which they are cohesively focused in a good direction.
If you are creating a company and want the best possible chance of it succeeding, you have to do everything in your power to gather a team of great people.
Have a Great Product
If you're building a new company, you have to make absolutely sure that whatever you're doing produces a really great service or product. Your service or product merely being good is not good enough, it has to be great. If you however decide to move into an untapped new market, or even a brand new industry, the standard for your service or product can be lower as there is not any competition.
If you are deciding to move into anything that has an existing marketplace and want to compete against big, entrenched competitors, your service or product needs to be much, much better than theirs.
It can't only be slightly better. If you look at your service or product from the consumer's perspective, they would not want to buy it if it is only slightly better. Consumers will always rather buy from a trusted brand, unless there is a massive difference.
Entrepreneurs will often come up with something that is only slightly better than what is already on the market. That doesn't work – it has to be a lot better and it can't just be slightly better.
Work Super Hard
You'll have to work super hard if you start a new company, especially if you want to do really well. The question if of course, what does ‘super hard' mean?
Elon answers this question by telling the story of when he and his brother started their first company. Rather than getting an apartment they simply rented a small office and slept on the couch. There are many other stories of successful entrepreneurs that started their company from their garage. That would also allow them to work super hard.
Elon and his brother showered at the YMCA and they were so hard up they only had one computer. This means that Elon coded at night, while the computer was running their website during the day. They did this all the time – seven days a week. He also says that he had a girlfriend for a short time during that period and if she wanted to be with him, she had no choice but to sleep and stay in his office. Talk about being dedicated to your success!
Elon believes that when you start a company, you have to work every hour that you're awake. Simple math shows us that if somebody else works 50 hours, and we work 100 hours, we will get twice as much done in the course of a year than the other person.