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Organized Chaos: The Life of Elon Musk

A profile of the genius whose risks have taken him from broke to billionaire.
Founder Profiles
February 28 | 4 min

This founder can be described as bold, daring, tenacious, or even occasionally as “the real-life Tony Stark.” He can also be described as completely mad or obsessed with fame.

Elon Musk is no stranger to scandal. Recent events depict him being investigated by the SEC, inflating his stock numbers to 420, sparking up a doobie on Joe Rogan’s podcast, tweeting while on LSD, and causing a widely-publicized scandal involving his musician girlfriend, Grimes, proposing a threesome at his mansion in Los Angeles.

Despite these scandalous events, one can still learn a lot from this founder and admire his entrepreneurial spirit. After all, he has created multiple billion-dollar ventures. He is the Kanye West of billionaires, the PayPal Mafia’s biggest headache, the CEO of Tesla, and the infamous Elon Musk.

From Bullied to Billionaire
Before the money and fame, Elon was just a geek from South Africa. Born to a model-mother and engineer-father, Elon was raised in a very upper-class family. Wealth and status didn’t stop the bullies, though. He even woke up in a hospital once after being thrown down a flight of stairs. Ouch.

Luckily, despite being bullied as a youngster, he was a certified hustler showing early signs of entrepreneurship. At age 9, he was creating and selling his own video game called “Blastar” (similar to Galaga) to a South African magazine. He wasn’t a stranger to hard labor either — after relocating to Canada, he even took a job as a boiler room cleaner. Yuck!

Even in university, Musk was all about the money, turning his dorm room at Queen’s University into a full-fledged PC repair shop for building, fixing, and selling computers. After transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, he turned his frat house into a profitable nightclub. He even had his mom work the door!

From Bouncer to Businessman
It is no surprise that Musk maintained his entrepreneurial spirit after earning degrees in economics and physics — he soon dropped out of his PhD program at Stanford to hop on the dot-com boom train with brother, Kimbal Musk. In 1995, they worked together to form Zip 2, a startup that provided maps to online newspapers.

Elon put everything he had into the startup, including his home. He slept at the office and showered at the YMCA. Luckily, those days didn’t last long and he was quickly on his way to becoming a millionaire.

In 1999, just four years later, Compaq acquired the business for $307 million. Elon walked away with $22 million from the payout.

The PayPal Sit-Down
He did it. Elon Musk became a millionaire in just four years — but he still wanted more. He then used more than half of his earnings, $12 million, to found X.com. This new startup caught the attention of PayPal as a budding competitor. Instead of competing, the two companies merged and the rest was history.

In 2002, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion. Elon, having been the largest shareholder, took home $165 million.

This is where things took off even more for Elon’s career and, more importantly, his risk-taking.

From Broke to Billionaire (and Back)
When investing in ventures, Elon is all or nothing. After PayPal, he realized his dream of intergalactic travel, investing a whopping $100 million dollars in his startup SpaceX.

He also invested in a small startup, called Tesla, and even took on a role in product design.

By 2009, the risky, large-scale investments were eating up his cash and he was on his way to going broke. But risk was something Elon was good at — most of the time it worked in his favor. He says, “when something is important enough, you do it, even if the odds are not in your favor.” These companies were important to him, so he kept the hustle going, eventually scoring a $1.5 billion contract with NASA.

Both Tesla and SpaceX gained incredible momentum and so did Elon’s bank account. He currently sits at a $22.5 billion net worth.

Art Imitates Life
It seems today that Elon Musk may be trying to get his act together — he has deleted his Instagram and stepped down as chairman of Tesla, though he still remains CEO. He is still is dating Grimes, despite her role in the controversy surrounding his reputation and leaked information, such as “the Russians wanting him dead.”

The takeaway from Elon Musk’s story is that you should mold your reality into what you want it to be and dream big despite the drawbacks. It seems to Elon that life is like the galactic video game he created when he was a kid — once you get some points or a high score, your name is on the board. You use your earnings like points and buy literal rocket ships. Depending on how you look at it, Elon Musk isn’t actually playing or creating a video game anymore, but living as though he is inside one.