In high school, Elon Musk planned to pursue a career in physics. But then in 1993, Congress voted to raise funding from the Superconducting Super Collider, which had been under construction in Texas for about 10 years. This event made a deep impression on Musk and put him on the career path he still travels today.
"When I was in high school, I thought I was most likely going to do physics at a particle accelerator," Musk said in a recent third-row Tesla podcast. "I received awards in two areas, physics and computer science. These were my two best subjects, and I thought, OK, I want to find out what the nature of the universe has, and try to work with people merging particles and seeing what happens. "
Consequently, Musk, who had started life in South Africa and then emigrated to Canada, attended the University of Pennsylvania where he majored in physics and economics. But then came the cancellation of Superconducting Super Collider, a victim of budget overruns and spending on the International Space Station, since many in the government felt that the country could not afford both. That incident had a major impact on Musk's career plans.
"It was like, who!" he said. "What if I worked for a collider, spent all these years, and then the government just wanted to cancel it? No, I could not."
Forget the doctorate. Become a founder instead.
Musk was accepted for a doctorate. program in energy, physics and materials science at Stanford, but he decided not to go because he had received another revelation while in college. "The Internet would fundamentally change humanity. Humanity would become more of a superorganism," he said. (A superorganism is a large number of organisms that work together as one. Think of ants, or Borg in Star Trek .) The Internet would function as humanity's nervous system, he predicted, so that the whole species could share knowledge. So instead of getting his doctorate. or by working at a particle accelerator, Musk co-founded with brother Kimbal his first internet startup, Zip2, online city guide software that was sold to newspapers. Compaq bought Zip2 in 1
In 1999, he co-founded X.com, a finance company for payment services and email, which later merged with the parent company of PayPal. Musk became CEO of PayPal, but then lost his job due to a conflict with other managers about moving the company from Unix-based servers to Windows servers. Nevertheless, he remained on the board and owned 11.7 percent of the company's shares when it was acquired by eBay in 2002. This time, Musk earned $ 165 million.
The same year he founded SpaceX, and in 2004 he led the series A Financing Round forTesla (which had three employees at the time). In 2008, he became CEO of Tesla, a position he still holds, making him the longest-serving driver working today.
Musk's successes are due to a simple realization at an early age: Being an entrepreneur was the only way he could be master of his own destiny. Musk has had his setbacks – he was forced out as CEO of PayPal. He wasdisciplined by the SEC and forced to resign as Tesla's chairman. He endured years of Wall Street contempt for Tesla, with critics claiming it would never matter. But all of these were his own setbacks, the results of his own decisions and not, for example, the Congress' vote to reject a project after spending 10 years and nearly $ 2 billion on it.
Musk could have gone to work for a company, instead of a state-funded project, but as he probably realized, he had been equally subject to the whims of those above him in the hierarchy. Think of what could have happened if Musk, who had a long-standing concern for fossil fuels and thus an interest in designing electric car batteries, had applied for a job in the car industry instead of starting his own venture. He may have ended up working on General Motors' beloved electric car, EV1, which was launched in 1996. GM decided to take back and smash them all three years later.
Being an entrepreneur comes with many risks. But you will not risk having to litter a good idea because of the dubious decision of others. This is something you should think about if you are trying to decide if you want to work for someone else or be your own boss.