13 Reasons Elon Musk Is an Exceptional Entrepreneur

And How He Sets the Bar for Founders

I was meeting with my friend Jim Grady. Jim worked with me back in the early eighties. He was so taken by the culture, speed, and success of the startup we were a part of, he decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Over the years, I’ve backed Jim in the companies he’s created. I have great respect for this entrepreneur. There is never a shortage of vision, ideas, and personal sacrifice with Jim Grady.

Over lunch, we were talking electric cars. Jim said, “Elon Musk is something else. The guy created four multi-billion dollar startups. More importantly, he is changing the world. If I had the money, I would buy a Tesla just to be part of it.”

Depending on the day, I’ve been both amazed and critical of Musk. When I walk into a Tesla showroom, I can’t help but be impressed. I talk to friends with Teslas, and they are raving fans. I watch a YouTube review of the Model 3, and I can’t help but be impressed at the automotive innovations, the little things, that make this car great.

But What About the Negatives?

But then I’ll read an article in the WSJ. These articles are mostly negative. The basic theme of the financial coverage is this: Musk promises big but doesn’t deliver. When I was talking to Jim over lunch, he said, “I would never bet against the guy. Would you?”

Jim Grady, whom I admire as a real entrepreneur, greatly admires Elon Musk. Why?

I wanted to know what makes this Musk guy tick. I went home and bought the book Elon Musk: Tesla, Space X, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

What Makes Musk Special

  1. Intelligence clearly above average. Achieved an A grade in everything he pursued. If it wasn’t interesting, he didn’t care.
  2. Photographic memory. If he read it, he owned it.
  3. Incredible ability to focus without any distractions, even under immense pressure. In fact, the greater the pressure, the more he became focused and effective.
  4. Always reading and learning. He reads a mix of fiction and nonfiction. As a kid, when his local library in South Africa ran out of books for him to read, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Ideas on how to change the world came early in his life. In high school, Musk was captured by the potential of harnessing solar energy and colonizing other planets. These thoughts and early learning guided him for the rest of his life.
  5. Imagination and the ability to communicate. Musk shares ideas which will revolutionize society. He keeps people captivated and inspired. But then…
  6. Takes action. When he had an idea, he took action. If the idea had no clear next step, he would do something which might move him to the next step. For example, it was time to do something in space travel after PayPal, so he moved to LA from SF so he could be closer to the knowledge and industry centers of space and aviation. He then…
  7. Surrounds himself with the world’s top thinkers in an area so he can refine his ideas. He never had the breadth of experience necessary to build his next company. But he made sure he was surrounded by people who did. He would then explode their thinking, and together they would begin working on world-changing ideas.
  8. Deep desire for meaning. To do something lasting. Legacy thinker at a young age. He wants to do something that makes a difference. Big thinker, big difference.
  9. Money was a means and never an end. The money came easily and spent easily but always toward the achievement of big ideas. It was about the long-term vision of what he was creating. The result was always more important than the people. In spite of this, the people wanted to be a part of it because they knew it was a world-changing mission. They would endure the harshness and criticism. The mission was worth it.
  10. Believer in promotion. It is not enough to plan or do. The project or new company must gain press. People need to know.
  11. Big ego. He liked the idea of becoming Time’s Man of the Year.
  12. He is all in. Every dollar he has and every ounce of intellect and energy. All in. So many people in the book say, “I’ll never bet against him.”
  13. Musk demonstrated all these traits before he was 18.

Musk is pretty amazing. In fact, he is downright impressive. I am a fan of entrepreneurs. This guy sets the bar.

  • Entrepreneurs see it. They see the unseeable.
  • Entrepreneurs make it. They do whatever is necessary to make the vision real.
  • Entrepreneurs sell it. First to investors. Then to customers.

That’s Musk.

I need to get me one of those Teslas. As Jim said, “I want to be a part of it.”

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4 thoughts on “13 Reasons Elon Musk Is an Exceptional Entrepreneur

  1. It’s hard not to be impressed with Musk – especially as a Visionary who can take action on that vision.

    My issue with Musk in the post-PayPal world is that his businesses aren’t good businesses. He’s trying to achieve these “change the world” ideas, which is great, but at the same time via the vehicle of a publicly traded company. I think he (and many others) deep down do not see them as a long-term sustainable profitable business.

    That’s where I lose respect for him.

    He wants the benefits of a business (access to capital), but with the mission of a non-profit, or at the very least a privately held company.

    I don’t think I would ever “bet against” him – he’s going to achieve what he sets out to achieve. Which is all the more reason I think his fiduciary responsibility is in question because he knows exactly what he is doing. He can’t claim one day, “well we thought it would be a good return on investment, but we were wrong, we just couldn’t make it work.”

    • I hear you but I don’t think this is his thinking. In every business he was a part of, he had a drive for profitability. The SpaceX business seems to be profitable with a great backlog of orders. The Tesla business is also driving for profitability. The issue with this business is production. He really, really underestimated what it takes to mass produce. But he still is shooting for profitability. I don’t think he is simply milking the public markets. People believe in what he is doing. They are supporting him by buying the cars he produces and investing in the stock. I wouldn’t be against him but the odds look long on Tesla, but are they?