Making mars possible. Learnings from Elon Musk.

 

“A window shows red land from the plane, eyes twinkle as those 4 passengers see that magnificent view getting up to their eyes. A ship gently lands on the surface with a minor bump on the landing gear. After few beeps, message flashes, ‘All systems normal.’ A door of the ship opens slowly giving those passengers a wide view of what it would look like- the land of mars.”

Elon Musk saw this dream in his school days.  Each one of us wanted to make rocket a reality. But this child prodigy from south Africa made it happen.

In his school days, he used to be afraid of darkness and then he applied his geeky science saying it’s merely an absence of protons and it didn’t scare him thereafter. Musk was born in south Africa and then ran to Canada to avoid joining mandatory training of army and to learn further after his college days. He stayed at Queen’s for two years and then quickly transferred to the university of Pennsylvania. He always thought that Silicon Valley was where the next big thing was found. There he started thinking deeply about what he would do after his college, though he loved playing video games and actually considered doing something in that space but he thought how much effect would that have on the world and dropped that idea as a career option.(1)

In silicon valley, he and his brother Kimble started a local listing website to get rid of yellow pages. They called it zip2. The world had just started to open up to the internet and people were lot skeptical about how this is gonna work. Someone threw a book of yellow pages at them and shouted how they will replace this. After continued crazy attempts, zip2 managed to get funds, hire engineers and make the portal value driven for their customers. In surprise (and stupid ) move, Compaq bought zip2 for $307 million in cash and Elon Musk took all exit(2) for making $22 million in cash. With that crazy cash, he first bought the fastest car of Maclaren. Only single digit owners of that car existed at that date.

Right after that, he made his entry into finance tech startup(3). He called it X.com which sounded like a porn website. 😀 X.com was about reducing the time people spent on banking transactions. They wanted to flush out all the time getting wasted on banking and payments. But fortunately or unfortunately they already had a competitor in the market who was doing the exact same and had a less spooky name, Paypal. Elon soon realized there’s no way to be successful by burning cash in the competition so they joined hands and started to work along(4). After successful survival from the dot-com bubble of 2000 PayPal got acquired by Ebay for $1.5 billion and Elon netted $250 million in that deal and made $180 million after taxes. (yes, taxes suck because I don’t know how much of that is actually used for development).

Paypal wanted to change the way people transact online with money but soon after getting acquired that fade off and that still has left undone is what Elon says. (* Paypal is today a major arm in payments online and is valued at more than $40 billion). Right after this he met few of his cousins who were thinking of using solar to light up homes and Elon was quite passionate about the whole green energy concept, so he helped them start. He put in $20 million in the solar city and got majority stake there. (*Today that stake is worth more than $2.5 billion as solar city is killing it out there)

He met a bunch of passionate kids who had made a lithium-ion battery pack which can help charge fast and with more battery packs store more energy. They were hustling around the California streets for funds to make electric cars with this technology at the core. Elon loved the idea and pumped in money for the venture by holding the largest equity share. This is how tesla was born. Along with all this, his actual dream to colonize mars was still unachieved. He met few people from aerospace industry to put this idea in reality. Elon pumped in $100 million in this idea and that’s how SpaceX was born.(5) The model of SpaceX was to do successful flights to earth’s orbit where all these bunch of satellites are revolving. Then take contracts to put these satellites up in the space and pump that money to fund mars mission. Till that date, Chinese and Russians had dominated the market with satellite launch mission. One satellite mission from Russians was costing around $26 million but SpaceX made It happen in just $7 million giving Russian a run for their money. After 3 unsuccessful missions and cash left only for the fourth and last mission, spaceX had their ass on the line. The fourth mission was successful and SpaceX got saved from dying. Parallel to this SpaceX was working on their next flight of ‘Dragon’ which would supply essentials to the international space center. Because of successful flight to earth’s orbit, they got projects to supply essentials to the international space station with $1 billion worth from NASA. SpaceX now had a very strong backing after going through the nightmares of going out of business.

Recently Elon musk presented the plan to colonize mars with early experiments starting from 2024.According to his calculations, each flight would be as cheap as $2,00,000. (Recommending all the readers to save up to make mars flight happen :D)

With this, I have realized no matter how difficult your dreams are if you work relentlessly you can make it happen. The desire to go for it is something indispensable.

 

Learnings (Marked by the underlines in the article)

  • Think of the bigger impact on the world.
  • all exit strategy helped him detach completely with the venture and so can think about future with 100% focus.
  • Didn’t go to the island to chill for few years, immediately started with a new idea as he believes life is short.
  • Money blood bath in startup ecosystem is something can be avoided and sometimes taking hard decisions make a lot of sense.
  • Elon put the maximum money into something seemed a lot more impossible than other two ideas. The more difficult it seems the more efforts should be put in to make it happen.