Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance (Part 2)

For Part 1, click here.

Pain, Suffering and Survival. Downey had heard about Elon Musk. Downey was thoroughly impressed by his headquarters and the SpaceX facility. Everyone seemed excited about their work. Elon had an idea to live by and dedicated himself fully to it. Musk was associated with Iron Man after helping Downey. A lot of people thought Musk was an eccentric man. Musk bought a new house. Elon took part in Hollywood night parties. He realised that he was having too much fun. Musk had a different side to him as well. There was an element of mystery to him. He became the darling of the media. Elon started getting worried about his businesses. Tesla was not doing well. The media found out about the money issues as well. People knew he was ousted as CEO too. People criticized for not staying grounded in reality. Justine suffered from depression in 2007 and their marriage was on the rocks. Justine was a published novelist. Both SpaceX and Tesla were sucking money without producing results. Musk sold his McLaren. Elon didn’t have much time for his family. Justine felt like a trophy wife. In Jun 2008, Musk filed for divorce. Justine kept a blog on her public life. Elon was known to be good at giving ultimatums. The couple decided to split their assets. According to Justine, Elon treated her like a business adversary during the marriage. Elon banned soft toys from his kids as he wanted them to have a hard childhood. Lee introduced Talulah Riley to Musk. She was a pretty waitress. She had a dazzling figure. Riley knew that Musk was a good guy and that he was attracted to her. Riley’s dad, however, thought that Musk was a playboy. Musk and Riley continued keeping in touch and Musk wanted to show her his rockets. Riley agreed to marry him at age 22. Riley has since found their relationship to be difficult. Elon needed money for his companies and was under severe stress and had difficulty paying his employees. Falcon 1 finally launched but it crashed after the first stage. Many employees were downcast. Elon encourage and motivated his workers. SpaceX was running out of cash for a fifth launch for Falcon1. 6 weeks later, Elon was ready for the next launch. This time the launch was perfect. It took 6 years for the project to be successful. Everyone burst into tears. It was one of Elon’s greatest days in his life. SpaceX started building Dragon capsules – which could take supplies up to space. Tesla used up too much funds and spent most of the deposits that customers gave them for their cars. There were many negative articles on SpaceX in the press. Elon thought that he only had enough money to save SpaceX or Tesla. It was 2009 and the financial situation was bad. Elon’s weight fluctuated crazily. Tesla desperately needed another round of funding. Elon was hoping to get the deal to send a capsule to ISS from NASA. Musk mustered all his money and gathered $20 million. Musk was a guy who took incredible risks. Some of the investment firms matched his investments one-for-one. SpaceX finally won a $1.6 billion contract with NASA. Elon had the ability to undergo tremendous stress. The harder things got, the better he was able to make decisions.

Liftoff. Falcon 9 was SpaceX’s workhorse. The rocket was powered by 9 engines. A rocket launch is a big achievement for mankind. Now, SpaceX sends rockets up about once a month. SpaceX is lot cheaper than its competitors like Boeing. It was a commercial launch market. It costs someone about $60 million per launch. Corporates now also send satellites up to space and might use SpaceX’s services. Satellites are becoming ever-present in space. Musk wanted to reduce the costs of sending things up to space. The rockets would also be re-usable and refillable. In 2008, SpaceX is now profitable and is worth around $12 billion. Musk is a very detailed guy. SpaceX’s aim is to advance technology and its rockets are more high-tech than other companies. The Russian technology is very old. Their machines are very old and risky. Musk is more of a general than a CEO. Their interview processes are very strict. Employees are made to write an essay on why they want to join SpaceX. Musk will also tend to meet the candidate individually. Musk was concerned about the candidate’s thought process. Many employees quit SpaceX because of the working hours. Not many were used to his direct working approach. Elon has a very clear vision. The office is quite impressive. There are also top secret zones in SpaceX’s office. Most of the rockets are designed and manufactured in-house. Depending on suppliers was seen as a weakness. Reinventing the wheel for Musk was worth it. They like to streamline the engineering process to cut costs. Standard materials were proven to be good enough for space travel. SpaceX pioneers work on complex hardware systems. A lot of processes are being automated. SpaceX is constantly looking for lighter materials and more efficient processes. Bezos also has a rocket company called Blue Origin and Musk and he are at loggerheads. Musk liked to quiz people so that he could learn about what they were doing. Musk had a fantastic memory as well. His timelines were ridiculous. Due to this, he often couldn’t get products out to the public on time. Musk was simply a very optimistic guy. Elon Musk admitted that his schedules were demanding because he didn’t understand what rocket making required. Elon often asks for very detailed proposals for projects. He has mastered the art of getting the most out of his employees. Elon is smart because he makes people take ownership of their own deadlines by saying things like ‘I need the impossible done by Friday at 2pm. Can you do it?’ Some employees work 16 hours days. The dragon capsule was conceptualized in 4 years. Musk wanted the bulk of the rocket’s computing systems to be $10,000 when the industry average was over $10million. Elon was very hands-on and understood everything. He was too smart and he can outmanoeuvre and outthink you. Elon would send emails criticizing staff for using acronyms. The emails would be stern. He would fire you and take your job and make sure it’s done. Elon often had squabbles with the FAA because their approval process was too slow. Bowersox felt neglected by Elon. Musk didn’t have respect for authority and would call intelligent people ‘idiots’. The way he treated people was a big issue. Shotwell focuses on the overall strategy of SpaceX and has done well. She was an engineer. She pursued a PhD in applied mathematics. She was excellent at negotiating deals and got deals which raked in money for SpaceX. Later, she was made COO of the company. One of SpaceX’s goals was to make flights as often as possible. No one could compete with their pricing. Joining SpaceX was the best way to get into space. She encouraged interns to be productive. Using the best materials and requiring high budgets results in a bloated commercial space industry. SpaceX had to face a lawsuit from ULA on competition issues. Even though Falcon 1 was successful, there were not many orders for it. SpaceX was the first private company to dock with the ISS in 2012. It received $440 million from NASA to keep developing Dragon. Elon later unveiled the DragonV2. It was a spacious capsule. It would be able to dock with the ISS and also return to Earth and not land in the ocean. Re-use was the way to go. Falcon Heavy would be the most powerful rocket built. Elon gets a tremendous amount out of others. Many SpaceX employees wonder when they will receive a big reward. Elon didn’t want the company to be listed yet before he created the Mars transport system.

Even if you’re someone who writes code for your job, you need to understand how mechanical things work. We were looking for people that had been building things since they were little. – Dolly Singh, on HR recruitment in SpaceX

Elon will pick the most aggressive time schedule imaginable assuming everything goes right, and then accelerate it by assuming that everyone can work harder. – Kevin Brogan, a SpaceX engineer

Everything he does is fast. Elon pees fast. It’s like a fire hose – three seconds and out. He’s authentically in a hurry. – Kevin Brogan

The individual doesn’t have to hold meetings, reach a consensus, or bring other people up to speed on a project. He just keeps working and working and working. – Ashlee Vance

The guiding principle at SpaceX was to embrace your work and get stuff done. People who await guidance or detailed instructions languish. The same goes for workers who crave feedback. And the absolute worst thing that someone can do is to inform Elon Musk that what he’s asking is impossible. – Ashlee Vance

There is a fundamental problem with regulators. If a regulator agrees to change a rule and something bad happens, they could easily lose their career. Whereas if they change a rule and something good happens, they don’t even get a reward. So, it’s very asymmetric. – Ashlee Vance

If you hate people and think human extinction is okay, then fuck it. Don’t go to space. If you think it is worth humans doing some risk management and finding a second place to go live, then you should be focused on this issue and willing to spend some money. – Shotwell

Public company stock, particularly if big step changes in technology are involved, go through extreme volatility, both for reasons of internal execution and for reasons that have nothing to do with anything except the economy. This causes people to be distracted by the manic-depressive nature of the stock instead of creating great products. – Elon Musk

The Revenge of the Electric Car. Car manufactures have always been looking for a car with more room etc. The Model S from Tesla was revolutionary. It was quiet and a luxury car. There was a touch screen for controls. It had a constant internet connection and one could access Google maps. You could activate the car by just sitting down. Recharging at Tesla stations was free of charge. Fuel consumption and energy wastage was at an all-time low. Tesla used a direct-sales model. The standard oil changes were not necessary because the car didn’t have an engine. There was a lot of technology being employed in the car. Some early adopters were willing to put down $100,000 on a car even before its launch. It was voted car of the year at Motor Trend. It was more efficient than a Toyota Prius. Musk built the automotive equivalent of the iPhone. There was a raise in car prices as the manufacturing costs turned out to be unexpectedly higher. However, there was a need for a product recall. This happened at least twice. In 2009, Musk was sued by Eberhard. However, they managed to settle out of court. Some people at the Valley thought that Musk was an abrasive blowhard. Electric cars could be fun to drive. There were arguments as to whether Musk was a founder of Tesla. However, there was no doubt that he played a large role in the success of Tesla. Elon hired Henrik Fisker to design the Model S. However, Elon was not happy with Fisker’s initial designs. Later, Fisker started his own car company and wanted to compete with Tesla. Elon sued Fisker but Fisker won the lawsuit. Tesla dismissed a hybrid model. Tesla had limited resources to design a car in-house. Elon’s team transformed a Mercedes CLS into an electric model. Franz von Holzhausen joined Tesla. He had a design career in the automotive industry and had some experience in that area. He worked on the Volkswagen’s Beetle. GM was too large and suffered from red-tape issues. He later left the company. Then, he worked on Mazda’s cars when Tesla said they wanted a chief designer. Tesla was almost bankrupt in 2008. However, he liked the work environment with fearless geeks. Holzhausen had to build his own office. He managed to design Model S in 3 months. He and Musk got quite close on a personal level. Almost everything would be touch-screen in nature. The body would be made out of aluminium as the car needed to be light to house the heavy battery. Elon wanted a 17 inch touch screen in the Tesla. Many of the engineers worked overnight on the project. Finally, in Mar 2009, SpaceX was unveiled to the public. Tesla was way ahead of GM and Nissan. In-house work required higher costs in general. O’Connell later worked in Tesla. The US was too reliant on oil. O’Connell had to find out what tax credits and rebates Tesla might be able to earn. Daimler bought a 10% stake in Tesla for $50 million. The Department of Energy also offered Tesla a $465 million loan. Tesla bought a huge plant that was abandoned by Toyota. In 2010, Tesla was listed as they wanted more funds. Back then, Tesla was still bleeding cash and had many sceptics. Even the people from Toyota were mightily impressed. The engineers knew they had to prepare well before any meeting or risk being fired. Musk had a design eye even though he was an engineer by training. Elon wanted falcon-wing doors. Elon always wanted a perfect car. He constantly pushes people to produce something spectacular. There were massive delays on promised delivery dates. Tesla started people who were sacked from GM and Toyota. Musk and Riley had divorced. He took a vacation to relax now. Tesla went into financial trouble and couldn’t meet increasing demand. Many people started shorting the stock. Tesla unveiled that it had started building charging stations. Some of the features that other luxury brands had were not present on Tesla. Some suppliers didn’t trust Tesla as well. Elon hired Blankenship to work at the service-centre operations. However, their relationship fell apart later on. Negative publicity was everywhere. Elon was in emergency mode and had everyone call customers and deliver the cars. Elon was too desperate and now wanted Google to acquire Tesla. Just before the deal was clinched, a miracle happened and the company sold a huge volume of cars. The talks with Google ended. Elon held a party and he was like a rock star. At the charging stations, you could get a robot to replace a battery for 90 seconds. However, one had to pay for this. The latest supercharged Tesla could go from 0 to 60 miles/hour in 3.2 seconds. Ford was suffering as it was carrying too much baggage and couldn’t change its systems overnight. Tesla was selling customers an image and not just a product. Many car dealers make profits from servicing cars. However, Tesla makes money from the initial sale and then some optional software services. Fisker Automative filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

At Tesla, there was no history, no baggage. There was just a vision of products that could change the world. Who wouldn’t want to be involved with that? – Franz von Holzhausen

I have been optimistic with respect to the timing on some of these things (Tesla Model S car lunch), but I didn’t over-promise on the outcome. I have done everything I said I was going to do. – Elon Musk

The mantra was that one great engineer will replace three medium ones. – Lloyd

The Unified Field Theory of Elon Musk. Everdream was a great technology founded by the Rive Brothers. Lyndon and Musk explored the Black Rock desert. Elon suggested Lyndon to look in the solar energy market. Elon designed and modified a car and drove it. It was the Burning Man event. During a solar energy conference, Lyndon found out that many people were waiting for the cost of panels to drop. People were reluctant to buy because they were expensive and future models were more efficient. SolarCity was founded in 2006. The plan was to buy solar panels and do everything in-house. They analysed whether a house was receiving enough sunlight to make installing a panel worthwhile. Customers could also lease the panels and pay a monthly rate. At the end of the lease, customers could also upgrade their panels. Elon owned at least a third of SolarCity. SolarCity was now the largest installer of solar panels in the country. Even Intel, Walgreen, Wal-mart would be their clients. In 2012, the company went public. The company is worth $7 billion in 2014. Many people pumped money into green energy but failed as they required government support. However, Elon has the two most successful clean tech companies in the US. SolarCity now sells energy storage systems. Buying solar panels was SolarCity’s great advantages. In 2014, it bought over a solar cell maker, Silevo, for $200 million. However, due to excessive demand, SolarCity is now planning to manufacture themselves. The goal would be to be one of the largest supplier of electricity in the US. SolarCity and Tesla complement one another. Even Tesla and SpaceX help one another. When Tesla’s shares rose, SolarCity tended to increase as well. In total, Musk employed 15,000 people at the end of 2014. Tesla plans to introduce Model X in 2015, an SUV. In future, Musk wants to create a submarine car. By 2017, Musk hopes to sell the Model 3 at around $35,000 and make electric cars mainstream. Elon has plans to build a Gigafactory, or the world’s largest lithium ion manufacturing facility. The plan is to increase range on a single charge to 500 miles. Elon wanted to be safe and to raise money just in case something happened. Elon considered building a space rollercoaster from building to building in SpaceX. It is expected that there will be a surge in demand for electric vehicles. Tesla and Solarcity also have a great first-mover advantage. The ultimate goal of Elon is to turn humans into an interplanetary species. There are plans to automate the rocket launch process. He hopes SpaceX can develop something by 2025 to take large groups of people to Mars. It has to be economical as well. Once you get there, it is not that hard to make a pressurized transparent greenhouse to live in. However, Elon does not have a plan on how to heat up Mars to make it warm. Elon wants to be the first man on Mars as well. Both SpaceX and Tesla has the brightest brains there. There is great value in what he is doing. In Aug 2013, Musk unveiled the hyperloop. The bullet trains nowadays aren’t as fast as planes and faster than cars. He wants the Hyperloop to travel faster than a plane at a cost of $6 to $10 billion dollars. After he unveiled it, he knew he wanted to build it. The US President loved it. The company has been formed. The mission takes precedence over your desires. Mart Beth Brown was an executive assistant who worked very hard for Musk for more than a decade. However, when she took a break, Musk found a way to replace her by getting Shotwell’s assistant to perform her work. There are those who criticized Musk for a lack of empathy. However, with family, Musk treats them a lot better. In 2014, Tesla went open-source with its patents. The idea was free for others to copy now. Elon has the ambition of someone like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Unlike Jobs, Musk does not treat every presentation or media moment as being precious. Musk has his critics as well. Smil feels that the US cannot compete with China and that Tesla is an overhyped toy for showoffs. He also concluded that the Hyperloop idea was mentioned before and was not new. Musk’s companies use vertical integration and control in-house components. Tony Fadell concluded that the smartphone represented the maturity of hardware and software. Many people in start-up admire Musk. Larry Page is one of Musk’s admirers. Elon has always tried to solve difficult problems. The power of human settlement on Mars is really competing. ‘Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.’ Larry and Elon would meet to discuss crazy ideas. Elon was the key guy you should look up to if you want to emulate.

Honestly, if I never go to space, that will be okay. The point is to maximize the probable life span of humanity. – Elon Musk

Elon’s worst trait by far, in my opinion, is a complete lack of loyalty or human connection. Many of us worked tirelessly for him for years and were tossed to the curb like a piece of litter without a second thought. – Unknown

What was clear is that people who worked for him were like ammunition: used for a specific purpose until exhausted and discarded. – Unknown

Elon came to the conclusion early in his career that life is short. If you really embrace this, it leaves you with the obvious conclusion that you should be working as hard as you can. – Straubel

My kids might have a little adversity at school, but these days schools are so protective. If you call someone a name, you get sent home. When I was going to school, if they punched you and there was no blood, it was like, “Whatever. Shake it off.” – Elon Musk

I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact. Ideally I’d like to go for a visit, come back for a while, and then go there when I’m like 70 or something and then just stay there. If things turn out well, that would be the case. If my wife and I have a bunch of kids, she would probably stay with them on Earth. – Elon Musk



One thought on “Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance (Part 1) | Book & Quote Monster

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