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Elon Musk and innovation

The Spanish writer León Daudi once said that "only those who, when the time comes, know how to be awake are capable of making their dreams come true." And that really is one of the characteristics of history's great innovators: they are able to remain alert and recognise the right moment to launch the development of their disruptive ideas. This has been the case with great innovators like Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs and the one that many consider to be his successor, Elon Musk.

It is probably true that outside the U.S. A. this name does not yet mean very much. But at 44 years old, Musk has already passed some great milestones: Named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007 by Inc Magazine, and included in the list of the 75 most influential people in the 21st century drawn up by Esquire, Musk is currently one of the 35 richest men in America (his fortune is estimated to be more than thirteen billion dollars). To his credit, he is also the creator of companies such as PayPal and Tesla Motors. But we are talking about someone about whom Larry Page, one of the founders of Google, said the following:

"Elon Musk has a privileged mind. He will change the future of humankind. I would donate my entire fortune to him."

So who is Elon Musk?

 

The world of Elon Musk

Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in the early 1970s. He was an unusual child who used to lock himself in his own world and let his imagination run wild. He was a voracious reader of superhero comics and got his first computer at the age of ten, a Commodore VIC-20, with the idea of learning how to programme all by himself. Just two years later he had already sold his first video game ("Blastar," space-themed) for 500 dollars.

When he was a teenager he had to emigrate to Canada after his parents divorces and there he saw an excellent opportunity to reach one of his goals: To live in the U.S. A. After studying at a number of universities, Musk managed to achieve his first goal when he was twenty-four years old: To found his own company, Zip2 (focussed on managing the development of, hosting and maintaining websites for mass media companies), together with his brother and a friend.

Four years later, Musk sold Zip2 for 300 million dollars to Compaq Computer, only to found a new company, X.com, which two years later would become the successful PayPal. When he later sold this multinational e-commerce company to eBay it earned the young immigrant entrepreneur more than 1,500 million dollars. This injection of cash gave Musk the opportunity he needed to focus on developing innovations in his three favourite areas: the Internet, space and renewable energies.

 

Musk's great innovations

After selling PayPal, Musk focussed on investing in large technological projects, and this is how his three most important projects were born: SpaceX, Tesla Motors and SolarCity.

 

SpaceX

In 2002 Elon Musk made one of his dreams come true: To own his own aerospace company. This is how SpaceX was born. His objectives included launching private flights into space and designing re-usable aircraft.

Thanks to Musk's tenacity, both have already become a reality. In 2012, the Dragon capsule made the first private spaceflight on a mission to transport materials to the ISS (International Space Station). The Dragon completed the job smoothly, and successfully returned to Earth. SpaceX has also developed two state-of-the-art rockets, the Falcon 1 and the Falcon 9, which were the first two re-usable space launch systems in history, a global milestone in the race to conquer space.

 

Tesla Motors

Just one year after founding SpaceX, Musk decided to create Tesla Motors with two other partners with the aim of investing in sustainable mobility, both in the development of vehicles and in increasing social awareness about the importance of this. Tesla Motors currently designs and manufactures state-of-the-art electric cars, including the Tesla S and the Tesla X. His greatest achievements feature building the first electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster, which appeared in 2010.

And last year Tesla Energy, a subsidiary of Tesla Motors, introduced two energy storage systems called Powerpack and Powerwall. The first is a lithium-ion battery designed for companies and large premises like warehouses. The aim of the second is to supply energy to private homes. Both can store electricity that is generated from renewable energies.

 

SolarCity

In 2006, Elon Musk put himself in charge of SolarCity, another company created by him, and this time he specialised in photovoltaic solar energy. The company's activity consists mainly of designing, installing and maintaining systems that work with this type of renewable energy, increasingly required in the U.S. A.

Once again, the innovations created by Musk (including a novel management software which enables thousands of installations to be controlled efficiently) have made SolarCity a successful company, and it is now the main domestic solar energy installer in the country.

 

Other projects

In addition to his work as the head of these three ambitious projects, Musk continues to invest in other companies like Halcyon Molecular, specialising in biotechnology, and continues to work on making a number of his most ambitious dreams come true. One is an innovative transport system called Hyperloop, which consists of capsules that travel levitating through tubes at very high speeds (according to Musk's calculations, they could travel 500 km in half an hour); another is the creation of the first human colony on Mars, equipped with an Internet connection. For this, he already has the approval of Google and all the technology of SpaceX. It may sound like science fiction but will we be able to live on the red planet in the near future? With Musk anything is possible.

 

The seven keys to his success

It is clear that this genius from South Africa has already earned a place of honour in the history of innovators. But what were the key factors that brought this about? It can be told in his own words:

  • Accept failure. "Failure is an option. If things never fail, you are not innovating enough."
  • Search for social impact. "The motivation for creating all my companies has always been to think about getting involved in something that I thought could have a significant impact on the world."
  • Have faith in open innovation. "Tesla will not initiate a series of patent lawsuits against anyone who is looking to employ the technology in good faith." This is what Musk said when he announced in 2014 that Tesla's patents were available to everyone, as long as the purpose of using them was to build a better future for humanity.
  • Energy. "I think people hold themselves back. It requires a lot of energy to innovate. Entrepreneurs wake up and think: Why should I not innovate?
  • Always listen. "Take careful note of negative feedback and ask for it, especially from your friends."
  • Have faith in the impossible. "The first step is to establish that something is possible; it will then probably happen."
  • Be persistent. "Persistence is very important. Never give up."
  • Be meticulous. "You need to be extra meticulous and do everything as well as possible. Find out what is wrong and put it right."

To finish we will leave you with an interesting TED talk by this great innovator, whose ideas will be giving us so much to talk about in the coming decades:

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