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Here’s what Elon Musk’s 'report card' looks like as he turns 45

Harshith Mallya
28th Jun 2016
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Elon Reeve Musk born on June 28, 1971, celebrates his 45th birthday on Tuesday. As the Founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX; CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors; Co-founder and Chairman of SolarCity; and Co-chairman of OpenAI, his amazing accomplishments have earned him adulation and respect the world over.

elonmusk
Image credit- Gokul K

But as Elon has raised the bar for the world (and himself) so high, there are certain occasions when he and his companies fall short on expected targets. Early on in his career there was a time when all his companies were floundering and experts and media professionals had almost written him off as a dreamer who couldn’t achieve any of his goals. But Elon persevered and within a few years, pulled off some amazing accomplishments with each of his ventures.

A recent Buzzfeed article on the backdrop of Recode’s CodeCon 2016, notes that much like Steve Jobs, Elon has the ability to create a ‘reality distortion’ field around him. The author noted,

He has successfully risen up from the ranks of piddling software slingers to become a metal-bending, gravity-defying demigod. His crazy ideas about electric vehicles and rockets have proven wildly influential. So if he says he’ll reach escape velocity to Mars before this ruined planet of ours implodes, you listen.

With a proven track record of accomplishments, Elon has gained the respect of the masses worldwide but many analysts and experts believe that his current plans and ambitions are way off target and almost impossible to achieve.

So on Elon’s 45th birthday, we try to play the devil’s advocate and estimate what Elon's ‘report card’ would look like based on publicly available data and reports.

ElonMusk2-02
Image credit- Rohit Mondal

Tesla Motors

After catering to the premium electric vehicle owner segment with the Tesla Roadster, Model S and Model X, and tasting success, Tesla recently opened pre-orders for its first mass market car -- Model 3 priced at $35,000 dollars. The Tesla team noted,

We’ve now received more than 325,000 reservations, which corresponds to about $14 billion in implied future sales, making this the single biggest one-week launch of any product ever.

But, delivering on these promised pre-orders looks like a challenging task now. Analysts estimated that Tesla’s global revenue will touch $8.5 billion in 2016, with a slower growth rate of 58.6 percent. And the number will be $11 billion in 2017, representing a slower year-on-year revenue growth rate of 29.5 percent.

Tesla had announced the selling of a total of $2 billion in stock to back its expansion plans around the upcoming Model 3 electric car. Elon also recently said that Tesla would drop suppliers, who could not meet deadlines, and would bring more production of parts in-house than traditional automakers to meet its targets. It will be interesting to see if Elon and Co are actually able to pull this off.

SpaceX

Elon founded SpaceX in 2002 as a means to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonisation of Mars. After three consecutive failures, SpaceX wasn't looking too good, but Elon was able to turn it around.

Some of SpaceX achievements include

  • Falcon 1, the first privately-funded, liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit (2008).
  • Falcon 9, the first privately-funded company to successfully launch orbit and recover a spacecraft (2010) and send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (2012).
  • The first private company to send a satellite into geosynchronous orbit with SES-8, (2013).
  • Falcon 9, the first landing of a first-stage orbital capable rocket (2015) and first water landing (April 2016).

Based on the early successes, SpaceX was able to raise $1 billion in funding from Google Ventures and Fidelity and counts NASA as one of its main collaborators and clients.

SolarCity

While SolarCity was founded in 2006 by brothers Peter and Lyndon Rive, it was based on a suggestion by their cousin Elon Musk, who helped them start the company and is currently the largest shareholder and Chairman.

SolarCity is estimated to be USA's leading solar energy systems provider that delivers reliable clean energy to homes and businesses. The company has so far raised an estimated $1.5 billion and it went public on the NASDAQ in 2012 with a market cap of around $600 million.

Most recently in June, Tesla Motors announced its interest to acquire SolarCity because of the possible synergies.


Related read: Tesla Motors makes offer to acquire SolarCity, Board of Directors write ‘open letter’


OpenAI

Founded in December 2015, OpenAI is a non-profit artificial intelligence (AI) research initiative. The organisation's goal is to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.

In April 2016, the non-profit company released the public beta of 'OpenAI Gym’, a toolkit for developing and comparing reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms. It consists of a growing suite of environments (from simulated robots to Atari games), and a site for comparing and reproducing results. As OpenAI's Co-chair Elon's goal is to 'set AI free' for the benefit of the world. With an accomplished team, the company is making rapid strides to open source their research for everyone's benefit.

Related read: Why Infosys is joining Elon Musk, Y Combinator and others in pledging $1 billion for OpenAI

On a personal note....

ElonMusk2-01

Elon Musk has a larger than life personality. Because of his ambition to make Mars habitable by dropping thermonuclear weapons over the poles, popular talk show host, Stephen Colbert joked,

You're a supervillain. That's what a supervillain does....That's Lex Luthor, man.

Another rumour that became popular on reddit was how Elon was in fact an alien trying to go back to his home planet. Elon though has taken things in stride and often spoken seriously about the possibility of alien life existing.


Related read: Elon Musk’s ‘mind bending thoughts’ on Hyperloop, Mars mission and scepticism of AI


Elon is probably the most ambitious tech entrepreneur on the planet with a complimentary set of technical chops to back them. He has the ability to execute on his plans and think from first principles. He also believes in feedback loops,

I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.

One area where Elon seems to lack is his ability to set realistic deadlines and stick to them. Bloomberg though recently noted that Elon may be doing this on purpose,

Elon Musk, is known for making the future come early. Yet somehow he's always running behind schedule. Some would call this a failure of management, but it might just be a business strategy. Call it the Musk Doctrine.

According to Bloomberg's analysis of Elon, people generally do paradigm-shifting work only when they’re under tremendous pressure, so the key is to ensure deadlines are always impossible. Bloomberg mentioned, "This could help explain why Elon has never launched a product on time, yet no one seems able to keep up with him. It drives Wall Street nuts."

In conclusion..

Apple's famous 'Think different' advertising campaign ends on the note:

...Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Elon Musk often faces criticism for his undue optimism, crazy deadlines and sky-high expectations of his employees and others. But whether he accomplishes everything he sets out to or not, he is still pushing the human race forward making us believe it is possible to aim for the stars(Mars). So whether you like him or despise him, you can't ignore the impact he is making.



Video credits

Video editor: Anand


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