Manila, Philippines

Good Read: Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla and the Quest for a Fantastic Future) by Ashlee Vance

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Two words: Vicious visionary.

I started hearing about him when SpaceX launched a reusable rocket, successfully sending it to outer space then back here on Earth, landing safely. At much lower costs. Beat that.

This guy’s cool, smart, and will not be bound by the impossible. But at the same time I wouldn’t want him for a boss because he’s an employee’s nightmare, unless of course building rockets and electric cars is your thing. But granted that those are indeed your thing, I still think it’s a rare gift for one to survive Musk’s demands, of pushing his employees and goals way beyond the limits. Keys to his success I guess. Slave driver is too polite of a word to describe him.

He’ll probably die a legend, as Musk reminds me of another legendary visionary, Steve Jobs. In fact, some people see him as a genetic love child of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in another life perhaps.

Good lessons for budding and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. Some notes for my memory’s sake:

Started out financially small, but always had grand visions. Not just for himself (which is common for us) but for humanity — to be interplanetary species, with Mars as target colony. Wow, my vision is to be financially free, me and my fellowmen, so I guess that’s not much of a grand vision after all.
Went to the brink of bankruptcy many times but did not give up, was able to tread the tight rope. Good thing he had friends who understood his idiosyncrasies and seeming craziness.
More than pushed himself and his teams to the limits, not just creating new stuff (reusable rockets at much lower costs, electric cars, online banking, solar energy etc) but dared to think differently, challenging conventions in the industries he entered (while his competitors initially laughed, and are now scrambling to catch up). Pushed down costs, forced the brightest engineers to create new cheap machines to rival expensive machines used right now.
Perfectionist. Always focused on his vision. Might have overpromised here and there, but he himself admitted that he’s a work in progress as a CEO.
Nothing personal against his employees, but can fire them on the spot. His road to success was never straight, never easy, and probably the reason why he’s among the select few.
While reading, I can’t help but expect that he’ll have marital problems (sorry) with the way he treats his work (or more of passion) vis-a-vis the limited time he spends with his wife and family (not to mention the stress). Can’t help but draw parallelisms with Steve Jobs (on his relationships plus the technological visionary gifts they both possessed).
Here are some quotable quotes from the book:

Inside of every Ford were dozens of computing systems made by different companies that all had to speak to each other and work as one. It was a mess of complexity that had evolved over time, and simplifying the situation would prove near impossible at this point, especially for a company like Ford, which needed to pump out hundreds of thousands of cars per year and could not afford to stop and reboot. Tesla, by contrast, got to start from scratch and make its own software the focus of the Model S.

The way Elon talks about this is that you always need to start with the first principles of a problem. What are the physics of it? How much time will it take? How much will it cost? How much cheaper can I make it? There’s this level of engineering and physics that you need to make judgments about what’s possible and interesting. Elon is unusual in that he knows that, and he also knows business and organization and leadership and governmental issues.

Musk speaks about the cars, solar panels, and batteries with such “passion that it’s easy to forget they are more or less sideline projects. He believes in the technologies to the extent that he thinks they’re the right things to pursue for the betterment of mankind. They’ve also brought him fame and fortune. Musk’s ultimate goal, though, remains turning humans into an interplanetary species. This may sound silly to some, but there can be no doubt that this is Musk’s raison d’être. Musk has decided that man’s survival depends on setting up another colony on another planet and that he should dedicate his life to making this happen.

Either you’re trying to make something spectacular with no compromises or you’re not. And if you’re not, Musk considers you a failure. This position can look unreasonable or foolish to outsiders, but the philosophy works for Musk and constantly pushes him and those around him to their limits.

Tesla would make up for its lack of R&D money by hiring smart people who could outwork and outthink the third parties relied on by the rest of the automakers. “The mantra was that one great engineer will replace three medium ones.

Happy reading!
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Oh, in case you’re looking for a Steve Jobs bio, you may find below book another good read. My rating for this Steve Jobs bio: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  ☆ ☆
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