Why Is Elon Musk Famous? Elon Musk has been making headlines throughout 2020. From his second appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience revealing his latest baby’s name (with girlfriend Grimes) as X Æ A-12 (later changed to A-Xii) to calling California’s government fascist before a historic joint private space shuttle launch from SpaceX and NASA, everything is coming up Musk these days. But why is Elon Musk famous in the first place?
He’s certainly no stranger to controversy. In the 2010s, Musk smoked weed on Joe Rogan’s podcast, called the hero diver who saved 12 children from a cave a pedophile, and attacked the media as much as President Trump. He’s also still beloved by many of those who recognize his name.
Plenty of CEOs make headlines, but that’s typically because their public relations or marketing team paid heavily for a carefully planned public placement.
Musk is recognized by YouGov as the third most popular (behind only Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) and sixth most famous public business figure in the U.S., trailing Gates, Donald Trump Jr., Mark Zuckerberg, Buffett, and Jeff Bezos. Let’s take a closer look at what ranks Musk among these titans of industry.
Musk Sold First Company in His 20s
Everyone seems like an overnight success, because all the years of hard work put in behind the scenes typically goes unseen. Nobody sees the 10,000 miles you walk on your journey to the top – they only see the spoils afterwards. For example, you hear the Musk name associated with so many things these days, but have you heard of Zip2?
This early Palo Alto success story was purchased by Compaq Computers in 1999 for an estimated $305 million to beef up its AltaVista subsidiary (trust us – these companies were a big deal at the time).
Elon and his brother Kimbal Musk co-founded the company with Greg Kouri and raised over $3 million in angel investment money before the sale.
Elon was named Chief Technology Officer and helped develop a media platform that forged partnerships with publishers like Hearst Corporation, Knight Ridder, and the New York Times to help the industry compete with online city guides.
Elon earned $22 million personally from the sale, and all of this occurred by the time he was 28 years old. By that age, most people are barely out of college and buried in debt while working toward the start of their careers. He could have retired right then and there, but Musk instead let this become his starting point toward something greater.
Musk Made $165M When eBay Bought PayPal
Musk’s next venture was X.com, which merged with Confinity (founded by Peter Thiel) to become PayPal. This company grew alongside eBay as a great third-party payment verification platform for peer-to-peer online purchases.
He was named CEO for a short time but was removed by the end of 2000 over disagreements with the platform’s development. He remained on the board of directors and was the largest shareholder with an 11.7% stake when eBay bought PayPal in October 2002.
The PayPal acquisition for $1.5 billion in stock netted Musk $165 million, and it made him some invaluable connections that would help him in later ventures.
Thiel became an investor in SpaceX through his Founder’s Fund, and Musk continued to funnel these funds into his other companies.
Tesla was founded from $20 million Musk borrowed from SpaceX, and as was its acquisition of SolarCity. He also made headlines in 2018 for using Thiel’s investment to fund a project for his Boring Company. It’s an unprecedented move that your average CEO wouldn’t have made with your average VC firm’s money.
So many of PayPal’s early team went on to do great things – founding YouTube, LinkedIn, Yelp, Palantir, Affirm, and more. Still, Musk is the most recognizable household name among the bunch. That’s because his journey to change the world was still getting started, and he was barely in his thirties. Musk’s vision involved more than money – he wanted to improve mankind as a species.
Musk Bet Everything On SpaceX.. And Won!
SpaceX is easily the most ambitious Musk project yet. This private space exploration company is in a league of its own, sending spacecraft into orbit, boarding the International Space Station, and launching the first private manned shuttle in the summer of 2020.
It all started with Musk’s concept of a Mars Oasis greenhouse project and the hope of reducing the cost of space travel through competition. By vertically integrating and bringing 85% of the development in-house, the company was able to generate interest from VCs and snag some very lucrative contracts.
The Elon Musk Trust owns a 54% equity stake and 78% voting control over SpaceX, and it consistently makes headlines for advancing space travel.
Its working deals includes demonstration and supply contracts from NASA’s International Space Station (ISS), the U.S. military, and SpacePort America, who also awarded a contract to competing Virgin Galactic.
It also fulfilled a variety of commercial crew contracts for NASA while helping the U.S. Department of Defense bulk up its space technology and won a contract to launch satellites for Kazakhstan.
This private company has an estimated market value of around $36 billion as of late May 2020, when it started raising $250 million for operational costs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdowns. We’re only getting warmed up.
Musk Is the Founder of Tesla
Soon after SpaceX, Musk retroactively joined Tesla Motors as a co-founder and chairman. He since took over as CEO and created a new lane in the automotive industry.
Electric vehicle hybrids were slow to move past the concept stage for most car brands, and Tesla pushed for all-electric cars charging on a grid of EV charging stations. Vehicle sales surged, and the company became a legitimate American car manufacturer.
As of February 2020, Tesla reached a market value of $166 billion, easily placing it among GM, Ford, and others.
Having proved the concept, Tesla continues releasing new models, including 2019’s media darling Cybertruck, which looks like a throwback to the polygonal graphics of 20th century video game consoles.
It’s at this point that Musk starts to become a celebrity whose every move is being watched by both media and consumers alike, and that’s when he starts raining down innovations.
Hyperloop, OpenAI & Neuralink Are His Creations
Musk is heavily focused on innovation on all ends, and that led to several important inventions. The Hyperloop is reinventing transportation and breaking speed records to enable a more connected society. Hyperloops are currently being built around the world.
OpenAI is an artificial intelligence laboratory and competitor to Google’s DeepMind. Its goal is to perpetuate the evolution of AI technology to unlock the next level of automation.
Neuralink is focused on studying the fusion of technology and human physiology. The goal is to develop a neural chip implant that can be used to treat brain injury and trauma.
Each of these companies was created by Elon Musk to support his goal of making the world a better place, and he’s not often credited with his involvement because he’s busy with something boring.
The Boring Company Reinvents Commuting
The Boring Company launched in 2016 and made waves with its flamethrower in 2018. Of course, that’s not the company’s true mission, which it found hard to decide for itself as it tested a variety of random projects at Musk’s whim. Initially launched as a subsidiary to SpaceX, the Boring Company is responsible for building the tunnels to be used for hyperloops and other transportation methods.
With the Boring Company, Musk is building both the roads and the cars on them, as Jay Leno showed by driving a Tesla Cybertruck through a Boring Company tunnel underneath Los Angeles. Making things even more amazing, Musk still has plenty of time to continue innovating.
Musk Did All This Before Age 50
As 2020 rolls around, Musk is turning 49, and he’s clearly aiming to make this next decade just as memorable as the previous ones. The average person retires between 62 and 67 years old. While Musk is unlikely to stop anytime soon, his legacy has long been cemented.
The author has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Financhill has a disclosure policy. This post may contain affiliate links or links from our sponsors.