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Elon Musk Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future / : Tesla, SpaceX (by Ashlee Vance, 2015) -

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Elon Musk Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future /  : Tesla, SpaceX     (by Ashlee Vance, 2015) -

Elon Musk Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future / : Tesla, SpaceX (by Ashlee Vance, 2015) -

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Elon Musk Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future / : Tesla, SpaceX (by Ashlee Vance, 2015) -
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2015
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Ashlee Vance
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Fred Sanders
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upper-intermediate
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13:14:00
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Elon Musk Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future / : Tesla, SpaceX :

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: Elon Musk Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

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ELON_S WORLD DO YOU THINK I_M INSANE?_ This question came from Elon Musk near the very end of a long dinner we shared at a high-end seafood restaurant in Silicon Valley. I_d gotten to the restaurant first and settled down with a gin and tonic, knowing Musk would_as ever_be late. After about fifteen minutes, Musk showed up wearing leather shoes, designer jeans, and a plaid dress shirt. Musk stands six foot one but ask anyone who knows him and they_ll confirm that he seems much bigger than that. He_s absurdly broad-shouldered, sturdy, and thick. You_d figure he would use this frame to his advantage and perform an alpha-male strut when entering a room. Instead, he tends to be almost sheepish. It_s head tilted slightly down while walking, a quick handshake hello after reaching the table, and then butt in seat. From there, Musk needs a few minutes before he warms up and looks at ease. Musk asked me to dinner for a negotiation of sorts. Eighteen months earlier, I_d informed him of my plans to write a book about him, and he_d informed me of his plans not to cooperate. His rejection stung but thrust me into dogged reporter mode. If I had to do this book without him, so be it. Plenty of people had left Musk_s companies, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and would talk, and I already knew a lot of his friends. The interviews followed one after another, month after month, and two hundred or so people into the process, I heard from Musk once again. He called me at home and declared that things could go one of two ways: he could make my life very difficult or he could help with the project after all. He_d be willing to cooperate if he could read the book before it went to publication, and could add footnotes throughout it. He would not meddle with my text, but he wanted the chance to set the record straight in spots that he deemed factually inaccurate. I understood where this was coming from. Musk wanted a measure of control over his life_s story. He_s also wired like a scientist and suffers mental anguish at the sight of a factual error. A mistake on a printed page would gnaw at his soul_forever. While I could understand his perspective, I could not let him read the book, for professional, personal, and practical reasons. Musk has his version of the truth, and it_s not always the version of the truth that the rest of the world shares. He_s prone to verbose answers to even the simplest of questions as well, and the thought of thirty-page footnotes seemed all too real. Still, we agreed to have dinner, chat all this out, and see where it left us. Our conversation began with a discussion of public-relations people. Musk burns through PR staffers notoriously fast, and Tesla was in the process of hunting for a new communications chief. _Who is the best PR person in the world?_ he asked in a very Muskian fashion. Then we talked about mutual acquaintances, Howard Hughes, and the Tesla factory. When the waiter stopped by to take our order, Musk asked for suggestions that would work with his low-carb diet. He settled on chunks of fried lobster soaked in black squid ink. The negotiation hadn_t begun, and Musk was already dishing. He opened up about the major fear keeping him up at night: namely that Google_s cofounder and CEO Larry Page might well have been building a fleet of artificial-intelligence-enhanced robots capable of destroying mankind. _I_m really worried about this,_ Musk said. It didn_t make Musk feel any better that he and Page were very close friends and that he felt Page was fundamentally a well-intentioned person and not Dr. Evil. In fact, that was sort of the problem. Page_s nice-guy nature left him assuming that the machines would forever do our bidding. _I_m not as optimistic,_ Musk said. _He could produce something evil by accident._ As the food arrived, Musk consumed it. That is, he didn_t eat it as much as he made it disappear rapidly with a few gargantuan bites. Desperate to keep Musk happy and chatting, I handed him a big chunk of steak from my plate. The plan worked . . . for all of ninety seconds. Meat. Hunk. Gone. It took awhile to get Musk off the artificial intelligence doom-and-gloom talk and to the subject at hand. Then, as we drifted toward the book, Musk started to feel me out, probing exactly why it was that I wanted to write about him and calculating my intentions. When the moment presented itself, I moved in and seized the conversation. Some adrenaline released and mixed with the gin, and I launched into what was meant to be a forty-five-minute sermon about all the reasons Musk should let me burrow deep into his life and do so while getting exactly none of the controls he wanted in return. The speech revolved around the inherent limitations of footnotes, Musk coming off like a control freak and my journalistic integrity being compromised. To my great surprise, Musk cut me off after a couple of minutes and simply said, _Okay._ One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no. Dozens of other journalists had asked him to help with a book before, but I_d been the only annoying asshole who continued on after Musk_s initial rejection, and he seemed to like that. The dinner wound down with pleasant conversation and Musk laying waste to the low-carb diet. A waiter showed up with a giant yellow cotton candy desert sculpture, and Musk dug into it, ripping off handfuls of the sugary fluff. It was settled. Musk granted me access to the executives at his companies, his friends, and his family. He would meet me for dinner once a month for as long as it took. For the first time, Musk would let a reporter see the inner workings of his world. Two and a half hours after we started, Musk put his hands on the table, made a move to get up, and then paused, locked eyes with me, and busted out that incredible question: _Do you think I_m insane?_ The oddity of the moment left me speechless for a beat, while my every synapse fired trying to figure out if this was some sort of riddle, and, if so, how it should be answered artfully. It was only after I_d spent lots of time with Musk that I realized the question was more for him than me. Nothing I said would have mattered. Musk was stopping one last time and wondering aloud if I could be trusted and then looking into my eyes to make his judgment. A split second later, we shook hands and Musk drove off in a red Tesla Model S sedan. ANY STUDY OF ELON MUSK must begin at the headquarters of SpaceX, in Hawthorne, California_a suburb of Los Angeles located a few miles from Los Angeles International Airport. It_s there that visitors will find two giant posters of Mars hanging side by side on the wall leading up to Musk_s cubicle. The poster to the left depicts Mars as it is today_a cold, barren red orb. The poster on the right shows a Mars with a humongous green landmass surrounded by oceans. The planet has been heated up and transformed to suit humans. Musk fully intends to try and make this happen. Turning humans into space colonizers is his stated life_s purpose. _I would like to die thinking that humanity has a bright future,_ he said. _If we can solve sustainable energy and be well on our way to becoming a multiplanetary species with a self-sustaining civilization on another planet_to cope with a worst-case scenario happening and extinguishing human consciousness_then,_ and here he paused for a moment, _I think that would be really good._ If some of the things that Musk says and does sound absurd, that_s because on one level they very much are. On this occasion, for example, Musk_s assistant had just handed him some cookies-and-cream ice cream with sprinkles on top, and he then talked earnestly about saving humanity while a blotch of the dessert hung from his lower lip. Musk_s ready willingness to tackle impossible things has turned him into a deity in Silicon Valley, where fellow CEOs like Page speak of him in reverential awe, and budding entrepreneurs strive _to be like Elon_ just as they had been striving in years past to mimic Steve Jobs. Silicon Valley, though, operates within a warped version of reality, and outside the confines of its shared fantasy, Musk often comes off as a much more polarizing figure. He_s the guy with the electric cars, solar panels, and rockets peddling false hope. Forget Steve Jobs. Musk is a sci-fi version of P. T. Barnum who has gotten extraordinarily rich by preying on people_s fear and self-hatred. Buy a Tesla. Forget about the mess you_ve made of the planet for a while. I_d long been a subscriber to this latter camp. Musk had struck me as a well-intentioned dreamer_a card-carrying member of Silicon Valley_s techno-utopian club. This group tends to be a mix of Ayn Rand devotees and engineer absolutists who see their hyperlogical worldviews as the Answer for everyone. If we_d just get out of their way, they_d fix all our problems. One day, soon enough, we_ll be able to download our brains to a computer, relax, and let their algorithms take care of everything. Much of their ambition proves inspiring and their works helpful. But the techno-utopians do get tiresome with their platitudes and their ability to prattle on for hours without saying much of substance. More disconcerting is their underlying message that humans are flawed and our humanity is an annoying burden that needs to be dealt with in due course. When I_d caught Musk at Silicon Valley events, his highfalutin talk often sounded straight out of the techno-utopian playbook. And, most annoyingly, his world-saving companies didn_t even seem to be doing all that well. Yet, in the early part of 2012, the cynics like me had to take notice of what Musk was actually accomplishing. His once-beleaguered companies were succeeding at unprecedented things. SpaceX flew a supply capsule to the International Space Station and brought it safely back to Earth. Tesla Motors delivered the Model S, a beautiful, all-electric sedan that took the automotive industry_s breath away and slapped Detroit sober. These two feats elevated Musk to the rarest heights among business titans. Only Steve Jobs could claim similar achievements in two such different industries, sometimes putting out a new Apple product and a blockbuster Pixar movie in the same year. And yet, Musk was not done. He was also the chairman and largest shareholder of SolarCity, a booming solar energy company poised to file for an initial public offering. Musk had somehow delivered the biggest advances the space, automotive, and energy industries had seen in decades in what felt like one fell swoop. It was in 2012 that I decided to see what Musk was like firsthand and to write a cover story about him for Bloomberg Businessweek. At this point in Musk_s life, everything ran through his assistant/loyal appendage Mary Beth Brown. She invited me to visit what I_ve come to refer to as Musk Land. Anyone arriving at Musk Land for the first time will have the same head-scratching experience. You_re told to park at One Rocket Road in Hawthorne, where SpaceX has its HQ. It seems impossible that anything good could call Hawthorne home. It_s a bleak part of Los Angeles County in which groupings of rundown houses, run-down shops, and run-down eateries surround huge, industrial complexes that appear to have been built during some kind of architectural Boring Rectangle movement. Did Elon Musk really stick his company in the middle of this dreck? Then, okay, things start to make more sense when you see one 550,000-square-foot rectangle painted an ostentatious hue of _Unity of Body, Soul, and Mind_ white. This is the main SpaceX building. It was only after going through the front doors of SpaceX that the grandeur of what this man had done became apparent. Musk had built an honest-to-God rocket factory in the middle of Los Angeles. And this factory was not making one rocket at a time. No. It was making many rockets_from scratch. The factory was a giant, shared work area. Near the back were massive delivery bays that allowed for the arrival of hunks of metal, which were transported to two-story-high welding machines. Over to one side were technicians in white coats making motherboards, radios, and other electronics. Other people were in a special, airtight glass chamber, building the capsules that rockets would take to the Space Station. Tattooed men in bandanas were blasting Van Halen and threading wires around rocket engines. There were completed bodies of rockets lined up one after the other ready to be placed on trucks. Still more rockets, in another part of the building, awaited coats of white paint. It was difficult to take in the entire factory at once. There were hundreds of bodies in constant motion whirring around a variety of bizarre machines. This is just building number one of Musk Land. SpaceX had acquired several buildings that used to be part of a Boeing factory, which made the fuselages for 747s. One of these buildings has a curved roof and looks like an airplane hangar. It serves as the research, development, and design studio for Tesla. This is where the company came up with the look for the Model S sedan and its follow-on, the Model X SUV. In the parking lot outside the studio, Tesla has built one of its recharging stations where Los Angeles drivers can top up with electricity for free. The charging center is easy enough to spot because Musk has installed a white and red obelisk branded with the Tesla logo that sits in the middle of an infinity pool. It was in my first interview with Musk, which took place at the design studio, that I began to get a sense of how he talked and operated. He_s a confident guy, but does not always do a good job of displaying this. On initial encounter, Musk can come off as shy and borderline awkward. His South African accent remains present but fading, and the charm of it is not enough to offset the halting nature of Musk_s speech pattern. Like many an engineer or physicist, Musk will pause while fishing around for exact phrasing, and he_ll often go rumbling down an esoteric, scientific rabbit hole without providing any helping hands or simplified explanations along the way. Musk expects you to keep up. None of this is off-putting. Musk, in fact, will toss out plenty of jokes and can be downright charming. It_s just that there_s a sense of purpose and pressure hanging over any conversation with the man. Musk doesn_t really shoot the shit. (It would end up taking about thirty hours of interviews for Musk to really loosen up and let me into a different, deeper level of his psyche and personality.) Most high-profile CEOs have handlers all around them. Musk mostly moves about Musk Land on his own. This is not the guy who slinks into the restaurant. It_s the guy who owns the joint and strides about with authority. Musk and I talked, as he made his way around the design studio_s main floor, inspecting prototype parts and vehicles. At each station, employees rushed up to Musk and disgorged information. He listened intently, processed it, and nodded when satisfied. The people moved away and Musk moved to the next information dump. At one point, Tesla_s design chief, Franz von Holzhausen, wanted Musk_s take on some new tires and rims that had come in for the Model S and on the seating arrangements for the Model X. They spoke, and then they went into a back room where executives from a seller of high-end graphics software had prepared a presentation for Musk. They wanted to show off new 3-D rendering technology that would allow Tesla to tweak the finish of a virtual Model S and see in great detail how things like shadows and streetlights played off the car_s body. Tesla_s engineers really wanted the computing systems and needed Musk_s sign-off. The men did their best to sell Musk on the idea while the sound of drills and giant industrial fans drowned out their shtick. Musk, wearing leather shoes, designer jeans, and a black T-shirt, which is essentially his work uniform, had to don 3-D goggles for the demonstration and seemed unmoved. He told them he_d think about it and then walked toward the source of the loudest noise_a workshop deep in the design studio where Tesla engineers were building the scaffolding for the thirty-foot decorative towers that go outside the charging stations. _That thing looks like it could survive a Category Five hurricane,_ Musk said. _Let_s thin it up a bit._ Musk and I eventually hop into his car_a black Model S_and zip back to the main SpaceX building. _I think there are probably too many smart people pursuing Internet stuff, finance, and law,_ Musk said on the way. _That is part of the reason why we haven_t seen as much innovation._ MUSK LAND WAS A REVELATION. I_d come to Silicon Valley in 2000 and ended up living in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. It_s the one part of the city that locals will implore you to avoid. Without trying very hard, you can find someone pulling down his pants and pooping in between parked cars or encounter some deranged sort bashing his head into the side of a bus stop. At dive bars near the local strip clubs, transvestites hit on curious businessmen and drunks fall asleep on couches and soil themselves as part of their lazy Sunday ritual. It_s the gritty, knife-stabby part of San Francisco and turned out to be a great place to watch the dotcom dream die. San Francisco has an enduring history with greed. It became a city on the back of the gold rush, and not even a catastrophic earthquake could slow San Francisco_s economic lust for long. Don_t let the granola vibes fool you. Booms and busts are the rhythm of this place. And, in 2000, San Francisco had been overtaken by the boom of all booms and consumed by avarice. It was a wonderful time to be alive with just about the entire populace giving in to a fantasy_a get-rich-quick, Internet madness. The pulses of energy from this shared delusion were palpable, producing a constant buzz that vibrated across the city. And here I was in the center of the most depraved part of San Francisco, watching just how high and low people get when consumed by excess. Stories tracking the insanity of business in these times are well-known. You no longer had to make something that other people wanted to buy in order to start a booming company. You just had to have an idea for some sort of Internet thing and announce it to the world in order for eager investors to fund your thought experiment. The whole goal was to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time because everyone knew on at least a subconscious level that reality had to set in eventually. Valley denizens took very literally the clich? of working as hard as you play. People in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties were expected to pull all-nighters. Cubicles were turned into temporary homes, and personal hygiene was abandoned. Oddly enough, making Nothing appear to be Something took a lot of work. But when the time to decompress arrived, there were plenty of options for total debauchery. The hot companies and media powers of the time seemed locked in a struggle to outdo each other with ever-fancier parties. Old-line companies trying to look _with it_ would regularly buy space at a concert venue and then order up some dancers, acrobats, open bars, and the Barenaked Ladies. Young technologists would show up to pound their free Jack and Cokes and snort their cocaine in porta-potties. Greed and self-interest were the only things that made any sense back then. While the good times have been well chronicled, the subsequent bad times have been_unsurprisingly_ignored. It_s more fun to reminiscence on irrational exuberance than the mess that gets left behind. Let it be said for the record, then, that the implosion of the get-rich-quick Internet fantasy left San Francisco and Silicon Valley in a deep depression. The endless parties ended. The prostitutes no longer roamed the streets of the Tenderloin at 6 A.M. offering pre-commute love. (_Come on, honey. It_s better than coffee!_) Instead of the Barenaked Ladies, you got the occasional Neil Diamond tribute band at a trade show, some free T-shirts, and a lump of shame. The technology industry had no idea what to do with itself. The dumb venture capitalists who had been taken during the bubble didn_t want to look any dumber, so they stopped funding new ventures altogether. Entrepreneurs_ big ideas were replaced by the smallest of notions. It was as if Silicon Valley had entered rehab en masse. It sounds melodramatic, but it_s true. A populace of millions of clever people came to believe that they were inventing the future. Then . . . poof! Playing it safe suddenly became the fashionable thing to do. The evidence of this malaise is in the companies and ideas formed during this period. Google had appeared and really started to thrive around 2002, but it was an outlier. Between Google and Apple_s introduction of the iPhone in 2007, there_s a wasteland of ho-hum companies. And the hot new things that were just starting out_Facebook and Twitter_certainly did not look like their predecessors_Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Sun Microsystems_that made physical products and employed tens of thousands of people in the process. In the years that followed, the goal went from taking huge risks to create new industries and grand new ideas, to chasing easier money by entertaining consumers and pumping out simple apps and advertisements. _The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,_ Jeff Hammerbacher, an early Facebook engineer, told me. _That sucks._ Silicon Valley began to look an awful lot like Hollywood. Meanwhile, the consumers it served had turned inward, obsessed with their virtual lives. One of the first people to suggest that this lull in innovation could signal a much larger problem was Jonathan Huebner, a physicist who works at the Pentagon_s Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California. Huebner is the Leave It to Beaver version of a merchant of death. Middle-aged, thin, and balding, he likes to wear a dirt-inspired ensemble of khaki pants, a brown-striped shirt, and a canvas khaki jacket. He has designed weapons systems since 1985, gaining direct insight into the latest and greatest technology around materials, energy, and software. Following the dot-com bust, he became miffed at the ho-hum nature of the supposed innovations crossing his desk. In 2005, Huebner delivered a paper, _A Possible Declining Trend in Worldwide Innovation,_ which was either an indictment of Silicon Valley or at least an ominous warning. Huebner opted to use a tree metaphor to describe what he saw as the state of innovation. Man has already climbed past the trunk of the tree and gone out on its major limbs, mining most of the really big, game-changing ideas_the wheel, electricity, the airplane, the telephone, the transistor. Now we_re left dangling near the end of the branches at the top of the tree and mostly just refining past inventions. To back up his point in the paper, Huebner showed that the frequency of life-changing inventions had started to slow. He also used data to prove that the number of patents filed per person had declined over time. _I think the probability of us discovering another top-one-hundred-type invention gets smaller and smaller,_ Huebner told me in an interview. _Innovation is a finite resource._ Huebner predicted that it would take people about five years to catch on to his thinking, and this forecast proved almost exactly right. Around 2010, Peter Thiel, the PayPal cofounder and early Facebook investor, began promoting the idea that the technology industry had let people down. _We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters_ became the tagline of his venture capital firm Founders Fund. In an essay called _What Happened to the Future,_ Thiel and his cohorts described how Twitter, its 140-character messages, and similar inventions have let the public down. He argued that science fiction, which once celebrated the future, has turned dystopian because people no longer have an optimistic view of technology_s ability to change the world. I_d subscribed to a lot of this type of thinking until that first visit to Musk Land. While Musk had been anything but shy about what he was up to, few people outside of his companies got to see the factories, the RandD centers, the machine shops, and to witness the scope of what he was doing firsthand. Here was a guy who had taken much of the Silicon Valley ethic behind moving quickly and running organizations free of bureaucratic hierarchies and applied it to improving big, fantastic machines and chasing things that had the potential to be the real breakthroughs we_d been missing. By rights, Musk should have been part of the malaise. He jumped right into dot-com mania in 1995, when, fresh out of college, he founded a company called Zip2_a primitive Google Maps meets Yelp. That first venture ended up a big, quick hit. Compaq bought Zip2 in 1999 for $307 million. Musk made $22 million from the deal and poured almost all of it into his next venture, a start-up that would morph into PayPal. As the largest shareholder in PayPal, Musk became fantastically well-to-do when eBay acquired the company for $1.5 billion in 2002. Instead of hanging around Silicon Valley and falling into the same funk as his peers, however, Musk decamped to Los Angeles. The conventional wisdom of the time said to take a deep breath and wait for the next big thing to arrive in due course. Musk rejected that logic by throwing $100 million into SpaceX, $70 million into Tesla, and $10 million into SolarCity. Short of building an actual money-crushing machine, Musk could not have picked a faster way to destroy his fortune. He became a one-man, ultra-risk-taking venture capital shop and doubled down on making super-complex physical goods in two of the most expensive places in the world, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. Whenever possible, Musk_s companies would make things from scratch and try to rethink much that the aerospace, automotive, and solar industries had accepted as convention. With SpaceX, Musk is battling the giants of the U.S. military-industrial complex, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing. He_s also battling nations_most notably Russia and China. SpaceX has made a name for itself as the low-cost supplier in the industry. But that, in and of itself, is not really good enough to win. The space business requires dealing with a mess of politics, back-scratching, and protectionism that undermines the fundamentals of capitalism. Steve Jobs faced similar forces when he went up against the recording industry to bring the iPod and iTunes to market. The crotchety Luddites in the music industry were a pleasure to deal with compared to Musk_s foes who build weapons and countries for a living. SpaceX has been testing reusable rockets that can carry payloads to space and land back on Earth, on their launchpads, with precision. If the company can perfect this technology, it will deal a devastating blow to all of its competitors and almost assuredly push some mainstays of the rocket industry out of business while establishing the United States as the world leader for taking cargo and humans to space. It_s a threat that Musk figures has earned him plenty of fierce enemies. _The list of people that would not mind if I was gone is growing,_ Musk said. _My family fears that the Russians will assassinate me._ With Tesla Motors, Musk has tried to revamp the way cars are manufactured and sold, while building out a worldwide fuel distribution network at the same time. Instead of hybrids, which in Musk lingo are suboptimal compromises, Tesla strives to make all-electric cars that people lust after and that push the limits of technology. Tesla does not sell these cars through dealers; it sells them on the Web and in Apple-like galleries located in high-end shopping centers. Tesla also does not anticipate making lots of money from servicing its vehicles, since electric cars do not require the oil changes and other maintenance procedures of traditional cars. The direct sales model embraced by Tesla stands as a major affront to car dealers used to haggling with their customers and making their profits from exorbitant maintenance fees. Tesla_s recharging stations now run alongside many of the major highways in the United States, Europe, and Asia and can add hundreds of miles of oomph back to a car in about twenty minutes. These so-called supercharging stations are solar-powered, and Tesla owners pay nothing to refuel. While much of America_s infrastructure decays, Musk is building a futuristic end-to-end transportation system that would allow the United States to leapfrog the rest of the world. Musk_s vision, and, of late, execution seem to combine the best of Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. With SolarCity, Musk has funded the largest installer and financer of solar panels for consumers and businesses. Musk helped come up with the idea for SolarCity and serves as its chairman, while his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive run the company. SolarCity has managed to undercut dozens of utilities and become a large utility in its own right. During a time in which clean-tech businesses have gone bankrupt with alarming regularity, Musk has built two of the most successful clean-tech companies in the world. The Musk Co. empire of factories, tens of thousands of workers, and industrial might has incumbents on the run and has turned Musk into one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth around $10 billion. The visit to Musk Land started to make a few things clear about how Musk had pulled all this off. While the _putting man on Mars_ talk can strike some people as loopy, it gave Musk a unique rallying cry for his companies. It_s the sweeping goal that forms a unifying principle over everything he does. Employees at all three companies are well aware of this and well aware that they_re trying to achieve the impossible day in and day out. When Musk sets unrealistic goals, verbally abuses employees, and works them to the bone, it_s understood to be_on some level_part of the Mars agenda. Some employees love him for this. Others loathe him but remain oddly loyal out of respect for his drive and mission. What Musk has developed that so many of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley lack is a meaningful worldview. He_s the possessed genius on the grandest quest anyone has ever concocted. He_s less a CEO chasing riches than a general marshaling troops to secure victory. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to . . . well . . . save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation. The life that Musk has created to manage all of these endeavors is preposterous. A typical week starts at his mansion in Bel Air. On Monday, he works the entire day at SpaceX. On Tuesday, he begins at SpaceX, then hops onto his jet and flies to Silicon Valley. He spends a couple of days working at Tesla, which has its offices in Palo Alto and factory in Fremont. Musk does not own a home in Northern California and ends up staying at the luxe Rosewood hotel or at friends_ houses. To arrange the stays with friends, Musk_s assistant will send an e-mail asking, _Room for one?_ and if the friend says, _Yes,_ Musk turns up at the door late at night. Most often he stays in a guest room, but he_s also been known to crash on the couch after winding down with some video games. Then it_s back to Los Angeles and SpaceX on Thursday. He shares custody of his five young boys_twins and triplets_with his ex-wife, Justine, and has them four days a week. Each year, Musk tabulates the amount of flight time he endures per week to help him get a sense of just how out of hand things are getting. Asked how he survives this schedule, Musk said, _I had a tough childhood, so maybe that was helpful._ During one visit to Musk Land, he had to squeeze our interview in before heading off for a camping trip at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. It was almost 8 P.M. on a Friday, so Musk would soon be piling his boys and nannies into his private jet and then meeting drivers who would take him to his friends at the campsite; the friends would then help the Musk clan unpack and complete their pitch-black arrival. There would be a bit of hiking over the weekend. Then the relaxation would end. Musk would fly with the boys back to Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. Then, he would take off on his own that evening for New York. Sleep. Hit the morning talk shows on Monday. Meetings. E-mail. Sleep. Fly back to Los Angeles Tuesday morning. Work at SpaceX. Fly to San Jose Tuesday afternoon to visit the Tesla Motors factory. Fly to Washington, D.C., that night and see President Obama. Fly back to Los Angeles Wednesday night. Spend a couple of days working at SpaceX. Then go to a weekend conference held by Google_s chairman, Eric Schmidt, in Yellowstone. At this time, Musk had just split from his second wife, the actress Talulah Riley, and was trying to calculate if he could mix a personal life into all of this. _I think the time allocated to the businesses and the kids is going fine,_ Musk said. _I would like to allocate more time to dating, though. I need to find a girlfriend. That_s why I need to carve out just a little more time. I think maybe even another five to ten_how much time does a woman want a week? Maybe ten hours? That_s kind of the minimum? I don_t know._ Musk rarely finds time to decompress, but when he does, the festivities are just as dramatic as the rest of his life. On his thirtieth birthday, Musk rented out a castle in England for about twenty people. From 2 A.M. until 6 A.M., they played a variation of hide-and-seek called sardines in which one person runs off and hides and everyone else looks for him. Another party occurred in Paris. Musk, his brother, and cousins found themselves awake at midnight and decided to bicycle through the city until 6 A.M. They slept all day and then boarded the Orient Express in the evening. Once again, they stayed up all night. The Lucent Dossier Experience_an avant-garde group of performers_were on the luxurious train, performing palm readings and acrobatics. When the train arrived in Venice the next day, Musk_s family had dinner and then hung out on the patio of their hotel overlooking the Grand Canal until 9 A.M. Musk loves costume parties as well, and turned up at one dressed like a knight and using a parasol to duel a midget wearing a Darth Vader costume. For one of his most recent birthdays, Musk invited fifty people to a castle_or at least the United States_ best approximation of a castle_in Tarrytown, New York. This party had a Japanese steampunk theme, which is sort of like a sci-fi lover_s wet dream_a mix of corsets, leather, and machine worship. Musk dressed as a samurai. The festivities included a performance of The Mikado, a Victorian comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan set in Japan, at a small theater in the heart of town. _I am not sure the Americans got it,_ said Riley, whom Musk remarried after his ten-hour-a-week dating plan failed. The Americans and everyone else did enjoy what followed. Back at the castle, Musk donned a blindfold, got pushed up against a wall, and held balloons in each hand and another between his legs. The knife thrower then went to work. _I_d seen him before, but did worry that maybe he could have an off day,_ Musk said. _Still, I thought, he would maybe hit one gonad but not both._ The onlookers were stunned and frightened for Musk_s safety. _That was bizarre,_ said Bill Lee, a technology investor and one of Musk_s good friends. _But Elon believes in the science of things._ One of the world_s top sumo wrestlers showed up at the party along with some of his compatriots. A ring had been set up at the castle, and Musk faced off against the champion. _He was three hundred and fifty pounds, and they were not jiggly pounds,_ Musk said. _I went full adrenaline rush and managed to lift the guy off the ground. He let me win that first round and then beat me. I think my back is still screwed up._ Riley turned planning these types of parties for Musk into an art. She met Musk back in 2008, when his companies were collapsing. She watched him lose his entire fortune and get ridiculed by the press. She knows that the sting of these years remains and has combined with the other traumas in Musk_s life_the tragic loss of an infant son and a brutal upbringing in South Africa_to create a tortured soul. Riley has gone to great lengths to make sure Musk_s escapes from work and this past leave him feeling refreshed if not healed. _I try to think of fun things he has not done before where he can relax,_ Riley said. _We_re trying to make up for his miserable childhood now._ Genuine as Riley_s efforts might have been, they were not entirely effective. Not long after the Sumo party, I found Musk back at work at the Tesla headquarters in Palo Alto. It was a Saturday, and the parking lot was full of cars. Inside of the Tesla offices, hundreds of young men were at work_some of them designing car parts on computers and others conducting experiments with electronics equipment on their desks. Musk_s uproarious laugh would erupt every few minutes and carry through the entire floor. When Musk came into the meeting room where I_d been waiting, I noted how impressive it was for so many people to turn up on a Saturday. Musk saw the situation in a different light, complaining that fewer and fewer people had been working weekends of late. _We_ve grown fucking soft,_ Musk replied. _I was just going to send out an e-mail. We_re fucking soft._ (A word of warning: There_s going to be a lot of _fuck_ in this book. Musk adores the word, and so do most of the people in his inner circle.) This kind of declaration seems to fit with our impressions of other visionaries. It_s not hard to imagine Howard Hughes or Steve Jobs chastising their workforce in a similar way. Building things_especially big things_is a messy business. In the two decades Musk has spent creating companies, he_s left behind a trail of people who either adore or despise him. During the course of my reporting, these people lined up to give me their take on Musk and the gory details of how he and his businesses operate. My dinners with Musk and periodic trips to Musk Land revealed a different set of possible truths about the man. He_s set about building something that has the potential to be much grander than anything Hughes or Jobs produced. Musk has taken industries like aerospace and automotive that America seemed to have given up on and recast them as something new and fantastic. At the heart of this transformation are Musk_s skills as a software maker and his ability to apply them to machines. He_s merged atoms and bits in ways that few people thought possible, and the results have been spectacular. It_s true enough that Musk has yet to have a consumer hit on the order of the iPhone or to touch more than one billion people like Facebook. For the moment, he_s still making rich people_s toys, and his budding empire could be an exploded rocket or massive Tesla recall away from collapse. On the other hand, Musk_s companies have already accomplished far more than his loudest detractors thought possible, and the promise of what_s to come has to leave hardened types feeling optimistic during their weaker moments. _To me, Elon is the shining example of how Silicon Valley might be able to reinvent itself and be more relevant than chasing these quick IPOs and focusing on getting incremental products out,_ said Edward Jung, a famed software engineer and inventor. _Those things are important, but they are not enough. We need to look at different models of how to do things that are longer term in nature and where the technology is more integrated._ The integration mentioned by Jung_the harmonious melding of software, electronics, advanced materials, and computing horsepower_appears to be Musk_s gift. Squint ever so slightly, and it looks like Musk could be using his skills to pave the way toward an age of astonishing machines and science fiction dreams made manifest. In that sense, Musk comes off much more like Thomas Edison than Howard Hughes. He_s an inventor, celebrity businessman, and industrialist able to take big ideas and turn them into big products. He_s employing thousands of people to forge metal in American factories at a time when this was thought to be impossible. Born in South Africa, Musk now looks like America_s most innovative industrialist and outlandish thinker and the person most likely to set Silicon Valley on a more ambitious course. Because of Musk, Americans could wake up in ten years with the most modern highway in the world: a transit system run by thousands of solar-powered charging stations and traversed by electric cars. By that time, SpaceX may well be sending up rockets every day, taking people and things to dozens of habitats and making preparations for longer treks to Mars. These advances are simultaneously difficult to fathom and seemingly inevitable if Musk can simply buy enough time to make them work. As his ex-wife, Justine, put it, _He does what he wants, and he is relentless about it. It_s Elon_s world, and the rest of us live in it._ 2 AFRICA THE PUBLIC FIRST MET ELON REEVE MUSK IN 1984. The South African trade publication PC and Office Technology published the source code to a video game Musk had designed. Called Blastar, the science-fiction-inspired space game required 167 lines of instructions to run. This was back in the day when early computer users were required to type out commands to make their machines do much of anything. In that context, Musk_s game did not shine as a marvel of computer science but it certainly surpassed what most twelve-year-olds were kicking out at the time. Its coverage in the magazine netted Musk five hundred dollars and provided some early hints about his character. The Blastar spread on page 69 of the magazine shows that the young man wanted to go by the sci-fi-author-sounding name E. R. Musk and that he already had visions of grand conquests dancing in his head. The brief explainer states, _In this game you have to destroy an alien space freighter, which is carrying deadly Hydrogen Bombs and Status Beam Machines. This game makes good use of sprites and animation, and in this sense makes the listing worth reading._ (As of this writing, not even the Internet knows what _status beam machines_ are.) A boy fantasizing about space and battles between good and evil is anything but amazing. A boy who takes these fantasies seriously is more remarkable. Such was the case with the young Elon Musk. By the middle of his teenage years, Musk had blended fantasy and reality to the point that they were hard to separate in his mind. Musk came to see man_s fate in the universe as a personal obligation. If that meant pursuing cleaner energy technology or building spaceships to extend the human species_s reach, then so be it. Musk would find a way to make these things happen. _Maybe I read too many comics as a kid,_ Musk said. _In the comics, it always seems like they are trying to save the world. It seemed like one should try to make the world a better place because the inverse makes no sense._ At around age fourteen, Musk had a full-on existential crisis. He tried to deal with it like many gifted adolescents do, turning to religious and philosophical texts. Musk sampled a handful of ideologies and then ended up more or less back where he had started, embracing the sci-fi lessons found in one of the most influential books in his life: The Hitchhiker_s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. _He points out that one of the really tough things is figuring out what questions to ask,_ Musk said. _Once you figure out the question, then the answer is relatively easy. I came to the conclusion that really we should aspire to increase the scope and scale of human consciousness in order to better understand what questions to ask._ The teenage Musk then arrived at his ultralogical mission statement. _The only thing that makes sense to do is strive for greater collective enlightenment,_ he said. It_s easy enough to spot some of the underpinnings of Musk_s search for purpose. Born in 1971, he grew up in Pretoria, a large city in the northeastern part of South Africa, just an hour_s drive from Johannesburg. The specter of apartheid was present throughout his childhood, as South Africa frequently boiled over with tension and violence. Blacks and whites clashed, as did blacks of different tribes. Musk turned four years old just days after the Soweto Uprising, in which hundreds of black students died while protesting decrees of the white government. For years South Africa faced sanctions imposed by other nations due to its racist policies. Musk had the luxury of traveling abroad during his childhood and would have gotten a flavor for how outsiders viewed South Africa. But what had even more of an impact on Musk_s personality was the white Afrikaner culture so prevalent in Pretoria and the surrounding areas. Hypermasculine behavior was celebrated and tough jocks were revered. While Musk enjoyed a level of privilege, he lived as an outsider whose reserved personality and geeky inclinations ran against the prevailing attitudes of the time. His notion that something about the world had gone awry received constant reinforcement, and Musk, almost from his earliest days, plotted an escape from his surroundings and dreamed of a place that would allow his personality and dreams to flourish. He saw America in its most clich?d form, as the land of opportunity and the most likely stage for making the realization of his dreams possible. This is how it came to pass that a lonesome, gawky South African boy who talked with the utmost sincerity about pursuing _collective enlightenment_ ended up as America_s most adventurous industrialist. When Musk did finally reach the United States in his twenties, it marked a return to his ancestral roots. Family trees suggest that ancestors bearing the Swiss German surname of Haldeman on the maternal side of Musk_s family left Europe for New York during the Revolutionary War. From New York, they spread out to the prairies of the Midwest_Illinois and Minnesota, in particular. _We had people that fought on both sides of the Civil War apparently and were a family of farmers,_ said Scott Haldeman, Musk_s uncle and the unofficial family historian. Throughout his childhood, boys teased Musk because of his unusual name. He earned the first part of it from his great-grandfather John Elon Haldeman, who was born in 18721 and grew up in Illinois before heading to Minnesota. There he would meet his wife, Almeda Jane Norman, who was five years younger. By 1902, the couple had settled down in a log cabin in the central Minnesota town of Pequot and given birth to their son Joshua Norman Haldeman, Musk_s grandfather. He would grow up to become an eccentric and exceptional man and a model for Musk.* Joshua Norman Haldeman is described as an athletic, self-reliant boy. In 1907, his family moved to the prairies of Saskatchewan, and his father died shortly thereafter when Joshua was just seven, leaving the boy to help run the house. He took to the wide-open land and picked up bronco horseback riding, boxing, and wrestling. Haldeman would break in horses for local farmers, often hurting himself in the process, and he organized one of Canada_s first rodeos. Family pictures show Joshua dressed in a decorative pair of chaps demonstrating his rope-spinning skills. As a teenager, Haldeman left home to get a degree from the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Iowa and then returned to Saskatchewan to become a farmer. When the depression hit in the 1930s, Haldeman fell into a financial crisis. He could not afford to keep up with bank loans on his equipment and had five thousand acres of land seized. _From then on, Dad didn_t believe in banks or holding on to money,_ said Scott Haldeman, who would go on to receive his chiropractic degree from the same school as his father and become one of the world_s top spinal pain experts. After losing the farm around 1934, Haldeman lived something of a nomadic existence that his grandson would replicate in Canada decades later. Standing six feet, three inches, he did odd jobs as a construction worker and rodeo performer before settling down as a chiropractor.* By 1948, Haldeman had married a Canadian dance studio instructor, Winnifred Josephine Fletcher, or Wyn, and built a booming chiropractic practice. That year, the family, which already included a son and a daughter, welcomed twin daughters Kaye and Maye, Musk_s mother. The children lived in a three-story, twenty-room house that included a dance studio to let Wyn keep teaching students. Ever in search of something new to do, Haldeman had picked up flying and bought his own plane. The family gained some measure of notoriety as people heard about Haldeman and his wife packing their kids into the back of the single-engine craft and heading off on excursions all around North America. Haldeman would often show up at political and chiropractic meetings in the plane and later wrote a book with his wife called The Flying Haldemans: Pity the Poor Private Pilot. Haldeman seemed to have everything going for him when, in 1950, he decided to give it all away. The doctor-cum-politician had long railed against government interference in the lives of individuals and had come to see the Canadian bureaucracy as too meddlesome. A man who forbade swearing, smoking, Coca-Cola, and refined flour at his house, Haldeman contended that the moral character of Canada had started to decline. Haldeman also possessed an enduring lust for adventure. And so, over the course of a few months, the family sold their house and dance and chiropractic practices and decided to move to South Africa_a place Haldeman had never been. Scott Haldeman remembers helping his father disassemble the family_s Bellanca Cruisair (1948) airplane and put it into crates before shipping it to Africa. Once in South Africa, the family rebuilt the plane and used it to scour the country for a nice place to live, ultimately settling on Pretoria, where Haldeman set up a new chiropractic practice. The family_s spirit for adventure seemed to know no bounds. In 1952, Joshua and Wyn made a 22,000-mile round-trip journey in their plane, flying up through Africa to Scotland and Norway. Wyn served as the navigator and, though not a licensed pilot, would sometimes take over the flying duties. The couple topped this effort in 1954, flying 30,000 miles to Australia and back. Newspapers reported on the couple_s trip, and they_re believed to be the only private pilots to get from Africa to Australia in a single-engine plane.* When not up in the air, the Haldemans were out in the bush going on great, monthlong expeditions to find the Lost City of the Kalahari Desert, a supposed abandoned city in southern Africa. A family photo from one of these excursions shows the five children in the middle of the African bush. They have gathered around a large metal pot being warmed by the embers of a campfire. The children look relaxed as they sit in folding chairs, legs crossed and reading books. Behind them is the ruby-red Bellanca plane, a tent, and a car. The tranquility of the scene belies how dangerous these trips were. During one incident, the family_s truck hit a tree stump and forced the bumper through the radiator. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no means of communication, Joshua worked for three days to fix the truck, while the family hunted for food. At other times, hyenas and leopards would circle the campfire at night, and, one morning, the family woke to find a lion three feet away from their main table. Joshua grabbed the first object he could find_a lamp_waved it, and told the lion to go away. And it did.* The Haldemans had a laissez-faire approach to raising their children, which would extend over the generations to Musk. Their kids were never punished, as Joshua believed they would intuit their way to proper behavior. When mom and dad went off on their tremendous flights, the kids were left at home. Scott Haldeman can_t remember his father setting foot at his school a single time even though his son was captain of the rugby team and a prefect. _To him, that was all just anticipated,_ said Scott Haldeman. _We were left with the impression that we were capable of anything. You just have to make a decision and do it. In that sense, my father would be very proud of Elon._ Haldeman died in 1974 at the age of seventy-two. He_d been doing practice landings in his plane and didn_t see a wire attached to a pair of poles. The wire caught the plane_s wheels and flipped the craft, and Haldeman broke his neck. Elon was a toddler at the time. But throughout his childhood, Elon heard many stories about his grandfather_s exploits and sat through countless slide shows that documented his travels and trips through the bush. _My grandmother told these tales of how they almost died several times along their journeys,_ Musk said. _They were flying in a plane with literally no instruments_not even a radio, and they had road maps instead of aerial maps, and some of those weren_t even correct. My grandfather had this desire for adventure, exploration doing crazy things._ Elon buys into the idea that his unusual tolerance for risk may well have been inherited directly from his grandfather. Many years after the last slide show, Elon tried to find and purchase the red Bellanca plane but could not locate it. Maye Musk, Elon_s mother, grew up idolizing her parents. In her youth, she was considered a nerd. She liked math and science and did well at the coursework. By the age of fifteen, however, people had taken notice of some of her other attributes. Maye was gorgeous. Tall with ash-blond hair, Maye had the high cheekbones and angular features that would make her stand out anywhere. A friend of the family ran a modeling school, and Maye took some courses. On the weekends, she did runway shows, magazine shoots, occasionally showed up at a senator_s or ambassador_s home for an event, and ended up as a finalist for Miss South Africa. (Maye has continued to model into her sixties, appearing on the covers of magazines like New York and Elle and in Beyonc?_s music videos.) Maye and Elon_s father, Errol Musk, grew up in the same neighborhood. They met for the first time when Maye, born in 1948, was about eleven. Errol was the cool kid to Maye_s nerd but had a crush on her for years. _He fell in love with me because of my legs and my teeth,_ said Maye. The two would date on and off throughout their time at university. And, according to Maye, Errol spent about seven years as a relentless suitor seeking her hand in marriage and eventually breaking her will. _He just never stopped proposing,_ she said. Their marriage was complicated from the start. Maye became pregnant during the couple_s honeymoon and gave birth to Elon on June 28, 1971, nine months and two days after her wedding day. While they may not have enjoyed marital bliss, the couple carved out a decent life for themselves in Pretoria. Errol worked as a mechanical and electrical engineer and handled large projects such as office buildings, retail complexes, residential subdivisions, and an air force base, while Maye set up a practice as a dietician. A bit more than a year after Elon_s birth came his brother Kimbal, and soon thereafter came their sister Tosca. Elon exhibited all the traits of a curious, energetic tot. He picked things up easily, and Maye, like many mothers do, pegged her son as brilliant and precocious. _He seemed to understand things quicker than the other kids,_ she said. The perplexing thing was that Elon seemed to drift off into a trance at times. People spoke to him, but nothing got through when he had a certain, distant look in his eyes. This happened so often that Elon_s parents and doctors thought he might be deaf. _Sometimes, he just didn_t hear you,_ said Maye. Doctors ran a series of tests on Elon, and elected to remove his adenoid glands, which can improve hearing in children. _Well, it didn_t change,_ said Maye. Elon_s condition had far more to do with the wiring of his mind than how his auditory system functioned. _He goes into his brain, and then you just see he is in another world,_ Maye said. _He still does that. Now I just leave him be because I know he is designing a new rocket or something._ Other children did not respond well to these dreamlike states. You could do jumping jacks right beside Musk or yell at him, and he would not even notice. He kept right on thinking, and those around him judged that he was either rude or really weird. _I do think Elon was always a little different but in a nerdy way,_ Maye said. _It didn_t endear him to his peers._ For Musk, these pensive moments were wonderful. At five and six, he had found a way to block out the world and dedicate all of his concentration to a single task. Part of this ability stemmed from the very visual way in which Musk_s mind worked. He could see images in his mind_s eye with a clarity and detail that we might associate today with an engineering drawing produced by computer software. _It seems as though the part of the brain that_s usually reserved for visual processing_the part that is used to process images coming in from my eyesFiltereds taken over by internal thought processes,_ Musk said. _I can_t do this as much now because there are so many things demanding my attention but, as a kid, it happened a lot. That large part of your brain that_s used to handle incoming images gets used for internal thinking._ Computers split their hardest jobs between two types of chips. There are graphics chips that deal with processing the images produced by a television show stream or video game and computational chips that handle general purpose tasks and mathematical operations. Over time, Musk has ended up thinking that his brain has the equivalent of a graphics chip. It allows him to see things out in the world, replicate them in his mind, and imagine how they might change or behave when interacting with other objects. _For images and numbers, I can process their interrelationships and algorithmic relationships,_ Musk said. _Acceleration, momentum, kinetic energy_how those sorts of things will be affected by objects comes through very vividly._ The most striking part of Elon_s character as a young boy was his compulsion to read. From a very young age, he seemed to have a book in his hands at all times. _It was not unusual for him to read ten hours a day,_ said Kimbal. _If it was the weekend, he could go through two books in a day._ The family went on numerous shopping excursions in which they realized mid-trip that Elon had gone missing. Maye or Kimbal would pop into the nearest bookstore and find Elon somewhere near the back sitting on the floor and reading in one of his trancelike states. As Elon got older, he would take himself to the bookstore when school ended at 2 P.M. and stay there until about 6 P.M., when his parents returned home from work. He plowed through fiction books and then comics and then nonfiction titles. _Sometimes they kicked me out of the store, but usually not,_ Elon said. He listed The Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimov_s Foundation series, and Robert Heinlein_s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as some of his favorites, alongside The Hitchhiker_s Guide to the Galaxy. _At one point, I ran out of books to read at the school library and the neighborhood library,_ Musk said. _This is maybe the third or fourth grade. I tried to convince the librarian to order books for me. So then, I started to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica. That was so helpful. You don_t know what you don_t know. You realize there are all these things out there._ Elon, in fact, churned through two sets of encyclopedias_a feat that did little to help him make friends. The boy had a photographic memory, and the encyclopedias turned him into a fact factory. He came off as a classic know-it-all. At the dinner table, Tosca would wonder aloud about the distance from Earth to the Moon. Elon would spit out the exact measurement at perigee and apogee. _If we had a question, Tosca would always say, _Just ask genius boy,__ Maye said. _We could ask him about anything. He just remembered it._ Elon cemented his bookworm reputation through his clumsy ways. _He_s not very sporty,_ said Maye. Maye tells the story of Elon playing outside one night with his siblings and cousins. When one of them complained of being frightened by the dark, Elon pointed out that _dark is merely the absence of light,_ which did little to reassure the scared child. As a youngster, Elon_s constant yearning to correct people and his abrasive manner put off other kids and added to his feelings of isolation. Elon genuinely thought that people would be happy to hear about the flaws in their thinking. _Kids don_t like answers like that,_ said Maye. _They would say, _Elon, we are not playing with you anymore._ I felt very sad as a mother because I think he wanted friends. Kimbal and Tosca would bring home friends, and Elon wouldn_t, and he would want to play with them. But he was awkward, you know._ Maye urged Kimbal and Tosca to include Elon. They responded as kids will. _But Mom, he_s not fun._ As he got older, however, Elon would have strong, affectionate attachments to his siblings and cousins_his mother_s sister_s sons. Though he kept to himself at school, Elon had an outgoing nature with members of his family and eventually took on the role of elder and chief instigator among them. For a while, life inside the Musk household was quite good. The family owned one of the biggest houses in Pretoria thanks to the success of Errol_s engineering business. There_s a portrait of the three Musk children taken when Elon was about eight years old that shows three blond, fit children sitting next to each other on a brick porch with Pretoria_s famous purple jacaranda trees in the background. Elon has large, rounded cheeks and a broad smile. Then, not long after the photo was taken, the family fell apart. His parents separated and divorced within the year. Maye moved with the kids to the family_s holiday home in Durban, on South Africa_s eastern coast. After a couple of years of this arrangement, Elon decided he wanted to live with his father. _My father seemed sort of sad and lonely, and my mom had three kids, and he didn_t have any,_ Musk said. _It seemed unfair._ Some members of Musk_s family have bought into this idea that Elon_s logical nature propelled him, while others claim that his father_s mother, Cora, exerted a lot of pressure on the boy. _I could not understand why he would leave this happy home I made for him_this really happy home,_ said Maye. _But Elon is his own person._ Justine Musk, Elon_s ex-wife and the mother of his five boys, theorized that Elon identified more with the alpha male of the house and wasn_t bothered by the emotional aspect of the decision. _I don_t think he was particularly close with either parent,_ Justine said, while describing the Musk clan overall as being cool and the opposite of doting. Kimbal later opted to live with Errol as well, saying simply that by nature a son wants to live with his father. Whenever the topic of Errol arrives, members of Elon_s family clam up. They_re in agreement that he is not a pleasant man to be around but have declined to elaborate. Errol has since been remarried, and Elon has two, younger half sisters of whom he_s quite protective. Elon and his siblings seem determined not to bad-mouth Errol publicly, so as not to upset the sisters. The basics are as follows: Errol_s side of the family has deep South African roots. The Musk clan can trace its presence in the country back about two hundred years and claim an entry in Pretoria_s first phone book. Errol_s father, Walter Henry James Musk, was an army sergeant. _I remember him almost never talking,_ Elon said. _He would just drink whiskey and be grumpy and was very good at doing crossword puzzles._ Cora Amelia Musk, Errol_s mother, was born in England to a family famed for its intellectual genes. She embraced both the spotlight and her grandchildren. _Our grandmother had this very dominant personality and was quite an enterprising woman,_ said Kimbal. _She was a very big influence in our lives._ Elon considered his relationship with Cora_or Nana, as he called her_particularly tight. _After the divorce, she took care of me quite a lot,_ he said. _She would pick me up from school, and I would hang out with her playing Scrabble and that type of thing._ On the surface, life at Errol_s house seemed grand. He had plenty of books for Elon to read from cover to cover and money to buy a computer and other objects that Elon desired. Errol took his children on numerous trips overseas. _It was an amazingly fun time,_ said Kimbal. _I have a lot of fun memories from that._ Errol also impressed the kids with his intellect and dealt out some practical lessons. _He was a talented engineer,_ Elon said. _He knew how every physical object worked._ Both Elon and Kimbal were required to go to the sites of Errol_s engineering jobs and learn how to lay bricks, install plumbing, fit windows, and put in electrical wiring. _There were fun moments,_ Elon said. Errol was what Kimbal described as _ultra-present and very intense._ He would sit Elon and Kimbal down and lecture at them for three to four hours without the boys being able to respond. He seemed to delight in being hard on the boys and sucked the fun out of common childhood diversions. From time to time, Elon tried to convince his dad to move to America and often talked about his intentions to live in the United States later in life. Errol countered such dreams by trying to teach Elon a lesson. He sent the housekeepers away and had Elon do all the chores to let him know what it was like _to play American._ While Elon and Kimbal declined to provide an exact recounting, they clearly experienced something awful and profound during those years with their father. They both talk about having to endure some form of psychological torture. _He definitely has serious chemical stuff,_ said Kimbal. _Which I am sure Elon and I have inherited. It was a very emotionally challenging upbringing, but it made us who we are today._ Maye bristled when the subject of Errol came up. _Nobody gets along with him,_ she said. _He is not nice to anyone. I don_t want to tell stories because they are horrendous. You know, you just don_t talk about it. There are kids and grandkids involved._ When asked to chat about Elon, Errol responded via e-mail: _Elon was a very independent and focused child at home with me. He loved computer science before anyone even knew what it was in South Africa and his ability was widely recognized by the time he was 12 years old. Elon and his brother Kimbal_s activities as children and young men were so many and varied that it_s difficult to name just one, as they travelled together with me extensively in S. Africa and the world at large, visiting all the continents regularly from the age of six onwards. Elon and his brother and sister were and continue to be exemplary, in every way a father could want. I_m very proud of what Elon_s accomplished._ Errol copied Elon on this e-mail, and Elon warned me off corresponding with his father, insisting that his father_s take on past events could not be trusted. _He is an odd duck,_ Musk said. But, when pressed for more information, Musk dodged. _It would certainly be accurate to say that I did not have a good childhood,_ he said. _It may sound good. It was not absent of good, but it was not a happy childhood. It was like misery. He_s good at making life miserable_that_s for sure. He can take any situation no matter how good it is and make it bad. He_s not a happy man. I don_t know . . . fuck . . . I don_t know how someone becomes like he is. It would just cause too much trouble to tell you any more._ Elon and Justine have vowed that their children will not be allowed to meet Errol. When Elon was nearly ten years old, he saw a computer for the first time, at the Sandton City Mall in Johannesburg. _There was an electronics store that mostly did hi-fi-type stuff, but then, in one corner, they started stocking a few computers,_ Musk said. He felt awed right away__It was like, _Whoa. Holy shit!___by this machine that could be programmed to do a person_s bidding. _I had to have that and then hounded my father to get the computer,_ Musk said. Soon he owned a Commodore VIC-20, a popular home machine that went on sale in 1980. Elon_s computer arrived with five kilobytes of memory and a workbook on the BASIC programming language. _It was supposed to take like six months to get through all the lessons,_ Elon said. _I just got super OCD on it and stayed up for three days with no sleep and did the entire thing. It seemed like the most super-compelling thing I had ever seen._ Despite being an engineer, Musk_s father was something of a Luddite and dismissive of the machine. Elon recounted that _he said it was just for games and that you_d never be able to do real engineering on it. I just said, _Whatever.__ While bookish and into his new computer, Elon quite often led Kimbal and his cousins (Kaye_s children) Russ, Lyndon, and Peter Rive on adventures. They dabbled one year in selling Easter eggs door-to-door in the neighborhood. The eggs were not well decorated, but the boys still marked them up a few hundred percent for their wealthy neighbors. Elon also spearheaded their work with homemade explosives and rockets. South Africa did not have the Estes rocket kits popular among hobbyists, so Elon would create his own chemical compounds and put them inside of canisters. _It is remarkable how many things you can get to explode,_ Elon said. _Saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal are the basic ingredients for gunpowder, and then if you combine a strong acid with a strong alkaline, that will generally release a lot of energy. Granulated chlorine with brake fluid_that_s quite impressive. I_m lucky I have all my fingers._ When not handling explosives, the boys put on layers of clothing and goggles and shot each other with pellet guns. Elon and Kimbal raced dirt bikes against each other in sandlots until Kimbal flew off his bike one day and hurtled into a barbed wire fence. As the years went on, the cousins took their entrepreneurial pursuits more seriously, even attempting at one point to start a video arcade. Without any parents knowing, the boys picked out a spot for their arcade, got a lease, and started navigating the permit process for their business. Eventually, they had to get someone over eighteen to sign a legal document, and neither the Rives_ father nor Errol would oblige. It would take a couple of decades, but Elon and the Rives would eventually go into business together. The boys_ most audacious exploits may have been their trips between Pretoria and Johannesburg. During the 1980s, South Africa could be a terribly violent place, and the thirty-five-mile train trip linking Pretoria and Johannesburg stood out as one of the world_s more dangerous rides. Kimbal counted the train journeys as formative experiences for him and Elon. _South Africa was not a happy-go-lucky place, and that has an impact on you. We saw some really rough stuff. It was part of an atypical upbringing_just this insane set of experiences that changes how you view risk. You don_t grow up thinking getting a job is the hard part. That_s not interesting enough._ The boys ranged in age from about thirteen to sixteen and chased a mix of parties and geeky exploits in Johannesburg. During one jaunt, they went to a Dungeons and Dragons tournament. _That was us being nerd master supremes,_ Musk said. All of the boys were into the role-playing game, which requires someone to help set the mood for a contest by imagining and then describing a scene. _You have entered a room, and there is a chest in the corner. What will you do? . . . You open the chest. You_ve sprung a trap. Dozens of goblins are on the loose._ Elon excelled at this Dungeon Master role and had memorized the texts detailing the powers of monsters and other characters. _Under Elon_s leadership, we played the role so well and won the tournament,_ said Peter Rive. _Winning requires this incredible imagination, and Elon really set the tone for keeping people captivated and inspired._ The Elon that his peers encountered at school was far less inspirational. Throughout middle and high school, Elon bounced around a couple of institutions. He spent the equivalent of eighth and ninth grades at Bryanston High School. One afternoon Elon and Kimbal were sitting at the top of a flight of concrete stairs eating when a boy decided to go after Elon. _I was basically hiding from this gang that was fucking hunting me down for God knows fucking why. I think I accidentally bumped this guy at assembly that morning and he_d taken some huge offense at that._ The boy crept up behind Musk, kicked him in the head, and then shoved him down the stairs. Musk tumbled down the entire flight, and a handful of boys pounced on him, some of them kicking Musk in the side and the ringleader bashing his head against the ground. _They were a bunch of fucking psychos,_ Musk said. _I blacked out._ Kimbal watched in horror and feared for Elon_s life. He rushed down the stairs to find Elon_s face bloodied and swollen. _He looked like someone who had just been in the boxing ring,_ Kimbal said. Elon then went to the hospital. _It was about a week before I could get back to school,_ Musk said. (During a news conference in 2013, Elon disclosed that he_d had a nose job to deal with the lingering effects of this beating.) For three or four years, Musk endured relentless hounding at the hands of these bullies. They went so far as to beat up a boy that Musk considered his best friend until the child agreed to stop hanging out with Musk. _Moreover, they got him_they got my best fucking friend_to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up,_ Musk said. _And that fucking hurt._ While telling this part of the story, Musk_s eyes welled up and his voice quivered. _For some reason, they decided that I was it, and they were going to go after me nonstop. That_s what made growing up difficult. For a number of years, there was no respite. You get chased around by gangs at school who tried to beat the shit out of me, and then I_d come home, and it would just be awful there as well. It was just like nonstop horrible._ Musk spent the latter stages of his high school career at Pretoria Boys High School, where a growth spurt and the generally better behavior of the students made life more bearable. While a public school by definition, Pretoria Boys has functioned more like a private school for the last hundred years. It_s the place you send a young man to get him ready to attend Oxford or Cambridge. The boys from Musk_s class remember him as a likable, quiet, unspectacular student. _There were four or five boys that were considered the very brightest,_ said Deon Prinsloo, who sat behind Elon in some classes. _Elon was not one of them._ Such comments were echoed by a half dozen boys who also noted that Musk_s lack of interest in sports left him isolated in the midst of an athletics-obsessed culture. _Honestly, there were just no signs that he was going to be a billionaire,_ said Gideon Fourie, another classmate. _He was never in a leadership position at school. I was rather surprised to see what has happened to him._ While Musk didn_t have any close friends at school, his eccentric interests did leave an impression. One boy_Ted Wood_remembered Musk bringing model rockets to school and blasting them off during breaks. This was not the only hint of his aspirations. During a science-class debate, Elon gained attention for railing against fossil fuels in favor of solar power_an almost sacrilegious stance in a country devoted to mining the earth_s natural resources. _He always had firm views on things,_ said Wood. Terency Beney, a classmate who stayed in touch with Elon over the years, claimed that Musk had started fantasizing about colonizing other planets in high school as well. In another nod to the future, Elon and Kimbal were chatting during a class break outdoors when Wood interrupted them and asked what they were going on about. _They said, _We are talking about whether there is a need for branch banking in the financial industry and whether we will move to paperless banking._ I remember thinking that was such an absurd comment to make. I said, _Yeah, that_s great.__* While Musk might not have been among the academic elite in his class, he was among a handful of students with the grades and self-professed interest to be selected for an experimental computer program. Students were plucked out of a number of schools and brought together to learn the BASIC, COBOL, and Pascal programming languages. Musk continued to augment these technological leanings with his love of science fiction and fantasy and tried his hand at writing stories that involved dragons and supernatural beings. _I wanted to write something like Lord of the Rings,_ he said. Maye viewed these high school years through a mother_s eyes and recounted plenty of tales of Musk performing spectacular academic feats. The video game he wrote, she said, impressed much older, more experienced techies. He aced math exams well beyond his years. And he had that incredible memory. The only reason he did not outrank the other boys was a lack of interest in the work prescribed by the school. As Musk saw it, _I just look at it as _What grades do I need to get where I want to go?_ There were compulsory subjects like Afrikaans, and I just didn_t see the point of learning that. It seemed ridiculous. I_d get a passing grade and that was fine. Things like physics and computers_I got the highest grade you can get in those. There needs to be a reason for a grade. I_d rather play video games, write software, and read books than try and get an A if there_s no point in getting an A. I can remember failing subjects in like fourth and fifth grade. Then, my mother_s boyfriend told me I_d be held back if I didn_t pass. I didn_t actually know you had to pass the subjects to move to the next grade. I got the best grades in class after that._ At seventeen, Musk left South Africa for Canada. He has recounted this journey quite often in the press and typically leans on two descriptions of the motivation for his flight. The short version is that Musk wanted to get to the United States as quickly as possible and could use Canada as a pit stop via his Canadian ancestry. The second go-to story that Musk relies on has more of a social conscience. South Africa required military service at the time. Musk wanted to avoid joining the military, he has said, because it would have forced him to participate in the apartheid regime. What rarely gets mentioned is that Musk attended the University of Pretoria for five months before heading off on his grand adventure. He began pursuing physics and engineering but put lackluster effort into the work and soon dropped out of school. Musk characterized the time at university as just something to do while he awaited his Canadian documentation. In addition to being an inconsequential part of his life, Musk lazing through school to avoid South Africa_s required military service rather undermines the tale of a brooding, adventurous youth that he likes to tell, which is likely why the stint at the University of Pretoria never seems to come up. There_s no question, though, that Musk had been pining to get to the United States on a visceral level for a long time. Musk_s early inclination toward computers and technology had fostered an intense interest in Silicon Valley, and his trips overseas had reinforced the idea that America was the place to get things done. South Africa, by contrast, presented far less opportunity for an entrepreneurial soul. As Kimbal put it, _South Africa was like a prison for someone like Elon._ Musk_s opportunity to flee arrived with a change in the law that allowed Maye to pass her Canadian citizenship to her children. Musk immediately began researching how to complete the paperwork for this process. It took about a year to receive the approvals from the Canadian government and to secure a Canadian passport. _That_s when Elon said, _I_m leaving for Canada,__ Maye said. In these pre-Internet days, Musk had to wait three agonizing weeks to get a plane ticket. Once it arrived, and without flinching, he left home for good. 3 CANADA MUSK_S GREAT ESCAPE TO CANADA WAS NOT WELL THOUGHT OUT. He knew of a great-uncle in Montreal, hopped on a flight and hoped for the best. Upon landing in June 1988, Musk found a pay phone and tried to use directory assistance to find his uncle. When that didn_t work, he called his mother collect. She had bad news. Maye had sent a letter to the uncle before Musk left and received a reply while her son was in transit. The uncle had gone to Minnesota, meaning Musk had nowhere to stay. Bags in hand, Musk headed for a youth hostel. After spending a few days in Montreal exploring the city, Musk tried to come up with a long-term plan. Maye had family scattered all across Canada, and Musk began reaching out to them. He bought a countrywide bus ticket that let him hop on and off as he pleased for one hundred dollars, and opted to head to Saskatchewan, the former home of his grandfather. After a 1,900-mile bus ride, he ended up in Swift Current, a town of fifteen thousand people. Musk called a second cousin out of the blue from the bus station and hitched a ride to his house. Musk spent the next year working a series of odd jobs around Canada. He tended vegetables and shoveled out grain bins at a cousin_s farm located in the tiny town of Waldeck. Musk celebrated his eighteenth birthday there, sharing a cake with the family he_d just met and a few strangers from the neighborhood. After that, he learned to cut logs with a chain saw in Vancouver, British Columbia. The hardest job Musk took came after a visit to the unemployment office. He inquired about the job with the best wage, which turned out to be a gig cleaning the boiler room of a lumber mill for eighteen dollars an hour. _You have to put on this hazmat suit and then shimmy through this little tunnel that you can barely fit in,_ Musk said. _Then, you have a shovel and you take the sand and goop and other residue, which is still steaming hot, and you have to shovel it through the same hole you came through. There is no escape. Someone else on the other side has to shovel it into a wheelbarrow. If you stay in there for more than thirty minutes, you get too hot and die._ Thirty people started out at the beginning of the week. By the third day, five people were left. At the end of the week, it was just Musk and two other men doing the work. As Musk made his way around Canada, his brother, sister, and mother were figuring out how to get there as well.* When Kimbal and Elon eventually reunited in Canada, their headstrong, playful natures bloomed. Elon ended up enrolling at Queen_s University in Kingston, Ontario, in 1989. (He picked Queen_s over the University of Waterloo because he felt there were more good-looking women at Queen_s.)2 Outside of his studies, Elon would read the newspaper alongside Kimbal, and the two of them would identify interesting people they would like to meet. They then took turns cold-calling these people to ask if they were available to have lunch. Among the harassed was the head of marketing for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, a business writer for the Globe and Mail, and a top executive at the Bank of Nova Scotia, Peter Nicholson. Nicholson remembered the boys_ call well. _I was not in the habit of getting out-of-the-blue requests,_ he said. _I was perfectly prepared to have lunch with a couple of kids that had that kind of gumption._ It took six months to get on Nicholson_s calendar, but, sure enough, the Musk brothers made a three-hour train ride and showed up on time. Nicholson_s first exposure to the Musk brothers left him with an impression many would share. Both presented themselves well and were polite. Elon, though, clearly came off as the geekier, more awkward counterpoint to the charismatic, personable Kimbal. _I became more impressed and fascinated as I talked to them,_ Nicholson said. _They were so determined._ Nicholson ended up offering Elon a summer internship at the bank and became his trusted advisor. Not long after their initial meeting, Elon invited Peter Nicholson_s daughter Christie to his birthday party. Christie showed up at Maye_s Toronto apartment with a jar of homemade lemon curd in hand and was greeted by Elon and about fifteen other people. Elon had never met Christie before, but he went right up to her and led her to a couch. _Then, I believe the second sentence out of his mouth was _I think a lot about electric cars,__ Christie said. _And then he turned to me and said, _Do you think about electric cars?__ The conversation left Christie, who is now a science writer, with the distinct impression that Musk was handsome, affable, and a tremendous nerd. _For whatever reason, I was so struck by that moment on the sofa,_ she said. _You could tell that this person was very different. He captivated me in that way._ With her angular features and blond hair, Christie fit Musk_s type, and the two stayed in touch during Musk_s time in Canada. They never really dated, but Christie found Musk interesting enough to have lengthy conversations with him on the phone. _One night he told me, _If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal._ The enormity of his work ethic at that age and his intensity jumped out. It seemed like one of the more unusual things I had ever heard._ A deeper relationship during this stint in Canada arose between Musk and Justine Wilson, a fellow student at Queen_s. Leggy with long, brown hair, Wilson radiated romance and sexual energy. Justine had already fallen in love with an older man and then ditched him to go to college. Her next conquest was meant to wear a leather jacket and be a damaged, James Dean sort. As fortune would have it, however, the clean-cut, posh-sounding Musk spotted Wilson on campus and went right to work trying to date her. _She looked pretty great,_ Musk said. _She was also smart and this intellectual with sort of an edge. She had a black belt in tae kwon do and was semi-bohemian and, you know, like the hot chick on campus._ He made his first move just outside of her dorm, where he pretended to have bumped into her by accident and then reminded her that they had met previously at a party. Justine, only one week into school, agreed to Musk_s proposal of an ice cream date. When he arrived to pick up Wilson, Musk found a note on the dorm room door, notifying him that he_d been stood up. _It said that she had to go study for an exam and couldn_t make it and that she was sorry,_ Musk said. Musk then hunted down Justine_s best friend and did some research, asking where Justine usually studied and what her favorite flavor of ice cream was. Later, as Justine hid in the student center studying Spanish, Musk appeared behind her with a couple of melting chocolate chip ice cream cones in hand. Wilson had dreamed of having a torrid romance with a writer. _I wanted to be Sylvia and Ted,_ she said. What she fell for instead was a relentless, ambitious geek. The pair attended the same abnormal-psychology class and compared their grades following an exam. Justine notched a 97, Musk a 98. _He went back to the professor, and talked his way into the two points he lost and got a hundred,_ Justine said. _It felt like we were always competing._ Musk had a romantic side as well. One time he sent Wilson a dozen roses, each with its own note, and he also gifted Wilson a copy of The Prophet filled with handwritten romantic musings. _He can sweep you off your feet,_ Justine said. During their university years, the two youngsters were off and on, with Musk having to work hard to keep the relationship going. _She was hip and dated the coolest guys and wasn_t interested in Elon at all,_ Maye said. _So that was hard on him._ Musk pursued a couple of other girls, but kept returning to Justine. Any time she acted cool toward him, Musk responded with his usual show of force. _He would call very insistently,_ she said. _You always knew it was Elon because the phone would never stop ringing. The man does not take no for an answer. You can_t blow him off. I do think of him as the Terminator. He locks his gaze on to something and says, _It shall be mine._ Bit by bit, he won me over._ College suited Musk. He worked on being less of a know-it-all, while also finding a group of people who respected his intellectual abilities. The university students were less inclined to laugh off or deride his opinionated takes on energy, space, and whatever else was captivating him at the moment. Musk had found people who responded to his ambition rather than mocking it, and he fed on this environment. Navaid Farooq, a Canadian who grew up in Geneva, ended up in Musk_s freshman-year dormitory in the fall of 1990. Both men were placed in the international section where a Canadian student would get paired with a student from overseas. Musk sort of broke the system, since he technically counted as a Canadian but knew almost nothing about his surroundings. _I had a roommate from Hong Kong, and he was a really nice guy,_ Musk said. _He religiously attended every lecture, which was helpful, since I went to the least number of classes possible._ For a time, Musk sold computer parts and full PCs in the dorm to make some extra cash. _I could build something to suit their needs like a tricked-out gaming machine or a simple word processor that cost less than what they could get in a store,_ Musk said. _Or if their computer didn_t boot properly or had a virus, I_d fix it. I could pretty much solve any problem._ Farooq and Musk bonded over their backgrounds living abroad and a shared interest in strategy board games. _I don_t think he makes friends easily, but he is very loyal to those he has,_ Farooq said. When the video game Civilization was released, the college chums spent hours building their empire, much to the dismay of Farooq_s girlfriend, who was forgotten in another room. _Elon could lose himself for hours on end,_ Farooq said. The students also relished their loner lifestyles. _We are the kinds of people that can be by ourselves at a party and not feel awkward,_ Farooq said. _We can think to ourselves and not feel socially weird about it._ Musk was more ambitious in college than he_d been in high school. He studied business, competed in public speaking contests, and began to display the brand of intensity and competitiveness that marks his behavior today. After one economics exam, Musk, Farooq, and some other students in class came back to the dorms and began comparing notes to try to ascertain how well they did on the test. It soon became clear that Musk had a firmer grasp on the material than anyone else. _This was a group of fairly high achievers, and Elon stood way outside of the bell curve,_ Farooq said. Musk_s intensity has continued to be a constant in their long relationship. _When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity._ In 1992, having spent two years at Queen_s, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship. Musk saw the Ivy League school as possibly opening some additional doors and went off in pursuit of dual degrees_first an economics degree from the Wharton School and then a bachelor_s degree in physics. Justine stayed at Queen_s, pursuing her dream of becoming a writer, and maintained a long-distance relationship with Musk. Now and again, she would visit him, and the two would sometimes head off to New York for a romantic weekend. Musk blossomed even more at Penn, and really started to feel comfortable while hanging out with his fellow physics students. _At Penn, he met people that thought like him,_ Maye said. _There were some nerds there. He so enjoyed them. I remember going for lunch with them, and they were talking physics things. They were saying, _A plus B equals pi squared_ or whatever. They would laugh out loud. It was cool to see him so happy._ Once again, however, Musk did not make many friends among the broader school body. It_s difficult to find former students who remember him being there at all. But he did make one very close friend named Adeo Ressi, who would go on to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur in his own right and is to this day as tight with Elon as anyone. Ressi is a lanky guy well over six feet tall and possesses an eccentric air. He was the artistic, colorful foil to the studious, more buttoned-up Musk. Both of the young men were transfer students and ended up being placed in the funky freshman dorm. The lackluster social scene did not live up to Ressi_s expectations, and he talked Musk into renting a large house off campus. They got the ten-bedroom home relatively cheap, since it was a frat house that had gone unrented. During the week, Musk and Ressi would study, but as the weekend approached, Ressi, in particular, would transform the house into a nightclub. He covered the windows with trash bags to make it pitch black inside and decorated the walls with bright paints and whatever objects he could find. _It was a full-out, unlicensed speakeasy,_ Ressi said. _We would have as many as five hundred people. We would charge five dollars, and it would be pretty much all you could drink_beer and Jell-O shots and other things._ Come Friday night, the ground around the house would shake from the intensity of the bass being pumped out by Ressi_s speakers. Maye visited one of the parties and discovered that Ressi had hammered objects into the walls and lacquered them with glow-in-the-dark paint. She ended up working the door as the coat check/money taker and grabbed a pair of scissors for protection as the cash piled up in a shoe box. A second house had fourteen rooms. Musk, Ressi, and one other person lived there. They fashioned tables by laying plywood on top of used kegs and came up with other makeshift furniture ideas. Musk returned home one day to find that Ressi had nailed his desk to the wall and then painted it in Day-Glo colors. Musk retaliated by pulling his desk down, painting it black, and studying. _I_m like, _Dude, that_s installation art in our party house,__ said Ressi. Remind Musk of this incident and he_ll respond matter-of-factly, _It was a desk._ Musk will have the occasional vodka and Diet Coke, but he_s not a big drinker and does not really care for the taste of alcohol. _Somebody had to stay sober during these parties,_ Musk said. _I was paying my own way through college and could make an entire month_s rent in one night. Adeo was in charge of doing cool shit around the house, and I would run the party._ As Ressi put it, _Elon was the most straight-laced dude you have ever met. He never drank. He never did anything. Zero. Literally nothing._ The only time Ressi had to step in and moderate Musk_s behavior came during video game binges that could go on for days. Musk_s longtime interest in solar power and in finding other new ways to harness energy expanded at Penn. In December 1994, he had to come up with a business plan for one of his classes and ended up writing a paper titled _The Importance of Being Solar._ The document started with a bit of Musk_s wry sense of humor. At the top of the page, he wrote: _The sun will come out tomorrow. . . .__Little Orphan Annie on the subject of renewable energy. The paper went on to predict a rise in solar power technology based on materials improvements and the construction of large-scale solar plants. Musk delved deeply into how solar cells work and the various compounds that can make them more efficient. He concluded the paper with a drawing of the _power station of the future._ It depicted a pair of giant solar arrays in space_each four kilometers in width_sending their juice down to Earth via microwave beams to a receiving antenna with a seven-kilometer diameter. Musk received a 98 on what his professor deemed a _very interesting and well written paper._ A second paper talked about taking research documents and books and electronically scanning them, performing optical character recognition, and putting all of the information in a single database_much like a mix between today_s Google Books and Google Scholar. And a third paper dwelled on another of Musk_s favorite topics_ultracapacitors. In the forty-four-page document, Musk is plainly jubilant over the idea of a new form of energy storage that would suit his future pursuits with cars, planes, and rockets. Pointing to the latest research coming out of a lab in Silicon Valley, he wrote: _The end result represents the first new means of storing significant amounts of electrical energy since the development of the battery and fuel cell. Furthermore, because the Ultracapacitor retains the basic properties of a capacitor, it can deliver its energy over one hundred times faster than a battery of equivalent weight, and be recharged just as quickly._ Musk received a 97 for this effort and praise for _a very thorough analysis_ with _excellent financials!_ The remarks from the professor were spot-on. Musk_s clear, concise writing is the work of a logician, moving from one point to the next with precision. What truly stood out, though, was Musk_s ability to master difficult physics concepts in the midst of actual business plans. Even then, he showed an unusual knack for being able to perceive a path from a scientific advance to a for-profit enterprise. As Musk began to think more seriously about what he would do after college, he briefly considered getting into the videogame business. He_d been obsessed with video games since his childhood and had held a gaming internship. But he came to see them as not quite grand enough a pursuit. _I really like computer games, but then if I made really great computer games, how much effect would that have on the world,_ he said. _It wouldn_t have a big effect. Even though I have an intrinsic love of video games, I couldn_t bring myself to do that as a career._ In interviews, Musk often makes sure that people know he had some truly big ideas on his mind during this period of his life. As he tells it, he would daydream at Queen_s and Penn and usually end up with the same conclusion: he viewed the Internet, renewable energy, and space as the three areas that would undergo significant change in the years to come and as the markets where he could make a big impact. He vowed to pursue projects in all three. _I told all my ex-girlfriends and my ex-wife about these ideas,_ he said. _It probably sounded like super-crazy talk._ Musk_s insistence on explaining the early origins of his passion for electric cars, solar energy, and rockets can come off as insecure. It feels as if Musk is trying to shape his life story in a forced way. But for Musk, the distinction between stumbling into something and having intent is important. Musk has long wanted the world to know that he_s different from the run-of-the-mill entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. He wasn_t just sniffing out trends, and he wasn_t consumed by the idea of getting rich. He_s been in pursuit of a master plan all along. _I really was thinking about this stuff in college,_ he said. _It is not some invented story after the fact. I don_t want to seem like a Johnny-come-lately or that I_m chasing a fad or just being opportunistic. I_m not an investor. I like to make technologies real that I think are important for the future and useful in some sort of way._ 4 ELON_S FIRST START-UP IN THE SUMMER OF 1994, Musk and his brother, Kimbal, took their first steps toward becoming honest-to-God Americans. They set off on a road trip across the country. Kimbal had been working as a franchisee for College Pro Painters and done well for himself, running what amounted to a small business. He sold off his part of the franchise and pooled the money with what Musk had on hand to buy a beat-up 1970s BMW 320i. The brothers began their trip near San Francisco in August, as temperatures in California soared. The first part of the drive took them down to Needles, a city in the Mojave Desert. There they experienced the sweaty thrill of 120-degree weather in a car with no air-conditioning and learned to love pit stops at Carl_s Jr. burger joints, where they spent hours recuperating in the cold. The trip provided plenty of time for your typical twenty-something hijinks and raging capitalist daydreaming. The Web had just started to become accessible to the public thanks to the rise of directory sites like Yahoo! and tools like Netscape_s browser. The brothers were tuned in to the Internet and thought they might like to start a company together doing something on the Web. From California to Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Illinois, they took turns driving, brainstorming, and talking shit before heading back east to get Musk to school that fall. The best idea to arise from the journey was an online network for doctors. This wasn_t meant to be something as ambitious as electronic health records but more of a system for physicians to exchange information and collaborate. _It seemed like the medical industry was one that could be disrupted,_ Kimbal said. _I went to work on a business plan and the sales and marketing side of it later, but it didn_t fly. We didn_t love it._ Musk had spent the earlier part of that summer in Silicon Valley, holding down a pair of internships. By day, he worked at Pinnacle Research Institute. Based in Los Gatos, Pinnacle was a much-ballyhooed start-up with a team of scientists exploring ways in which ultracapacitors could be used as a revolutionary fuel source in electric and hybrid vehicles. The work also veered_at least conceptually_into more bizarre territory. Musk could talk at length about how ultracapacitors might be used to build laser-based sidearms in the tradition of Star Wars and just about any other futuristic film. The laser guns would release rounds of enormous energy, and then the shooter would replace an ultracapacitor at the base of the gun, much like swapping out a clip of bullets, and start blasting away again. Ultracapacitors also looked promising as the power supplies for missiles. They were more resilient than batteries under the mechanical stresses of a launch and would hold a more consistent charge over long periods of time. Musk fell in love with the work at Pinnacle and began using it as the basis for some of his business plan experiments at Penn and for his industrialist fantasies. In the evenings, Musk headed to Rocket Science Games, a start-up based in Palo Alto that wanted to create the most advanced video games ever made by moving them off cartridges and onto CDs that could hold more information. The CDs would in theory allow them to bring Hollywood-style storytelling and production quality to the games. A team of budding all-stars who were a mix of engineers and film people was assembled to pull off the work. Tony Fadell, who would later drive much of the development of both the iPod and iPhone at Apple, worked at Rocket Science, as did the guys who developed the QuickTime multimedia software for Apple. They also had people who worked on the original Star Wars effects at Industrial Light and Magic and some who did games at LucasArts Entertainment. Rocket Science gave Musk a flavor for what Silicon Valley had to offer both from a talent and culture perspective. There were people working at the office twenty-four hours a day, and they didn_t think it at all odd that Musk would turn up around 5 P.M. every evening to start his second job. _We brought him in to write some very menial low-level code,_ said Peter Barrett, an Australian engineer who helped start the company. _He was completely unflappable. After a short while, I don_t think anyone was giving him any direction, and he ended up making what he wanted to make._ Specifically, Musk had been asked to write the drivers that would let joysticks and mice communicate with various computers and games. Drivers are the same types of annoying files that you have to install to get a printer or camera working with a home computer_true grunt work. A self-taught programmer, Musk fancied himself quite good at coding and assigned himself to more ambitious jobs. _I was basically trying to figure out how you could multitask stuff, so you could read video from a CD, while running a game at the same time,_ Musk said. _At the time, you could do one or the other. It was this complicated bit of assembly programming._ Complicated indeed. Musk had to issue commands that spoke directly to a computer_s main microprocessor and fiddled with the most basic functions that made the machine work. Bruce Leak, the former lead engineer behind Apple_s QuickTime, had overseen the hiring of Musk and marveled at his ability to pull all-nighters. _He had boundless energy,_ Leak said. _Kids these days have no idea about hardware or how stuff works, but he had a PC hacker background and was not afraid to just go figure things out._ Musk found in Silicon Valley a wealth of the opportunity he_d been seeking and a place equal to his ambitions. He would return two summers in a row and then bolt west permanently after graduating with dual degrees from Penn. He initially intended to pursue a doctorate in materials science and physics at Stanford and to advance the work he_d done at Pinnacle on ultracapacitors. As the story goes, Musk dropped out of Stanford after two days, finding the Internet_s call irresistible. He talked Kimbal into moving to Silicon Valley as well, so they could conquer the Web together. The first inklings of a viable Internet business had come to Musk during his internships. A salesperson from the Yellow Pages had come into one of the start-up offices. He tried to sell the idea of an online listing to complement the regular listing a company would have in the big, fat Yellow Pages book. The salesman struggled with his pitch and clearly had little grasp of what the Internet actually was or how someone would find a business on it. The flimsy pitch got Musk thinking, and he reached out to Kimbal, talking up the idea of helping businesses get online for the first time. _Elon said, _These guys don_t know what they are talking about. Maybe this is something we can do,__ Kimbal said. This was 1995, and the brothers were about to form Global Link Information Network, a start-up that would eventually be renamed Zip2. (For details on the controversy surrounding Zip2_s founding and Musk_s academic record, see Appendix 1.) The Zip2 idea was ingenious. Few small businesses in 1995 understood the ramifications of the Internet. They had little idea how to get on it and didn_t really see the value in creating a website for their business or even in having a Yellow Pages_like listing online. Musk and his brother hoped to convince restaurants, clothing shops, hairdressers, and the like that the time had come for them to make their presence known to the Web-surfing public. Zip2 would create a searchable directory of businesses and tie this into maps. Musk often explained the concept through pizza, saying that everyone deserved the right to know the location of their closest pizza parlor and the turn-by-turn directions to get there. This may seem obvious today_think Yelp meets Google Maps_but back then, not even stoners had dreamed up such a service. The Musk brothers brought Zip2 to life at 430 Sherman Avenue in Palo Alto. They rented a studio-apartment-sized office_twenty feet by thirty feet_and acquired some basic furniture. The three-story building had its quirks. There were no elevators, and the toilets often backed up. _It was literally a shitty place to work,_ said an early employee. To get a fast Internet connection, Musk struck a deal with Ray Girouard, an entrepreneur who ran an Internet service provider operation from the floor below the Zip2 offices. According to Girouard, Musk drilled a hole in the drywall near the Zip2 door and then strung an Ethernet cable down the stairwell to the ISP. _They were slow to pay a couple of times but never stiffed me on the bill,_ Girouard said. Musk did all of the original coding behind the service himself, while the more amiable Kimbal looked to ramp up the door-to-door sales operation. Musk had acquired a cheap license to a database of business listings in the Bay Area that would give a business_s name and its address. He then contacted Navteq, a company that had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create digital maps and directions that could be used in early GPS navigation-style devices, and struck a masterful bargain. _We called them up, and they gave us the technology for free,_ said Kimbal. Musk merged the two databases together to get a rudimentary system up and running. Over time, Zip2_s engineers had to augment this initial data haul with more maps to cover areas outside of major metropolitan areas and to build custom turn-by-turn directions that would look good and work well on a home computer. Errol Musk gave his sons $28,000 to help them through this period, but they were more or less broke after getting the office space, licensing software, and buying some equipment. For the first three months of Zip2_s life, Musk and his brother lived at the office. They had a small closet where they kept their clothes and would shower at the YMCA. _Sometimes we ate four meals a day at Jack in the Box,_ Kimbal said. _It was open twenty-four hours, which suited our work schedule. I got a smoothie one time, and there was something in it. I just pulled it out and kept drinking. I haven_t been able to eat there since, but I can still recite their menu._ Next, the brothers rented a two-bedroom apartment. They didn_t have the money or the inclination to get furniture. So there were just a couple of mattresses on the floor. Musk somehow managed to convince a young South Korean engineer to come work at Zip2 as an intern in exchange for room and board. _This poor kid thought he was coming over for a job at a big company,_ Kimbal said. _He ended up living with us and had no idea what he was getting into._ One day, the intern drove the Musks_ battered BMW 320i to work, and a wheel came off en route. The axle dug into the street at the intersection of Page Mill Road and El Camino Real, and the groove it carved out remained visible for years. Zip2 may have been a go-go Internet enterprise aimed at the Information Age, but getting it off the ground required old-fashioned door-to-door salesmanship. Businesses needed to be persuaded of the Web_s benefits and charmed into paying for the unknown. In late 1995, the Musk brothers began making their first hires and assembling a motley sales team. Jeff Heilman, a free-spirited twenty-year-old trying to figure out what to do with his life, arrived as one of Zip2_s first recruits. He_d been watching TV late one night with his dad and seen a Web address printed at the bottom of the screen during a commercial. _It was for something dot-com,_ Heilman said. _I remember sitting there and asking my dad what we were looking at. He said he didn_t know, either. That_s when I realized I had to go find me some Internet._ Heilman spent a couple of weeks trying to chat up people who could explain the Internet to him and then stumbled on a two-by-two-inch Zip2 job listing in the San Jose Mercury News. _Internet Sales Apply Here!_ it read, and Heilman got the gig. A handful of other salespeople joined him and worked for commissions. Musk never seemed to leave the office. He slept, not unlike a dog, on a beanbag next to his desk. _Almost every day, I_d come in at seven thirty or eight A.M., and he_d be asleep right there on that bag,_ Heilman said. _Maybe he showered on the weekends. I don_t know._ Musk asked those first employees of Zip2 to give him a kick when they arrived, and he_d wake up and get back to work. While Musk did his possessed coder thing, Kimbal became the rah-rah sales leader. _Kimbal was the eternal optimist, and he was very, very uplifting,_ Heilman said. _I had never met anyone quite like him._ Kimbal sent Heilman to the high-end Stanford shopping mall and to University Avenue, the main drag in Palo Alto, to coax retailers into signing up with Zip2, explaining that a sponsored listing would send a company to the top of search results. The big problem, of course, was that no one was buying. Week after week, Heilman knocked on doors and returned to the office with very little to report in the way of good news. The nicest responses came from the people who told Heilman that advertising on the Internet sounded like the dumbest thing they had ever heard of. Most often, the shop owners just told Heilman to leave and stop bothering them. When lunchtime came around, the Musks would reach into a cigar box where they kept some cash, take Heilman out, and get the depressing status reports on the sales. Craig Mohr, another early employee, gave up his job selling real estate to hawk Zip2_s service. He decided to court auto dealerships because they usually spent lots of money on advertising. He told them about Zip2_s main website_www.totalinfo.com_and tried to convince them that demand was high to get a listing like www.totalinfo.com/toyotaofsiliconvalley. The service did not always work when Mohr demonstrated it or it would load very slowly, as was common back then. This forced him to talk the customers into imagining Zip2_s potential. _One day I came back with about nine hundred dollars in checks,_ Mohr said. _I walked into the office and asked the guys what they wanted me to do with the money. Elon stopped pounding his keyboard, leaned out from behind his monitor, and said, _No way, you_ve got money.__ What kept the employees_ spirits up were the continuous improvements Musk made with the Zip2 software. The service had morphed from a proof-of-concept to an actual product that could be used and demoed. Ever marketing savvy, the Musk brothers tried to make their Web service seem more important by giving it an imposing physical body. Musk built a huge case around a standard PC and lugged the unit onto a base with wheels. When prospective investors would come by, Musk would put on a show and roll this massive machine out so that it appeared like Zip2 ran inside of a mini-supercomputer. _The investors thought that was impressive,_ Kimbal said. Heilman also noticed that the investors bought into Musk_s slavish devotion to the company. _Even then, as essentially a college kid with zits, Elon had this drive that this thing_whatever it was_had to get done and that if he didn_t do it, he_d miss his shot,_ Heilman said. _I think that_s what the VCs saw_that he was willing to stake his existence on building out this platform._ Musk actually said as much to one venture capitalist, informing him, _My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail._ Early on in the Zip2 venture, Musk acquired an important confidant, who tempered some of these more dramatic impulses. Greg Kouri, a Canadian businessman in his mid-thirties, had met the Musks in Toronto and bought into the early Zip2 brainstorming. The boys had showed up at his door one morning to inform Kouri that they intended to head to California to give the business a shot. Still in his red bathrobe, Kouri went back into the house, dug around for a couple of minutes, and came back with a wad of $6,000. In early 1996, he moved to California and joined Zip2 as a cofounder. Kouri, who had done a number of real estate deals in the past and had actual business experience and skills at reading people, served as the adult supervision at Zip2. The Canadian had a knack for calming Musk and ended up becoming something of a mentor. _Really smart people sometimes don_t understand that not everyone can keep up with them or go as fast,_ said Derek Proudian, a venture capitalist who would become Zip2_s chief executive officer. _Greg is one of the few people that Elon would listen to and had a way of putting things in context for him._ Kouri also used to referee fistfights between Elon and Kimbal, in the middle of the office. _I don_t get in fights with anyone else, but Elon and I don_t have the ability to reconcile a vision other than our own,_ Kimbal said. During a particularly nasty scrap over a business decision, Elon ripped some skin off his fist and had to go get a tetanus shot. Kouri put an end to the fights after that. (Kouri died of a heart attack in 2012 at the age of fifty-one, having made a fortune investing in Musk_s companies. Musk attended his funeral. _We owe him a lot,_ said Kimbal.) In early 1996, Zip2 underwent a massive change. The venture capital firm Mohr Davidow Ventures had caught wind of a couple of South African boys trying to make a Yellow Pages for the Internet and met with the brothers. Musk, while raw in his presentation skills, pitched the company well enough, and the investors came away impressed with his energy. Mohr Davidow invested $3 million into the company.* With these funds in hand, the company officially changed its name from Global Link to Zip2_the idea being zip to here, zip to there_moved to a larger office at 390 Cambridge Avenue in Palo Alto, and began hiring talented engineers. Zip2 also shifted its business strategy. At the time, the company had built one of the best direction systems on the Web. Zip2 would advance this technology and take it from focusing just on the Bay Area to having a national scope. The company_s main focus, however, would be an altogether new play. Instead of selling its service door-to-door, Zip2 would create a software package that could be sold to newspapers, which would in turn build their own directories for real estate, auto dealers, and classifieds. The newspapers were late understanding how the Internet would impact their businesses, and Zip2_s software would give them a quick way of getting online without needing to develop all their own technology from scratch. For its part, Zip2 could chase bigger prey and get a cut of a nationwide network of listings. This transition of the business model and the company_s makeup would be a seminal moment in Musk_s life. The venture capitalists pushed Musk into the role of chief technology officer and hired Rich Sorkin as the company_s CEO. Sorkin had worked at Creative Labs, a maker of audio equipment, and run the business development group at the company, where he steered a number of investments in Internet start-ups. Zip2_s investors saw him as experienced and clued in to the Web. While Musk agreed to the arrangement, he came to resent giving up control of Zip2. _Probably the biggest regret the whole time I worked with him was that he had made a deal with the devil with Mohr Davidow,_ said Jim Ambras, the vice president of engineering at Zip2. _Elon didn_t have any operational responsibilities, and he wanted to be CEO._ Ambras had worked at Hewlett-Packard Labs and Silicon Graphics Inc. and exemplified the high-caliber talent Zip2 brought on after the first wave of money arrived. Silicon Graphics, a maker of high-end computers beloved by Hollywood, was the flashiest company of its day and had hoarded the elite geeks of Silicon Valley. And yet Ambras used the promise of Internet riches to poach a team of SGI_s smartest engineers over to Zip2. _Our attorneys got a letter from SGI saying that we were cherry-picking the very best guys,_ Ambras said. _Elon thought that was fantastic._ While Musk had exceled as a self-taught coder, his skills weren_t nearly as polished as those of the new hires. They took one look at Zip2_s code and began rewriting the vast majority of the software. Musk bristled at some of their changes, but the computer scientists needed just a fraction of the lines of code that Musk used to get their jobs done. They had a knack for dividing software projects into chunks that could be altered and refined whereas Musk fell into the classic self-taught coder trap of writing what developers call hairballs_big, monolithic hunks of code that could go berserk for mysterious reasons. The engineers also brought a more refined working structure and realistic deadlines to the engineering group. This was a welcome change from Musk_s approach, which had been to set overly optimistic deadlines and then try to get engineers to work nonstop for days on end to meet the goals. _If you asked Elon how long it would take to do something, there was never anything in his mind that would take more than an hour,_ Ambras said. _We came to interpret an hour as really taking a day or two and if Elon ever did say something would take a day, we allowed for a week or two weeks._ Starting Zip2 and watching it grow imbued Musk with self-confidence. Terence Beney, one of Musk_s high school friends, came to California for a visit and noticed the change in Musk_s character right away. He watched Musk confront a nasty landlord who had been giving his mother, who was renting an apartment in town, a hard time. _He said, _If you_re going to bully someone, bully me._ It was startling to see him take over the situation. The last time I had seen him he was this geeky, awkward kid who would sometimes lose his temper. He was the kid you would pick on to get a response. Now he was confident and in control._ Musk also began consciously trying to manage his criticism of others. _Elon is not someone who would say, _I feel you. I see your point of view,__ said Justine. _Because he doesn_t have that _I feel you_ dimension there were things that seemed obvious to other people that weren_t that obvious to him. He had to learn that a twenty-something-year-old shouldn_t really shoot down the plans of older, senior people and point out everything wrong with them. He learned to modify his behavior in certain ways. I just think he comes at the world through strategy and intellect._ The personality tweaks worked with varying degrees of success. Musk still tended to drive the young engineers mad with his work demands and blunt criticism. _I remember being in a meeting once brainstorming about a new product_a new-car site,_ said Doris Downes, the creative director at Zip2. _Someone complained about a technical change that we wanted being impossible. Elon turned and said, _I don_t really give a damn what you think,_ and walked out of the meeting. For Elon, the word no does not exist, and he expects that attitude from everyone around him._ Periodically, Musk let loose on the more senior executives as well. _You would see people come out of the meetings with this disgusted look on their face,_ Mohr, the salesman, said. _You don_t get to where Elon is now by always being a nice guy, and he was just so driven and sure of himself._ As Musk tried to come to terms with the changes the investors had inflicted on Zip2, he did enjoy some of the perks of having big-money backing. The financiers helped the Musk brothers with their visas. They also gave them $30,000 each to buy cars. Musk and Kimbal had traded in their dilapidated BMW for a dilapidated sedan that they spray-painted with polka dots. Kimbal upgraded from that to a BMW 3 Series, and Musk bought a Jaguar E-Type. _It kept breaking down, and would arrive at the office on a flatbed,_ Kimbal said. _But Elon always thought big._* As a bonding exercise one weekend, Musk, Ambras, a few other employees and friends took off for a bike ride through the Saratoga Gap trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Most of the riders had been training and were accustomed to strenuous sessions and the summer_s heat. They set up the mountains at a furious pace. After an hour, Russ Rive, Musk_s cousin, reached the top and proceeded to vomit. Right behind him were the rest of the cyclists. Then, fifteen minutes later, Musk became visible to the group. His face had turned purple, and sweat poured out of him, and he made it to the top. _I always think back to that ride. He wasn_t close to being in the condition needed for it,_ Ambras said. _Anyone else would have quit or walked up their bike. As I watched him climb that final hundred feet with suffering all over his face, I thought, That_s Elon. Do or die but don_t give up._ Musk continued to be a ball of energy around the office as well. Ahead of visits by venture capitalists and other investors, Musk would rally the troops and instruct them all to get on the phone to create a buzzy atmosphere. He also formed a video-game team to participate in competitions around Quake, a first-person-shooter game. _We competed in one of the first nationwide tournaments,_ Musk said. _We came in second, and we would have come in first, but one of our top players_ machine crashed because he had pushed his graphics card too hard. We won a few thousand dollars._ Zip2 had remarkable success courting newspapers. The New York Times, Knight Ridder, Hearst Corporation, and other media properties signed up to its service. Some of these companies contributed $50 million in additional funding for Zip2. Services like Craigslist with its free online classifieds had just started to appear, and the newspapers needed some course of action. _The newspapers knew they were in trouble with the Internet, and the idea was to sign up as many of them as possible,_ Ambras said. _They wanted classifieds and listings for real estate, automotive, and entertainment and could use us as a platform for all these online services._ Zip2 acquired a trademark for its _We Power the Press_ slogan and the influx of cash kept Zip2 growing fast. Company headquarters were soon so crowded that one desk ended up directly in front of the women_s bathroom. In 1997, Zip2 moved into flashier, more spacious digs at 444 Castro Street in Mountain View. It irritated Musk that Zip2 had become a behind-the-scenes player to the newspapers. He believed the company could offer interesting services directly to consumers and encouraged the purchase of the domain name city.com with the hopes of turning it into a consumer destination. But the lure of the media companies_ money kept Sorkin and the board on a conservative path, and they decided to worry about a consumer push down the road. In April 1998, Zip2 announced a blockbuster move to double down on its strategy. It would merge with its main competitor CitySearch in a deal valued at around $300 million. The new company would retain the CitySearch name, while Sorkin would head up the venture. On paper, the union looked very much like a merger of equals. CitySearch had built up an extensive set of directories for cities around the country. It also appeared to have strong sales and marketing teams that would complement the talented engineers at Zip2. The merger had been announced in the press and seemed inevitable. The opinions on what happened next vary greatly. The logistics of the situation required the two companies to go over each other_s books and to figure out which employees would be fired to avoid a duplication of roles. This process raised some questions about how frank CitySearch had been with its financials and rankled some executives at Zip2 who could see their positions being diminished or erased altogether at the new company. One faction inside Zip2 argued that the deal should be abandoned, while Sorkin demanded that it go through. Musk, who had been an early advocate of the deal, turned against it. In May 1998, the two companies canceled the merger, and the press pounced, making a big deal of the chaotic bust-up. Musk urged Zip2_s board to oust Sorkin and reinstate him as CEO of Zip2. The board declined. Instead, Musk lost his chairman title, and Sorkin was replaced by Derek Proudian, a venture capitalist with Mohr Davidow. Sorkin considered Musk_s behavior through the whole affair atrocious and later pointed to the board_s reaction and Musk_s demotion as evidence that they felt the same way. _There was a lot of backlash and finger-pointing,_ Proudian said. _Elon wanted to be CEO, but I said, _This is your first company. Let_s find an acquirer and make some money, so you can do your second, third, and fourth company.__ With the deal busted, Zip2 found itself in a predicament. It was losing money. Musk still wanted to go the consumer route, but Proudian feared that would take too much capital. Microsoft had mounted a charge into the same market, and start-ups with mapping, real estate, and automotive ideas multiplied. The Zip2 engineers were deflated and worried that they might not be able to outrun the competition. Then, in February 1999, the PC maker Compaq Computer suddenly offered to pay $307 million in cash for Zip2. _It was like pennies from heaven,_ said Ed Ho, a former Zip2 executive. Zip2_s board accepted the offer, and the company rented out a restaurant in Palo Alto and threw a huge party. Mohr Davidow had made back twenty times its original investment, and Musk and Kimbal had come away with $22 million and $15 million, respectively. Musk never entertained the idea of sticking around at Compaq. _As soon as it was clear the company would be sold, Elon was on to his next project,_ Proudian said. From that point on, Musk would fight to maintain control of his companies and stay CEO. _We were overwhelmed and just thought these guys must know what they_re doing,_ Kimbal said. _But they_ didn_t. There was no vision once they took over. They were investors, and we got on well with them, but the vision had just disappeared from the company._ Years later, after he had time to reflect on the Zip2 situation, Musk realized that he could have handled some of the situations with employees better. _I had never really run a team of any sort before,_ Musk said. _I_d never been a sports captain or a captain of anything or managed a single person. I had to think, Okay, what are the things that affect how a team functions. The first obvious assumption would be that other people will behave like you. But that_s not true. Even if they would like to behave like you, they don_t necessarily have all the assumptions or information that you have in your mind. So, if I know a certain set of things, and I talk to a replica of myself but only communicate half the information, you can_t expect that the replica would come to the same conclusion. You have to put yourself in a position where you say, _Well, how would this sound to them, knowing what they know?__ Employees at Zip2 would go home at night, come back, and find that Musk had changed their work without talking to them, and Musk_s confrontational style did more harm than good. _Yeah, we had some very good software engineers at Zip2, but I mean, I could code way better than them. And I_d just go in and fix their fucking code,_ Musk said. _I would be frustrated waiting for their stuff, so I_m going to go and fix your code and now it runs five times faster, you idiot. There was one guy who wrote a quantum mechanics equation, a quantum probability on the board, and he got it wrong. I_m like, _How can you write that?_ Then I corrected it for him. He hated me after that. Eventually, I realized, Okay, I might have fixed that thing but now I_ve made the person unproductive. It just wasn_t a good way to go about things._ Musk, the dot-com striver, had been both lucky and good. He had a decent idea, turned it into a real service, and came out of the dot-com tumult with cash in his pockets, which was better than what many of his compatriots could say. The process had been painful. Musk had yearned to be a leader, but the people around him struggled to see how Musk as the CEO could work. As far as Musk was concerned, they were all wrong, and he set out to prove his point with what would end up being even more dramatic results. 5 PAYPAL MAFIA BOSS THE SALE OF ZIP2 INFUSED ELON MUSK WITH A NEW BRAND OF CONFIDENCE. Much like the video-game characters he adored, Musk had leveled up. He had solved Silicon Valley and become what everyone at the time wanted to be_a dot-com millionaire. His next venture would need to live up to his rapidly inflating ambition. This left Musk searching for an industry that had tons of money and inefficiencies that he and the Internet could exploit. Musk began thinking back to his time as an intern at the Bank of Nova Scotia. His big takeaway from that job, that bankers are rich and dumb, now had the feel of a massive opportunity. During his time working for the head of strategy at the bank in the early 1990s, Musk had been asked to take a look at the company_s third-world debt portfolio. This pool of money went by the depressing name of _less-developed country debt,_ and Bank of Nova Scotia had billions of dollars of it. Countries throughout South America and elsewhere had defaulted in the years prior, forcing the bank to write down some of its debt value. Musk_s boss wanted him to dig into the bank_s holdings as a learning experiment and try to determine how much the debt was actually worth. While pursuing this project, Musk stumbled upon what seemed like an obvious business opportunity. The United States had tried to help reduce the debt burden of a number of developing countries through so-called Brady bonds, in which the U.S. government basically backstopped the debt of countries like Brazil and Argentina. Musk noticed an arbitrage play. _I calculated the backstop value, and it was something like fifty cents on the dollar, while the actual debt was trading at twenty-five cents,_ Musk said. _This was like the biggest opportunity ever, and nobody seemed to realize it._ Musk tried to remain cool and calm as he rang Goldman Sachs, one of the main traders in this market, and probed around about what he had seen. He inquired as to how much Brazilian debt might be available at the 25-cents price. _The guy said, _How much do you want?_ and I came up with some ridiculous number like ten billion dollars,_ Musk said. When the trader confirmed that was doable, Musk hung up the phone. _I was thinking that they had to be fucking crazy because you could double your money. Everything was backed by Uncle Sam. It was a no-brainer._ Musk had spent the summer earning about fourteen dollars an hour and getting chewed out for using the executive coffee machine, among other status infractions, and figured his moment to shine and make a big bonus had arrived. He sprinted up to his boss_s office and pitched the opportunity of a lifetime. _You can make billions of dollars for free,_ he said. His boss told Musk to write up a report, which soon got passed up to the bank_s CEO, who promptly rejected the proposal, saying the bank had been burned on Brazilian and Argentinian debt before and didn_t want to mess with it again. _I tried to tell them that_s not the point,_ Musk said. _The point is that it_s fucking backed by Uncle Sam. It doesn_t matter what the South Americans do. You cannot lose unless you think the U.S. Treasury is going to default. But they still didn_t do it, and I was stunned. Later in life, as I competed against the banks, I would think back to this moment, and it gave me confidence. All the bankers did was copy what everyone else did. If everyone else ran off a bloody cliff, they_d run right off a cliff with them. If there was a giant pile of gold sitting in the middle of the room and nobody was picking it up, they wouldn_t pick it up, either._ In the years that followed, Musk considered starting an Internet bank and discussed it openly during his internship at Pinnacle Research in 1995. The youthful Musk lectured the scientists about the inevitable transition coming in finance toward online systems, but they tried to talk him down, saying that it would takes ages for Web security to be good enough to win over consumers. Musk, though, remained convinced that the finance industry could do with a major upgrade and that he could have a big influence on banking with a relatively small investment. _Money is low bandwidth,_ he said, during a speech at Stanford University in 2003, to describe his thinking. _You don_t need some sort of big infrastructure improvement to do things with it. It_s really just an entry in a database._ The actual plan that Musk concocted was beyond grandiose. As the researchers at Pinnacle had pointed out, people were barely comfortable buying books online. They might take their chances entering a credit card number but exposing just their bank accounts to the Web was out of the question to many. Pah. So what? Musk wanted to build a full-service financial institution online: a company that would have savings and checking accounts as well as brokerage services and insurance. The technology to build such a service was possible, but navigating the regulatory hell of creating an online bank from scratch looked like an intractable problem to optimists and an impossibility to more level heads. This was not dishing out directions to a pizzeria or putting up a house listing. It was dealing with people_s finances, and there would be real repercussions if the service did not work as billed. Undaunted, Musk kicked this new plan into action before Zip2 had even been sold. He chatted up some of the best engineers at the company to get a feel for who might be willing to join him in another venture. Musk also bounced his ideas off some contacts he_d made at the bank in Canada. In January 1999, with Zip2_s board seeking a buyer, Musk began to formalize his banking plan. The deal with Compaq was announced the next month. And in March, Musk incorporated X.com, a finance start-up with a pornographic-sounding name. It had taken Musk less than a decade to go from being a Canadian backpacker to becoming a multimillionaire at the age of twenty-seven. With his $22 million, he moved from sharing an apartment with three roommates to buying an 1,800-square-foot condo and renovating it. He also bought a $1 million McLaren F1 sports car and a small prop plane and learned to fly. Musk embraced the newfound celebrity that he_d earned as part of the dot-com millionaire set. He let CNN show up at his apartment at 7 A.M. to film the delivery of the car. A black eighteen-wheeler pulled up in front of Musk_s place and then lowered the sleek, sliver vehicle onto the street, while Musk stood slack-jawed with his arms folded. _There are sixty-two McLarens in the world, and I will own one of them,_ he told CNN. _Wow, I can_t believe it_s actually here. That_s pretty wild, man._ CNN interspersed video of the car delivery with interviews with Musk. The whole time he looked like a caricature of an engineer who had made it big. Musk_s hair had started thinning, and he had a closely cropped cut that accentuated his boyish face. He wore an all-too-big brown sport coat and checked his cell phone from his lavish car, sitting next to his gorgeous girlfriend, Justine, and he seemed spellbound by his life. Musk rolled out one laughable rich-guy line after another, talking first about the Zip2 deal__Receiving cash is cash. I mean, those are just a large number of Ben Franklins__next about the awesomeness of his life__There it is, gentlemen, the fastest car in the world__and then about his prodigious ambition__I could go and buy one of the islands in the Bahamas and turn it into my personal fiefdom, but I am much more interested in trying to build and create a new company._ The camera crew followed Musk to the X.com offices, where his cocksure delivery led to another round of cringe-worthy statements: _I do not fit the picture of a banker,_ _Raising fifty million dollars is a matter of making a series of phone calls, and the money is there,_ _I think X.com could absolutely be a multibillion-dollar bonanza._ Musk purchased the McLaren from a seller in Florida, snatching the car away from Ralph Lauren, who had also inquired about buying it. Even very wealthy people like Lauren would tend to reserve something like a McLaren for special events or the occasional Sunday drive. Not Musk. He drove it all around Silicon Valley and parked it on the street by the X.com offices. His friends were horrified to see such a work of art covered with bird droppings or in the parking lot of a Safeway. One day, Musk e-mailed fellow McLaren owner Larry Ellison, the billionaire cofounder of the software maker Oracle, out of the blue to see if he wanted to go race cars around a track for fun. Jim Clark, another billionaire who liked fast things, caught wind of the proposal and told a friend that he needed to rush over to the local Ferrari dealership to buy something that could compete. Musk had joined the big boys_ club. _Elon was super-excited about all of this,_ said George Zachary, a venture capitalist and close friend of Musk_s. _He showed me the correspondence with Larry._ The next year, while driving down Sand Hill Road to meet with an investor, Musk turned to a friend in the car and said, _Watch this._ He floored the car, did a lane change, spun out, and hit an embankment, which started the car spinning in midair like a Frisbee. The windows and wheels were blown to smithereens, and the body of the car damaged. Musk again turned to his companion and said, _The funny part is it wasn_t insured._ The two of them then thumbed a ride to the venture capitalist_s office. To his credit, Musk did not fully buy in to this playboy persona. He actually plowed the majority of the money he made from Zip2 into X.com. There were practical reasons for this decision. Investors catch a break under the tax law if they roll a windfall into a new venture within a couple of months. But even by Silicon Valley_s high-risk standards, it was shocking to put so much of one_s newfound wealth into something as iffy as an online bank. All told, Musk invested about $12 million into X.com, leaving him, after taxes, with $4 million or so for personal use. _That_s part of what separates Elon from mere mortals,_ said Ed Ho, the former Zip2 executive, who went on to cofound X.com. _He_s willing to take an insane amount of personal risk. When you do a deal like that, it either pays off or you end up in a bus shelter somewhere._ Musk_s decision to invest so much money in X.com looks even more unusual in hindsight. Much of the point of being a dot-com success in 1999 was to prove yourself once, stash away your millions, and then use your credentials to talk other people into betting their money on your next venture. Musk would certainly go on to rely on outside investors, but he put major skin in the game as well. So while Musk could be found on television talking like the rest of the self-absorbed dot-com schmucks, he behaved more like a throwback to Silicon Valley_s earlier days, when the founders of companies like Intel were willing to take huge gambles on themselves. Where Zip2 had been a neat, useful idea, X.com held the promise of fomenting a major revolution. Musk, for the first time, would be confronting a deep-pocketed, entrenched industry head-on with the hopes of upending all of the incumbents. Musk also began to hone his trademark style of entering an ultracomplex business and not letting the fact that he knew very little about the industry_s nuances bother him in the slightest. He had an inkling that the bankers were doing finance all wrong and that he could run the business better than everyone else. Musk_s ego and confidence had started heading toward the levels that would inspire some and leave others thinking of him as pompous and unscrupulous. The creation of X.com would ultimately reveal a great deal about Musk_s creativity, relentless drive, confrontational style, and foibles as a leader. Musk would also get another taste of being pushed aside at his own company and the pain that accompanies a grand vision left unfulfilled. Musk assembled what looked like an all-star crew to start X.com. Ho had worked at SGI and Zip2 as an engineer, and his peers marveled at his coding and team-management skills. They were joined by a pair of Canadians with finance experience_Harris Fricker and Christopher Payne. Musk had met Fricker during his time as an intern at the Bank of Nova Scotia, and the two really hit it off. A Rhodes scholar, Fricker brought the knowledge of the banking world_s mechanics that X.com would need. Payne was Fricker_s friend from the Canadian finance community. All four men were considered cofounders of the company, while Musk emerged as the largest shareholder thanks to his hefty up-front investment. X.com began, like so many Silicon Valley operations, at a house where the cofounders began brainstorming, and then moved to more formal offices at 394 University Avenue in Palo Alto. The cofounders were aligned philosophically around the idea that the banking industry had fallen behind the times. Visiting a branch bank to speak with a teller seemed pretty archaic now that the Internet had arrived. The rhetoric sounded good, and the four men were enthused. The only thing stopping them was reality. Musk had a modicum of banking experience and had resorted to buying a book on the industry to help understand its inner workings. The more the cofounders thought about their plan of attack, the more they realized the regulatory issues blocking the creation of an online bank were insurmountable. _As four and five months went by, the onion just kept unwrapping,_ said Ho.* From the outset, there were personality clashes as well. Musk had become a budding superstar in Silicon Valley and had the press fawning over him. This didn_t sit that well with Fricker, who_d moved from Canada and pegged X.com as his chance to make a mark on the world as a banking whiz. Fricker, according to numerous people, wanted to run X.com and do so in a more conventional manner. He found Musk_s visionary statements to the press about rethinking the entire banking industry silly since the company was struggling to build much of anything. _We were out promising the sun, moon, and the stars to the media,_ Fricker said. _Elon would say that this is not a normal business environment, and you have to suspend normal business thinking. He said, _There is a happy-gas factory up on the hill, and it_s pumping stuff into the Valley.__ Fricker would not be the last person to accuse Musk of overhyping products and playing the public, although whether this is a flaw or one of Musk_s great talents as a businessman is up for debate. The squabble between Fricker and Musk came to a quick, nasty end. Just five months after X.com had started, Fricker initiated a coup. _He said either he takes over as CEO or he_s just going to take everyone from the company and create his own company,_ Musk said. _I don_t do well with blackmail. I said, _You should go do that._ So he did._ Musk tried to talk Ho and some of the other key engineers into staying, but they sided with Fricker and left. Musk ended up with a shell of a company and a handful of loyal employees. _After all that went down, I remember sitting with Elon in his office,_ said Julie Ankenbrandt, an early X.com employee who stayed. _There were a million laws in place to block something like X.com from happening, but Elon didn_t care. He just looked at me and said, _I guess we should hire some more people.__* Musk had been trying to raise funding for X.com and had been forced to go to venture capitalists and confess that there wasn_t much in the way of a company left. Mike Moritz, a famed investor from Sequoia Capital, backed the company nonetheless, making a bet on Musk and little else. Musk hit the streets of Silicon Valley once again and managed to attract engineers with his rah-rah speeches about the future of Internet banking. Scott Anderson, a young computer scientist, started on August 1, 1999, just a few days after the exodus, and bought right into the vision. _You look back, and it was total insanity,_ Anderson said. _We had what amounted to a Hollywood movie set of a website. It barely got past the VCs._ Week by week, more engineers arrived and the vision became more real. The company secured a banking license and a mutual fund license and formed a partnership with Barclays. By November, X.com_s small software team had created one of the world_s first online banks complete with FDIC insurance to back the bank accounts and three mutual funds for investors to choose. Musk gave the engineers $100,000 of his own money to conduct their testing. On the night before Thanksgiving in 1999, X.com went live to the public. _I was there until two A.M.,_ Anderson said. _Then, I went home to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Elon called me a few hours later and asked me to come into the office to relieve some of the other engineers. Elon stayed there forty-eight straight hours, making sure things worked._ Under Musk_s direction, X.com tried out some radical banking concepts. Customers received a $20 cash card just for signing up to use the service and a $10 card for every person they referred. Musk did away with niggling fees and overdraft penalties. In a very modern twist, X.com also built a person-to-person payment system in which you could send someone money just by plugging their e-mail address into the site. The whole idea was to shift away from slow-moving banks with their mainframes taking days to process payments and to create a kind of agile bank account where you could move money around with a couple of clicks on a mouse or an e-mail. This was revolutionary stuff, and more than 200,000 people bought into it and signed up for X.com within the first couple of months of operation. Soon enough, X.com had a major competitor. A couple of brainy kids named Max Levchin and Peter Thiel had been working on a payment system of their own at their start-up called Confinity. The duo actually rented their office space_a glorified broom closet_from X.com and were trying to make it possible for owners of Palm Pilot handhelds to swap money via the infrared ports on the devices. Between X.com and Confinity, the small office on University Avenue had turned into the frenzied epicenter of the Internet finance revolution. _It was this mass of adolescent men that worked so hard,_ Ankenbrandt said. _It stunk so badly in there. I can still smell it_leftover pizza, body odor, and sweat._ The pleasantries between X.com and Confinity came to an abrupt end. The Confinity founders moved to an office down the street and, like X.com, began focusing their attention on Web and e-mail-based payments with their service known as PayPal. The companies became locked in a heated battle to match each other_s features and attract more users, knowing that whoever got bigger faster would win. Tens of millions of dollars were spent on promotions, while millions more were lost battling hackers who had seized upon the services as new playgrounds for fraud. _It was like the Internet version of making it rain at a strip club,_ said Jeremy Stoppelman, an X.com engineer who went on to become the CEO of Yelp. _You gave away money as fast as you could._ The race to win Internet payments gave Musk a chance to show off his quick thinking and work ethic. He kept devising plans to counter the advantage PayPal had established on auction sites like eBay. And he rallied the X.com employees to implement the tactics as fast as possible using brute-force appeals to their competitive natures. _There really wasn_t anything suave about him,_ Ankenbrandt said. _We all worked twenty hours a day, and he worked twenty-three hours._ In March 2000, X.com and Confinity finally decided to stop trying to spend each other into oblivion and to join forces. Confinity had what looked like the hottest product in PayPal but was paying out $100,000 a day in awards to new customers and didn_t have the cash reserves to keep going. X.com, by contrast, still had plenty of cash reserves and the more sophisticated banking products. It took the lead in setting the merger terms, leaving Musk as the largest shareholder of the combined company, which would be called X.com. Shortly after the deal closed, X.com raised $100 million from backers including Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs and boasted that it had more than one million customers.* The two companies tried hard to mesh their cultures, with modest success. Groups of employees from X.com tied their computer monitors to their desk chairs with power cords and rolled them down the street to the Confinity offices to work alongside their new colleagues. But the teams could never quite see eye to eye. Musk kept championing the X.com brand, while most everyone else favored PayPal. More fights broke out over the design of the company_s technology infrastructure. The Confinity team led by Levchin favored moving toward open-source software like Linux, while Musk championed Microsoft_s data-center software as being more likely to keep productivity high. This squabble may sound silly to outsiders, but it was the equivalent of a religious war to the engineers, many of whom viewed Microsoft as a dated evil empire and Linux as the modern software of the people. Two months after the merger, Thiel resigned and Levchin threatened to walk out over the technology rift. Musk was left to run a fractured company. The technology issues X.com had been facing worsened as the computing systems failed to keep up with an exploding customer base. Once a week, the company_s website collapsed. Most of the engineers were ordered to start work designing a new system, which distracted key technical personnel and left X.com vulnerable to fraud. _We were losing money hand over fist,_ said Stoppelman. As X.com became more popular and its transaction volume exploded, all of its problems worsened. There was more fraud. There were more fees from banks and credit card companies. There was more competition from start-ups. X.com lacked a cohesive business model to offset the losses and turn a profit from the money it managed. Roelof Botha, the start-up_s chief financial officer and now a prominent venture capitalist at Sequoia, did not think Musk provided the board with a true picture of X.com_s issues. A growing number of other people at the company questioned Musk_s decision-making in the face of all the crises. What followed was one of the nastiest coups in Silicon Valley_s long, illustrious history of nasty coups. A small group of X.com employees gathered one night at Fanny and Alexander, a now-defunct bar in Palo Alto, and brainstormed about how to push out Musk. They decided to sell the board on the idea of Thiel returning as CEO. Instead of confronting Musk directly with this plan, the conspirators decided to take action behind Musk_s back. Musk and Justine had been married in January 2000 but had been too busy for a honeymoon. Nine months later, in September, they planned to mix business and pleasure by going on a fund-raising trip and ending it with a honeymoon in Sydney to catch the Olympics. As they boarded their flight one night, X.com executives delivered letters of no confidence to X.com_s board. Some of the people loyal to Musk had sensed something was wrong, but it was too late. _I went to the office at ten thirty that night, and everyone was there,_ Ankenbrandt said. _I could not believe it. I am frantically trying to call Elon, but he_s on a plane._ By the time he landed, Musk had been replaced by Thiel. When Musk finally heard what had happened, he hopped on the next plane back to Palo Alto. _It was shocking, but I will give Elon this_I thought he handled it pretty well,_ Justine said. For a brief period, Musk tried to fight back. He urged the board to reconsider its decision. But when it became clear that the company had already moved on, Musk relented. _I talked to Moritz and a few others,_ Musk said. _It wasn_t so much that I wanted to be CEO but more like, _Hey, I think there are some pretty important things that need to happen, and if I_m not CEO, I_m not sure they are going to happen._ But then I talked to Max and Peter, and it seemed like they would make these things happen. So then, I mean, it_s not the end of the world._ Many of the X.com employees who had been with Musk since early on were less than impressed by what had happened. _I was floored by it and angry,_ said Stoppelman. _Elon was sort of a rock star in my view. I was very vocal about how I thought it was bullshit. But I knew fundamentally that the company was doing well. It was a rocket ship, and I wasn_t going to leave._ Stoppelman, then twenty-three, went into a conference room and tore into Thiel and Levchin. _They let me vent it all out, and their reaction was part of the reason I stayed._ Others remained embittered. _It was backhanded and cowardly,_ said Branden Spikes, a Zip2 and X.com engineer. _I would have been more behind it if Elon had been in the room._ By June 2001, Musk_s influence on the company was fading quickly. That month, Thiel rebranded X.com as PayPal. Musk rarely lets a slight go unpunished. Throughout this ordeal, however, he showed incredible restraint. He embraced the role of being an advisor to the company and kept investing in it, increasing his stake as PayPal_s largest shareholder. _You would expect someone in Elon_s position to be bitter and vindictive, but he wasn_t,_ said Botha. _He supported Peter. He was a prince._ The next few months would end up being key for Musk_s future. The dot-com joyride was coming to a quick end, and people wanted to try to cash out in any way possible. When executives from eBay began approaching PayPal about an acquisition, the inclination for most people was to sell and sell fast. Musk and Moritz, though, urged the board to reject a number of offers and hold out for more money. PayPal had revenue of about $240 million per year, and looked like it might make it as an independent company and go public. Musk and Moritz_s resistance paid off and then some. In July 2002, eBay offered $1.5 billion for PayPal, and Musk and the rest of the board accepted the deal. Musk netted about $250 million from the sale to eBay, or $180 million after taxes_enough to make what would turn out to be his very wild dreams possible. The PayPal episode was a mixed bag for Musk. His reputation as a leader suffered in the aftermath of the deal, and the media turned on him in earnest for the first time. Eric Jackson, an early Confinity employee, wrote The PayPal Wars: Battles with eBay, the Media, the Mafia, and the Rest of Planet Earth in 2004 and recounted the company_s tumultuous journey. The book painted Musk as an egomaniacal, stubborn jerk, making wrong decisions at every turn, and portrayed Thiel and Levchin as heroic geniuses. Valleywag, the technology industry gossip site, piled on as well and turned bashing Musk into one of its pet projects. The criticisms grew to the point that people started wondering aloud whether or not Musk counted as a true cofounder of PayPal or had just ridden Thiel_s coattails to a magical payday. The tone of the book along with the blog posts goaded Musk in 2007 into writing a 2,200-word e-mail to Valleywag meant to set the record straight with his version of events. In the e-mail, Musk let his literary flair loose and gave the public a direct look at his combative side. He described Jackson as _a sycophantic jackass_ and _one notch above an intern,_ who had little insight into the high-level goings-on at the company. _Since Eric worships Peter, the outcome was obvious_Peter sounds like Mel Gibson in Braveheart and my role is somewhere between negligible and a bad seed,_ Musk wrote. Musk then detailed seven reasons why he deserved cofounder status of PayPal, including his role as its largest shareholder, the hiring of a lot of the top talent, the creation of a number of the company_s most successful business ideas, and his time as CEO when the company went from sixty to several hundred employees. Almost everyone I interviewed from the PayPal days leaned toward agreeing with Musk_s overall assessment. They said that Jackson_s account bordered on fantasy when it came to celebrating the Confinity team over Musk and the X.com team. _There are a lot of PayPal people that suffer from warped memories,_ said Botha. But these same people reached another consensus, saying that Musk had mishandled the branding, technology infrastructure, and fraud situations. _I think it would have killed the company if Elon had stayed on as CEO for six more months,_ said Botha. _The mistakes Elon was making at the time were amplifying the risk of the business._ (For more on Musk_s take on the PayPal years, see Appendix 2.) The suggestions that Musk did not count as a _true_ cofounder of PayPal seem asinine in retrospect. Thiel, Levchin, and other PayPal executives have said as much in the years since the eBay deal closed. The only useful thing such criticisms produced were the bombastic counteroffensives from Musk, which revealed touches of insecurity and the seriousness with which Musk insists that the historical record reflect his take on events. _He comes from the school of thought in the public relations world that you let no inaccuracy go uncorrected,_ said Vince Sollitto, the former communications chief at PayPal. _It sets a precedent, and you should fight every out-of-place comma tooth and nail. He takes things very personally and usually seeks war._ The stronger critique of Musk during this period of his life was that he had succeeded to a large degree despite himself. Musk_s traits as a confrontational know-it-all and his abundant ego created deep, lasting fractures within his companies. While Musk consciously tried to temper his behavior, these efforts were not enough to win over investors and more experienced executives. At both Zip2 and PayPal, the companies_ boards came to the conclusion that Musk was not yet CEO material. It can also be argued that Musk had become a hyperbolic huckster, who overreached and oversold his companies_ technology. Musk_s biggest detractors have made all of these arguments either in public or private and a half dozen or so of them said far worse things to me about his character and actions, describing Musk as unethical in business and vicious with his personal attacks. Almost universally, these people were unwilling to go on the record with their comments, claiming to be afraid Musk would pursue litigation against them or ruin their ability to do business. These criticisms must be weighed against Musk_s track record. He demonstrated an innate ability to read people and technology trends at the inception of the consumer Web. While others tried to wrap their heads around the Internet_s implications, Musk had already set off on a purposeful plan of attack. He envisioned many of the early pieces of technology_directories, maps, sites that focused on vertical markets_that would become mainstays on the Web. Then, just as people became comfortable with buying things from Amazon.com and eBay, Musk made the great leap forward to full-fledged Internet banking. He would bring standard financial instruments online and then modernize the industry with a host of new concepts. He exhibited a deep insight into human nature that helped his companies pull off exceptional marketing, technology, and financial feats. Musk was already playing the entrepreneur game at the highest level and working the press and investors like few others could. Did he hype things up and rub people the wrong way? Absolutely_and with spectacular results. Based in large part on Musk_s guidance, PayPal survived the bursting of the dot-com bubble, became the first blockbuster IPO after the 9/11 attacks, and then sold to eBay for an astronomical sum while the rest of the technology industry was mired in a dramatic downturn. It was nearly impossible to survive let alone emerge as a winner in the midst of such a mess. PayPal also came to represent one of the greatest assemblages of business and engineering talent in Silicon Valley history. Both Musk and Thiel had a keen eye for young, brilliant engineers. The founders of start-ups as varied as YouTube, Palantir Technologies, and Yelp all worked at PayPal. Another set of people_including Reid Hoffman, Thiel, and Botha_emerged as some of the technology industry_s top investors. PayPal staff pioneered techniques in fighting online fraud that have formed the basis of software used by the CIA and FBI to track terrorists and of software used by the world_s largest banks to combat crime. This collection of super-bright employees has become known as the PayPal Mafia_more or less the current ruling class of Silicon Valley_and Musk is its most famous and successful member. Hindsight also continues to favor Musk_s unbridled vision over the more cautious pragmatism of executives at Zip2 and PayPal. Had it chased consumers as Musk urged, Zip2 may have ended up as a blockbuster mapping and review service. As for PayPal, an argument can still be made that the investors sold out too early and should have listened more to Musk_s demands to remain independent. By 2014, PayPal had amassed 153 million users and was valued at close to $32 billion as a stand-alone company. A flood of payment and banking start-ups have appeared as well_Square, Stripe, and Simple, to name three among the S_s_that have looked to fulfill much of the original X.com vision. If X.com_s board had been a bit more patient with Musk, there_s good reason to believe he would have succeeded with delivery of the _online bank to rule them all_ that he had set out to create. History has demonstrated that while Musk_s goals can sound absurd in the moment, he certainly believes in them and, when given enough time, tends to achieve them. _He always works from a different understanding of reality than the rest of us,_ Ankenbrandt said. _He is just different than the rest of us._ While navigating the business tumult of Zip2 and PayPal, Musk found a moment of peace in his personal life. He_d spent years courting Justine Wilson from afar, flying her out for visits on the weekends. For a long time, his oppressive hours and his roommates put a crimp on the relationship. But the Zip2 sale let Musk buy a place of his own and pay a bit more attention to Justine. Like any couple, they had their ups and downs, but that passion of young love remained. _We fought a lot, but when we weren_t fighting, there was a deep sense of compassion_a bond,_ Justine said. The couple had been sparring for a few days about phone calls Justine kept getting from an ex-boyfriend__Elon didn_t like that__and had a major spat while walking near the X.com offices. _I remember thinking it was a lot of drama, and that if I was going to put up with it, we might as well be married. I told him he should just propose to me,_ Justine said. It took Musk a few minutes to cool down and then he did just that, proposing on the spot. A few days later, a more chivalrous Musk returned to the sidewalk, got down on bended knee, and presented Justine with a ring. Justine knew all about Musk_s grim childhood and the intense range of emotions he could exhibit. Her romantic sensibilities overrode any trepidation she might have had about these parts of Musk_s history and character and centered instead on his strength. Musk often talked fondly about Alexander the Great, and Justine saw him as her own conquering hero. _He wasn_t afraid of responsibility,_ she said. _He didn_t run from things. He wanted to get married and have kids early on._ Musk also exuded a confidence and passion that made Justine think life with him would always be okay. _Money is not his motivation, and, quite frankly, I think it just happens for him,_ Justine said. _It_s just there. He knows he can generate it._ At their wedding reception, Justine encountered the other side of the conquering hero. Musk pulled Justine close while they danced, and informed her, _I am the alpha in this relationship._3 Two months later, Justine signed a postnuptial financial agreement that would come back to haunt her and entered into an enduring power struggle. She described the situation years later in an article for Marie Claire, writing, _He was constantly remarking on the ways he found me lacking. _I am your wife,_ I told him repeatedly, _not your employee._ _If you were my employee,_ he said just as often, _I would fire you.__ The newlyweds were not helped by the drama at X.com. They_d put off their honeymoon and then had it derailed by the coup. It took until late December 2000 for things to calm down enough for Musk to take his first vacation in years. He arranged a two-week trip, with the first part taking place in Brazil and the second in South Africa at a game reserve near the Mozambique border. While in Africa, Musk contracted the most virulent version of malaria_falciparum malaria_which accounts for the vast majority of malaria deaths. Musk returned to California in January, which is when the illness took hold. He started to get sick and was bedridden for a few days before Justine took him to a doctor who then ordered that Musk be rushed in an ambulance to Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City.* Doctors there misdiagnosed and mistreated his condition to the point that Musk was near death. _Then, there happened to be a guy visiting from another hospital who had seen a lot more malaria cases,_ Musk said. He spied Musk_s blood work in the lab and ordered an immediate maximum dosage of doxycycline, an antibiotic. The doctor told Musk that if he had turned up a day later, the medicine likely would no longer have been effective. Musk spent ten agonizing days in the intensive care unit. The experience shocked Justine. _He_s built like a tank,_ she said. _He has a level of stamina and an ability to deal with levels of stress that I_ve never seen in anyone else. To see him laid low like that in total misery was like a visit to an alternate universe._ It took Musk six months to recover. He lost forty-five pounds over the course of the illness and had a closet full of clothes that no longer fit. _I came very close to dying,_ Musk said. _That_s my lesson for taking a vacation: vacations will kill you._

  • Cinderella /  (Disney, 2006) -   Cinderella / (Disney,
  • The Universe in a Nutshell /     (by Stephen Hawking, 2001) -   The Universe in a Nutshell /
  • Baby's Best Start + English for infants  (by Helen Doron, 2008) -     0-2 Baby's Best Start + English

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