by Rob Marsh
Elon Musk may be the most accomplished entrepreneur of his generation (some would argue of any generation). He created and sold a video game at the age of 12. At 24, he dropped out of Stanford to start Zip2, a small business which sold in 1999 to Compaq for $307 million four years later. Later that year Mr. Musk started X.com, an online bank. A year later X.com bought Confinity which owned a little money-transfer product called PayPal. In 2002, eBay paid $1.5 billion for PayPal.
That’s sounds like enough accomplishment for anyone, but Elon Musk wasn’t (isn’t) done yet. In 2002, he started SpaceX, a company working on inexpensive space flight and rocket technology to make private space flight possible. Two years later, Musk started Tesla Motors to build electric vehicles. And in 2006, he started SolarCity, a company working to develop better photovoltaics.
We doubt there is a more prolific entrepreneur active today. Through it all, Elon Muck has had a lot to say about starting businesses, failure, and hard work. Here are a few things he has said that may inspire other entrepreneurs:
“Starting and growing a business is as much about the innovation, drive and determination of the people who do it as it is about the product they sell.”
“I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
“You want to have a future where you’re expecting things to be better, not one where you’re expecting things to be worse.”
“Really pay attention to negative feedback and solicit it, particularly from friends. …Hardly anyone does that, and it’s incredibly helpful.”
“It is a mistake to hire huge numbers of people to get a complicated job done. Numbers will never compensate for talent in getting the right answer (two people who don’t know something are no better than one), will tend to slow down progress, and will make the task incredibly expensive.”
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”
“I’m nauseatingly pro-American. I would have come here from any country. The U.S. is where great things are possible.”
“I think the best way to attract venture capital is to try and come up with a demonstration of whatever product or service it is and ideally take that as far as you can. Just see if you can sell that to real customers and start generating some momentum. The further along you can get with that, the more likely you are to get funding.”
“It’s okay to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket. The problem with the Silicon Valley financing model is that you lose control after the first investment round.”
“Let’s think beyond the normal stuff and have an environment where that sort of thinking in encouraged and rewarded and where it’s okay to fail as well. Because when you try new things, you try this idea, that idea… well a large number of them are not gonna work, and that has to be okay. If every time somebody comes up with an idea it has to be successful, you’re not gonna get people coming up with ideas.”
“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
“Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.”
“Starting a company is a very tough thing. There’s a friend of mine, Bill Lee, whose phrase is ‘starting a company is like staring into the abyss and eating glass.’ So you should certainly expect that it’s going to be very hard. It’s going to be harder than getting a job somewhere by a pretty good margin and the odds of you losing the money that you invested or your friends invested is pretty high. I mean, those are just the basic facts. So if you don’t mind things being really hard and high risk, then starting a company is a good idea. Otherwise, it’s probably unwise. It will certainly stress you out. So I think you have to be pretty driven to make it happen. Otherwise, you will just make yourself miserable.”
“Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100 hour work weeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing you know that… you will achieve in 4 months what it takes them a year to achieve.”
—Elon Musk, Entrepreneur and Founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and more.