Elon Musk – Ashlee Vance [Book Summary]

by Nick

Elon Musk is an amazing and even incredible person. In order not to doubt this, it is enough to recall his achievements such as a fundamentally new approach to the creation of spacecraft and the beginning of mass production of electric vehicles.

At the same time, Musk is an extremely controversial and complex person.

Probably, it could not be otherwise: “ordinary” people do not set themselves such grandiose and even fantastic goals.

In his book, Ashlee Vance traces the life of Mask from the first years of life.

The author talks not only about how his famous projects began and developed but also about how his personal life, relations with colleagues and society developed.

Vance does not overload the book with psychological studies.

His book is a fascinating biography full of interesting facts, based on the memoirs of Musk himself, his colleagues and friends.

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Early Years

Elon Musk was born in 1971 in South Africa, where his maternal grandfather, a chiropractor, moved with his family from Canada at one time.

Already at an early age, it was noticeable that Ilon surpasses his peers in development.

He was distinguished by curiosity, energy, he was able to fully concentrate on the task, fencing himself off from the outside world.

Elon read a lot.

He read all the books from the school and city libraries and set to work on the British Encyclopedia.

“The life of the Mask, in which everything is subordinate to the implementation of his daring plans, is extravagant and sometimes contrary to common sense.”

When Elon was about ten years old, his parents divorced.

The boy stayed with his mother and then decided to move to his father. His father was a successful engineer and often took Elon and his brother Kimbal on trips abroad. Visiting his father at work, the boys learned to lay electrical wiring, install plumbing, and lay bricks. They liked this kind of life, but you can’t say that they were happy – the father had a difficult character.

“Musk not only believes in his“ absurd ”ideas, but also, if he has enough time, achieves the result.”

elon was fascinated by books and video games, but he was completely not interested in sports. In high school, he did not stand out anything special: he was not a natural leader, and no one predicted a great future for him.

He was not around the honors pupil. However, there were good reasons for this: Elon did not want to spend time and energy on objects that he was not interested in.

But in physics and computer science, he was far ahead of classmates.

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Relocation to Canada

At 17, Elon moved to Canada.

Perhaps he did not want to serve in the army of South Africa, or maybe Canada seemed to him a “transit point” on the way to America, a country where, in his opinion, he could fulfill his most ambitious goals.

In Canada, Elon hoped to stay with his cousin, whom, however, he did not contact in advance.

But already in Montreal, it turned out that my grandfather had moved to the United States.

Then Elon got on the bus and drove almost two thousand miles to a small town in Saskatchewan, where he stayed with another relative. He lived there for a year, interrupted by casual earnings.

Later, his mother moved to Canada with the rest of the children. Elon entered the Royal University.

“Once the idea captivated him, then wait … ingenious maneuvers and tough political intrigues, but always with a grand finale.”

At university, he liked one girl, Justine Wilson.

Justine answered him only with restrained favor.

However, Elon courted very persistently, imitating his father, who for years sought the love of his mother. In the end, he achieved the goal – in 2000, he and Justine got married.

In Silicon Valley

In the summer of 1994, Elon underwent two internships in Silicon Valley: one at the Pinnacle Research Institute, where he worked on supercapacitors, and the other at Rocket Science Games, where he wrote codes for video games. Silicon Valley did not disappoint Elon.

He found great opportunities there, and a job that corresponded to his ambitions.

“Zip2 may have been a promising Internet business focused on the Information Age, but it took an old-fashioned selling skill to start a business.”

Elon first went into business when he was twelve.

He developed the computer game Blastar, and publishing the source code for the game (which consisted of just 167 lines) earned him $ 500. While studying at Queen’s University, Ilon assembled computers for students.

While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, he and his classmate rented a large house, which they turned into a nightclub on weekends, collecting $ 5 per entrance.

“The PayPal episode had both positive and negative sides for Musk. “His reputation as a leader has suffered, and the media pounced on him for the first time.”

The idea of an online business came to Ilona during one of the internships in Silicon Valley.

A sales agent from a telephone book publishing house came to a startup where he had an internship. In addition to posting company information in a directory, he tried to sell posting this information in an online catalog.

The seller himself had a poor idea of what he was talking about, but Elon saw in his offer a great opportunity. In 1995, he and his brother Kimbal created his first real business project – the Global Link Information Network.

“The clear, concise style of the Musk is the work of a logician moving sequentially from one point to another.”

In a time when no one really understood how to use the Internet for business, Elon decided to create an online catalog of restaurants, shops, hairdressers with reference to the map.

Elon wrote the code, and Kimbal went into sales. In the very beginning, strictly speaking, they didn’t even have any product, but by 1996 they were able to move from the local level to the national level.

Mohr Davidow, an investment company, has invested three million dollars in Global Link and renamed it Zip2.

Elon held the position of technical director in it. In 1999, Compaq acquired Zip2 for $ 307 million.


After the sale of Zip2, Musk began to look for an industry with great financial potential, but low efficiency, which could be improved through the Internet.

This industry turned out to be financed. Musk came up with the idea to create an online bank. Many experts rejected it, citing security concerns, but Musk did not back down.

In March 1999, he launched the X.com project, in which he invested $ 12 million. (By that time, he was already spending his money with breadth: he bought a house, a plane and a McLaren sports car for a million dollars, which he, without insurance, crashed a year later).

“No matter how good the idea of making a cheap launcher sounds, a private person had very little chance of achieving this.”

In his new project, Musk brought in one of Zip2, one of the best web engineers and programmers, and two finance specialists. Everyone agreed that the banking system was outdated, but did not know how to solve regulatory problems. The project did not move. On this basis, personal conflicts began to arise in the team, resulting in several of its members leaving the project. This did not bother the Musk. He still managed to put X.com on its feet.

“Musk has always tried to get his employees to work harder and better, and it doesn’t matter if they are talking about job responsibilities or additional work.”

The main competitor to X.com was Confinity, which created the PayPal service.

In 2000, competitors decided to join forces and merged.

However, the general team did not work. Disagreements arose between former X.com employees and Confinity. For example, the Confinity team insisted on using open source software, and Musk wanted to use Microsoft products.

As a result, the combined company was faced with serious technical problems and was unable to meet the growing demand. Several employees behind Mask began to seek his removal from the post of CEO.

Musk had to retreat and take the position of adviser. He did not settle accounts with the company. On the contrary, he continued to invest in it, thereby increasing his share. Over time, the PayPal service began to work better. When the dotcom bubble burst, PayPal survived. In 2002, eBay bought PayPal for $ 1.5 billion.

Musk revenue from the transaction amounted to 250 million.


In 2001, Musk began attending meetings of the Martian society, the activity of which was devoted to the study and development of Mars.

Musk donated money to society and tried to establish connections in the aerospace industry, but he was not taken seriously. However, donations gave him the right to vote.

Musk’s new idea – to build a spaceship – was, like the previous ones, met with skepticism. Musk tried to buy an intercontinental ballistic missile from Russia, which could be used as a carrier but was refused.

Musk’s associate was Tom Muller, who worked at Hughes Aircraft, then at TRW Space & Electronics, where he led the development of the TR-106 engine. Muller liked to experiment with ideas that TRW considered insane.

“After making calculations for Tesla and SpaceX, Musk realized that only one of the two companies could have a small chance of survival.”

In June 2002, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX.

This company sought to become “Southwest Airlines Space”; for this it was necessary to learn how to build rockets better and cheaper than competitors.

If successful, SpaceX could make a real revolution in the American space program. Both the military and scientists were interested in launching satellites more often. After many experiments and failures, SpaceX finally achieved success.

During this period, Musk suffered a personal tragedy: his first child died at the age of more than two months. After that, Musk became isolated and left for work. This benefited the cause, but not his family life.

“In order to get Tesla out of the mess, Mask needed to sacrifice his entire fortune.”

Musk managed to form a very strong team. SpaceX employees could work around the clock (which often happened) and performed literally impossible tasks.

The company has turned into an incredible combination of determination, energy and … ignorance. Many of SpaceX’s employees tried to build rockets, having no idea if what they really want to achieve is possible. Their work has taken on an interdisciplinary character. The result was a series of new developments and success that no one had counted on.

“Even those who were fired … still idolize the Mask and talk about him in terms that are more likely to apply to a superhero or deity.”

Despite all the unsuccessful launches and the fact that in 2008 the company almost ceased to exist, now it costs $ 12 billion.

SpaceX launches rockets into space for various purposes – both scientific and commercial.

Many aerospace companies entrust the production of most components to contractors.

In contrast, SpaceX builds rockets primarily on its own and produces more advanced equipment at a lower cost. As a result, launching SpaceX rockets is much cheaper.

For example, the cost of a single launch in the United Launch Alliance is $ 380 million, and in SpaceX – $ 90 million.

Tesla Motors

At Stanford, JB Strobel studied engineering and electronics. After graduation, he joined in the work of creating an electric car powered by solar energy and lithium-ion batteries.

To continue the work required funding.

In 2003, Strobel met with Musk, and after the first conversation, Musk offered him ten thousand dollars.

The idea of creating such an electric car was also of interest to Martin Eberhard and Mark Tarpenning. Having established Tesla Motors, they proposed the Mask to become their investor. Soon Strobel joined their work, who shared his work on lithium-ion batteries.

“Musk’s insistence on explaining the early origins of his passion for electric cars, solar power and rockets are somewhat annoying. Musk seems to be trying to construct his life story himself. ”

Tesla developed as a typical Silicon Valley startup: problems were resolved as they arrived. Its founders were first engaged in research and construction at home, then rented a workshop.

The Tesla Motors team tried different approaches and ideas, as well as existing developments. So, she tried to use in her future electric car the power unit from the electric car Tsero manufactured by AC Propulsion.

One of the new ideas was the parallel connection of lithium-ion batteries. No one has done anything like this before. However, tests have shown that there is a risk of fire and explosions in the battery pack. A separate team dealt with this problem; thousands of batteries were destroyed, but a solution was nevertheless found.

“The ability to maintain concentration in a crisis is one of the main advantages of the Musk compared to other leaders and competitors.”

Having developed two prototypes, the developers came to the conclusion that they are able to create not just a certain means of transportation, but a high-class electric car.

In July 2006, the company demonstrated a prototype, which was supposed to be produced in limited quantities and sold at a high price. This sparked interest in Tesla Motors from potential buyers and investors. An attempt was made to establish production, but the company had difficulties with suppliers.

Due to conflicts related to strategic vision and personal relationships, many employees left the company, including one of the founders, Eberhard.

Difficulties arose in the Musk and in his personal life. Despite the fact that he again became a father, Musk was practically not at home. This caused conflicts with Justin, which led to a divorce.

However, Musk soon met Talula Riley; a few weeks later he proposed to her.

In 2008, Tesla and SpaceX nearly crashed. Tesla’s monthly costs were four million dollars. Musk invested millions of personal funds into it, including 15 million from the sale of Everdream, the startup of one of his cousins, in which he invested.

But these costs paid off.

SpaceX signed with NASA a contract for 12 flights to the International Space Station, for a total of $ 1.6 billion. This determined the success of SpaceX and helped Tesla start producing electric cars, as well as create a network of charging stations throughout the United States. Just a couple of months after the start of Model S sales, Motor Trend magazine declared it the car of the year.

Both Musk and Tesla had yet to face many difficulties, but their success was revolutionary without exaggeration.

Character and Style

Elon Musk has always been distinguished by an indefatigable thirst for knowledge.

He constantly asks new employees about the specifics of their work in order to learn as much as possible about a variety of things.

Musk repeatedly dismissed those employees who stated that it was impossible to fulfill one or another order. Musk considers all financial, physical and technological limitations as a challenge.

He sets deadlines that are impossible to sustain and draws up very busy work schedules.

Musk believes that everyone should be as competent and efficient as he is. He often fails, but he still manages to achieve amazing results.

Musk is a sharp man.

The matter is more important for him than emotions. Without a drop of regret, he dismisses people who have served him faithfully for many years. Disputes about how to perform one task or another often turn into conflicts.

Musk is convinced that space travel is the only way to save humanity, and in order to survive, people must colonize Mars. The use of hydrocarbons, in his opinion, causes great harm to the environment, and the creation of an electric car will make life better.


  • The desire to achieve the goal at any cost and the risk appetite is in the Elon Musk’s blood.
  • From an early age, Mask showed remarkable abilities for concentrated work and for visualizing ideas.
  • Because of his penchant for intellectual activity and some character traits in his homeland, in South Africa, Musk was an outsider.
  • Creating his first major company, Zip2, Musk was one of those who first tried to put Internet technology at the service of the business.
  • With X.com, Musk sought to revolutionize Internet banking. He failed to achieve this goal, but the project turned out to be profitable: its result was the merger of X.com with PayPal.
  • SpaceX was able to get ahead of its competitors in terms of productivity, terms of order fulfillment, and cost level.
  • Musk’s Tesla electric car revolutionized the automotive industry.
  • Musk is a harsh person and not prone to emotions, able to easily dismiss even someone with whom he worked side by side for many years.
  • The secret to Ilona Mask’s success is his intellectual talent, his willingness to take great risks and work very hard.
  • Musk believes that for the good of mankind it is necessary to explore space and completely abandon the use of fossil fuels.


Why You Should Read “Elon Musk”

  • To find out more about an extraordinary personality of Elon Musk
  • To learn about startups, modern technology, and innovation
  • To get inspired by such an extraordinary character

This book is available as:

AudiobookeBook | Print