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Who is Elon Musk, and what made him great?

How did a strange, stupid boy from South Africa become a world famous American engineering entrepreneur? The story of Elon Musk is a lesson in how a few simple principles, applied consistently, can yield amazing results.

First companies

Musk moved to Silicon Valley in the summer of 1995. He registered for a PhD program in applied physics at Stanford University - but withdrew after only two days.

First companies

His brother Kimball Musk, who is 15 months younger than Elon, had recently graduated from Queen's University with a business degree and had come to California to join him.

First companies

The early Internet was heating up, and the brothers decided to start a startup they called Zip2, an online business directory equipped with maps.

Three missions

The companies he founded, co-founded, and/or led since leaving PayPal—two of which, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, he risked his entire initial fortune to build—all long Three are focused on addressing different existential risks. 

Climate risk

Tesla Motors, SolarCity and The Boring Company aim to address climate risk by accelerating the transition to clean electricity and electric-powered transportation.

Single-planet dependency risk

According to Musk, humanity's long-term existence is in danger if it remains confined to just one planet. Sooner or later, some disaster—perhaps an asteroid, supervillain, or nuclear war—will end our term here.

Human species obsolescence risk

Musk and other theorists say that artificial general superintelligence (AGSI) – that is, machine general intelligence smarter than humans – would present a major existential risk to humanity's future.

Missteps, tough times and controversy

Elon Musk isn't a perfect, unremarkable hero. He is a brilliant builder of extraordinary vision and ability, but according to some former employees, he is also a very difficult person to work with.