Elon Musk / b. 1971 / South Africa / Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of PayPal, Founder of Tesla and SpaceX, and Owner of Twitter
Note: Though a native of South Africa, Musk has spent the bulk of his career in the US.
They [Apple] have hired people we’ve fired. We always jokingly call Apple the “Tesla Graveyard.” If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. I’m not kidding. . . . cars are very complex compared to phones or smartwatches. You can’t just go to a supplier like Foxconn and say: Build me a car. But for Apple, the car is the next logical thing to finally offer a significant innovation. A new pencil or a bigger iPad alone were not relevant enough.“All Charged Up in Berlin,” Handelsblatt, September 25, 2015.
AI is much more advanced than people realize. … Humanity’s position on this planet depends on its intelligence so if our intelligence is exceeded, it’s unlikely that we will remain in charge of the planet.“Artificial intelligence: Should we be as terrified as Elon Musk and Bill Gates?,” ZDNet, October 25, 2015.
There’s a graveyard of prior attempts, a big graveyard. There’s probably some freshly dug graves just waiting to be filled. Our aspiration is to avoid that destination.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
When thinking about starting a business, I think it’s actually better to start in a trough and come to market in a peak, than the other way around. Frankly, if anything does, and it’s almost cliché, space has a long-term future.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, “Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet he made, and it worked.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
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.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
I think 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.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
My approach is simply to seek out very talented people, ensure that the environment at SpaceX is as motivating & enjoyable as possible and establish clear and measurable objectives.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.60 Minutes, CBS, March 18, 2012.
If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.“Hondas in Space,” Fast Company magazine, February 1, 2005.
A good sign as to whether there is free speech is, “Is someone you don’t like allowed to say something you don’t like?‘Elon Musk talks Twitter, Tesla and how his brain works,” TED2022, April 14, 2022.
I believe there’s some explanation for this universe, which you might call God.Axios, season 1, episode 4: “Technology, Faith and Impact on the Future,” HBO, November 25, 2018.
The long term ultimate objective—the holy grail—is we would like to help make life multi-planetary.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
As life’s agents, it’s on our shoulders.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond our little blue mud ball—or go extinct.Esquire, October 1, 2008.
We need to figure out how to have the things we love, and not destroy the world.“Driving With Elon Musk,” Forbes Life, March 26, 2012.
I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness to make sure it continues into the future.Attribution unconfirmed.
In terms of the Internet, it’s like humanity acquiring a collective nervous system. Whereas previously we were more like a… collection of cells that communicated by diffusion. With the advent of the Internet, it was suddenly like we got a nervous system. It’s a hugely impactful thing.Interview with Adam Mann, Wired magazine, April 26, 2012.
Musk on Musk
I didn’t really expect to make any money [with Tesla]. If I could make enough to cover the rent and buy some food that would be fine. As it turns out, it turned out to be quite valuable in the end.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
I like to be involved in things that change the world. The Internet did, and space will probably be more responsible for changing the world than anything else. If humanity can expand beyond the Earth, obviously that’s where the future is.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
If you have millions of dollars it changes your lifestyle, and anyone who says differently is talking b******t. I don’t need to work, from a standard of living point of view, but I do, you know. I work every day and on weekends and I haven’t taken a vacation for years.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
I’m nauseatingly pro-American. It is where great things are possible.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
The heroes of the books I read, The Lord of the Rings and the Foundation series, always felt a duty to save the world,“Plugged In: Can Elon Musk lead the way to an electric-car future?,” New Yorker, August 24, 2009.
I’d rather be optimistic and wrong; than pessimistic and right.Attribution unconfirmed.
I would like to die on Mars; just not on impact.Interview with Ashley Vance, “Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist,” Bloomberg, September 12, 2012.
I plan to travel to Mars and make it my home.Elon Musk, “Foreword,” in Marc Kaufman, Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission (2014).
For those wondering, I will pay over $11 billion in taxes this year.“Elon Musk Claims He Will Pay More Than $11 Billion In Taxes This Year,” Forbes, December 20, 2021.
We’re adding a triple sign-off for all work done on the launch pad, on flight components, and flight critical GSE. You have a technician, a responsible engineer, and then quality assurance will sign the final, record all information, and take photographs of all the work that was done, and then make sure that all information is put into our quality assurance database, which is reviewed prior to launch.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
So, I think the best analogy for rocket engineers, if you want to create complicated software, you can’t run as an integrated whole, or run on the computer it’s intended to run on, but, first time you run it, it has to run with no bugs. That’s the essence of it. So . . . we missed the mark there.
I think South Africa is a great country.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
I don’t have an issue with serving in the military per se, but serving in the South African army suppressing black people just didn’t seem like a really good way to spend time.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
Space Exploration and SpaceX
There is nothing inherently expensive about rockets. It’s just that those who have built and operated them in the past have done so with horrendously poor efficiency.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
. . . we’re cheaper than the Chinese, cheaper than [the] Russians or anywhere else—and we’re doing it in the United States with American labour costs.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
I think the reason it’s cheaper is, first of all, we are a private entity and we have a very lean system in here. What we have been able to do here at SpaceX is to cherry-pick, you know, the top one or two percent and give them, you know, capital to execute well and a clear mission, which is low cost, reliable access to space, and no other constraints.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
I think we’ve got the risks pretty well characterized. I think we are at least avoiding the mistakes that have been made in the past.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
I want to be able to make sure that we have enough capital to survive at least three consecutive failures. If you want to make a small fortune in the launch vehicle business, start with a large one.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
If we can build something that is capable of taking people and equipment to Mars, such that it can service a transportation infrastructure for humanity becoming a multi- planet species—which I think is a very, very important objective—then I would consider the mission of SpaceX successful, at that point.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
Rocket engineering is not like ditch digging. With ditch digging you can get 100 people and dig a ditch, and you will dig it a hundred times faster if you get 100 people versus one. With rockets, you have to solve the problem of a particular level of difficulty; one person who can solve the problem is worth an infinite number of people who can’t.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
Although I am new in the business, my team is not. I would say that, person for person, there has never been a better rocket company in existence, in history. I don’t think there has ever been a group this talented in one place, in one company, developing a rocket—ever.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
Sending large numbers of people to explore and settle Mars in the decades ahead isn’t inevitable, but it is entirely possible. The biggest challenge isn’t the engineering and spacecraft, however difficult they may be. Instead, it’s making sure that a sustained Mars campaign proceeds as a national priority, and that will happen only if the American people are behind it. We have the opportunity now to make this happen. We might not be so fortunate in the future.Elon Musk, “Foreword,” in Marc Kaufman, Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission (2014).
We are used to things improving every year; we are used to having a better cell phone next year than this year; a better lap top. We are even used to some basic things, like we expect more from your car in next year’s model than last year’s model. But this is not the case in space; reliability and cost—those are the fundamental parameters of transportation—have not improved.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).
This is not a way to make money. . . . I don’t care about the economics at all. This is just my strong, intuitive sense . . . that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization.Pete Evans, “Elon Musk launches hostile bid for Twitter claiming free-speech concerns,” CBC, Apr 14, 2022.
Is there a conspiracy theory about Twitter that didn’t turn out to be true? So far they’ve all turned out to be true—if not more true than people thought.Chamath Palihapitiva, “All-In” podcast, December 27, 2022.
If you scare people enough, they will demand removal of freedom. This is the path to tyranny.Matthew Miller, “Elon Musk tweets ominous warning about ‘path to tyranny,’” Washington Examiner, January 28, 2022.
If you wanted to be close to the cutting edge, particularly in technology, you came to North America.Interview, Wired Science, PBS (2007).