This month’s Geek You Should Know is billionaire entrepreneur and engineer Elon Musk. Born in South Africa, he began his career by selling computer code for a video game at age twelve. By age seventeen he had moved to Canada to pursue a college degree, eventually graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in economics and physics. During the Dot Com boom in the mid 1990’s, he founded Zip2, which was later bought for just over $300 million—not bad for a guy in his 20’s. For most people, these accomplishments would be enough, but that same year Musk co-founded X.com, which we all know now as PayPal. Three years later Musk sold PayPal to Ebay, and moved on to even bigger projects. Lately he has been making waves with both SpaceX and Tesla Motors.
Why We Should Care
This guy is basically Tony Stark without (at least as far as we know) the Iron Man suit. While he has been fortunate to get involved in tech companies at just the right time, Elon Musk has also made a startling habit of taking on industries dominated by monolithic companies and revolutionizing the business right in front of them. Before PayPal, banks and credit card companies were the only way to make payments on the internet. Musk challenged that and forced the industry to play by his rules. Many of the services that have come about in online banking since 1998 are directly or indirectly a response to PayPal.
Musk’s current projects are taking on two industries at once: automotive and aerospace. Currently, wannabe astronauts have to spend years training, studying, hoping and praying that they can get accepted into NASA and get to be part of a mission. If Musk has his way—and there is every indication that he will—NASA’s monopoly on space travel will quickly become non-existent. SpaceX has recently announced its desire to construct a permanent space port in southern Texas where they can launch commercial space flights.
As for the auto industry, Musk’s Tesla Motors has been making huge strides in the electric car market. Although Tesla has had a few high profile incidents lately, their cars are miles ahead of the competition. With Musk’s vision leading the company, Tesla is not only looking at the cars themselves, but also at the infrastructure required to make these cars viable while still maintaining their green designs.
Tesla has also been involved in some legal battles recently due to its business model. Most states have laws requiring that cars be sold from dealers who buy from the manufacturer. Tesla would like to remove the middle man, and sell the cars directly to the general public. This fight has been particularly rough in Texas, which has deeply entrenched laws. I’m pretty confident that Tesla will win in the end, though it may get messy before it’s all done.
The world needs more people like Elon Musk. Men and women like him are the kinds that drive industries to do new and different things and that’s why Elon Musk is a Geek You Should Know.