He’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet, the CEO of two of the world’s most innovative companies and has a net worth of $19.7 Bn. So, who would’ve guessed that he would master the art of successfully failing? A true 21st century creative visionary and founder of two of the most talked about companies in the world, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, Elon Musk has changed the way we perceive the world and beyond, as he leads us in revolutionising transportation both on Earth and in space.
However, it’s safe to say it has been far from plain sailing for this innovator. In fact, some of Musk’s failures have been so catastrophic than just one of them could have been the end of his career or even himself entirely, and it’s likely to have been the end of many of us if we were in his shoes.
This timeline reveals a whopping 16 failures Musk has experienced since 1995 on his journey to tech fame. That’s nearly an obstacle every year, and at least one every other year. With Tesla Motors revenue reaching $11.8 Bn in 2017 and SpaceX valued at more than $20 Bn, this businessman has done remarkably well considering the challenges he has faced along the way.
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Elon Musk’s Failures In The 90s
We’ve all faced a job rejection at some point in our careers and Elon Musk was no different back in 1995 when he was starting out. Musk applied for a job at Netscape, despite not having a background in computer science and unfortunately didn’t land it. Interestingly, Musk even went to the head office to follow up on his application, however, was too shy to speak to anyone.
A year later and Elon Musk faced another blow in 1996, and this one was personal. Setting up your own company is an amazing achievement and that is what Musk and his brother had done in the mid-nineties with Zip2, a business which provided city guide software. After founding your own company you wouldn’t expect to lose your job, right? Wrong, for Musk at least as he was ousted as CEO by the board of directors due to a belief he did not have the operational skill set of a CEO. Moving to the position of Chairman, it wasn’t all bad news for this entrepreneur as he held onto his shares which later made him $22 Mn.
In 2018, PayPal is known for being one of the largest companies in the world. But it wasn’t always this way. In 1999 when the company was founded by Musk and called X.com, the first product launch was voted one of the top 10 worst business ideas. Nearly 20 years on and Musk turned this failure and the business around entirely, successfully mastering that embarrassing moment in the early stages of the company’s existence.
The Early 200’s And A Lot Of Failed Rockets
After selling PayPal, Elon Musk had plenty of cash to spare and decided to begin investing in space exploration. He visited Russia in 2001 to buy three intercontinental ballistic missiles but unfortunately, they refused to sell after raising the price to $21 million for each rocket.
Musk was still keen to invest in rocket technology. In 2002, he reapproached the Russians where he was met again with no hint of an offer and instead they told him: ‘Young boy, no’. Fuelled by his own passions to start space exploration, it was on the flight back from his Russian visit that he turned to Cantrell and said: ‘I think we can build a rocket ourselves’.
After years of development and no less than three failed attempts, a solitary Falcon 1 rocket roared towards space in 2006 – only to be lost just after liftoff. This was to happen again just a year later…
In 2008, and just two minutes after launch, the two-stage Falcon 1 rocket became Musk’s third failed rocket launch. But, what made this failed launch that touch worse, was that there were Nasa satellites on board that were planned to be set up in orbit.
Tesla’s Wobbly Journey To Success
Founded in 2003, Tesla Motors has been on a bumpy ride to the success and respect it receives as a global business today. In 2008 Tesla and SpaceX were both on the verge of bankruptcy. It really wasn’t a great year for Musk, for his career and personal life, as he was also going through divorce.
A few years on and another disaster struck for this automotive company. Back in 2014, three of Tesla’s Model S cars self-combusted in six weeks due to a fault with the battery. Tesla’s failures didn’t stop there, with the most recent taking place just a few months ago. In March 2018, Tesla recalled 123,000 Model S vehicles due to an issue with the power steering components. Shares of Tesla dropped nearly 4% in after-hours trade.
Despite these colossal mistakes that could have brought the company under for good, Elon Musk has managed to bring it back every time and maintain a good image for the company as it continues to be known as the world’s most famous automotive and energy brand, that has a value of an impressive $650 Bn.
SpaceX has seen more rocket failures and explosions over recent years. In 2016, another unmanned Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral which was carrying a facebook satellite that hoped to beam high-speed internet for those in Africa. Again in 2017, there was another rocket that exploded under testing. The setback that left SpaceX figuring out issues with their hardware came as SpaceX was having a record-setting year with 16 launches.
Looking back on the past two decades, you could say Musk has experienced bigger failures than he has successes in some ways, and it’s likely he will experience more in the future. But despite these setbacks, it is worth commending this visionary for bouncing back and making a success out of each and every one of them.
Image Credit: RS Components