Elon Musk is one of the richest men on the planet. He turned fifty years old last week, but just wait until you see how many millions he’s sitting on as he enters his fifth decade on Earth.
We know him as the genius behind SpaceX and Tesla; the father of baby X Æ A-12 with partner Grimes; the champion of Dogecoin; and the future ruler of Mars (probably). But how did he get to the level of enormous success he enjoys today?
Making a billion dollars is no easy feat. Making multiple billions of dollars takes another level of skill entirely. Elon Musk is one of the few folks who figured out how to do this, and his story is something to behold. Read on to discover how Elon Musk turned himself into one of the most famous billionaires on the planet, and just how much money he’s worth today.
Elon Reeve Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in June of 1971. His mother, Maye, is a Canadian model and dietician. His dad, Errol Musk, is a South African engineer, property developer, consultant, sailor, and pilot.
Musk reportedly showed an aptitude for science as a very young child. He was only 12 years old when he created a video game called “Blastar” through BASIC, which is a programming language that stands for “Beginners’ All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.” Musk had taught himself that programming language through a manual.
Musk sold the code for “Blastar” to PC and Office Technology magazine for about $500, which was one of his earliest business ventures. Considering he was not even a teenager yet, it was clear that Musk would go on to do incredible things in life.
Going to School
Musk’s goal was to continue his education in the United States, and he believed it would be easier to do so if he spent some time in his mother’s home country of Canada first. By 1990, he was attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. After only two years, he was able to transfer to the University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League research university in Philadelphia.
In 1994, Musk worked an internship at an energy storage startup called Pinnacle Research Institute. There, he helped research electrolytic ultracapacitors for energy storage. He also had another internship at Rocket Science Games, a video game developer that created games for consoles and computers from 1993-1997.
Musk graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science in economics and a Bachelor of Arts in physics. He was accepted into a Ph.D. program at Stanford University, where he was to study materials science. Musk attended Stanford for just two days before dropping out. He chose to instead launch an Internet startup company to join the growing Internet boom in the late 1990s.
The dot-com bubble was caused by excessive speculation of Internet-related companies as people flocked to the World Wide Web for the first time. But would Musk’s venture there be a boom or a bust?
Initial Business Ventures
It was 1995 when Elon Musk teamed up with his younger brother, Kimbal, and their friend Greg Kouri. The three founded Zip2, a web software company, using funds from angel investors. The small operation was headquartered in a rental office in Palo Alto, California.
In February of 1999, Compaq acquired Zip2 for $307 million in cash. Musk himself received $22 million dollars from the deal.
Shortly after becoming a millionaire, Musk was ready for his next business experiment: X.com, which he founded in 1999. X.com was a financial service and e-mail payment company–essentially, an online bank.
X.com was one of the first online banks to be insured federally. After a few transfers of power between CEOs, a merger with PayPal, and arguments over using Microsoft versus Linux software, the company was eventually acquired by eBay in 2002. eBay paid using $1.5 billion in stock. Musk was the largest shareholder in the company, and he received more than $100 million from the deal.
It was around this same time, the early 2000s, that Musk started dabbling in what would soon become his claim to fame: space. In 2001, Musk was already a part of a nonprofit called Mars Society, where talks included ideas like growth chambers for plants on the Red Planet.
Musk became interested in transporting the necessary greenhouse payloads into space. However, finding a rocket that could do the job was expensive and difficult. It was this struggle that inspired Musk to build affordable rockets.
In 2002, Musk founded the Space Exploration Technology Corp.–better known as SpaceX–with about $100 million. Musk has been the CEO and Chief Engineer of Space X ever since.
Beyond SpaceX, Elon Musk’s biggest claim to fame has to be Tesla, Inc. This American electric vehicle company also functions as a clean energy company. They don’t just build cool-looking cars–they also sell battery energy storage, solar roof tiles, solar panels, and more.
Tesla was originally founded as Tesla Motors. Musk did not found the company himself; that was Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. During the series A funding of Teslas in 2004, various investors contributed about $7.5 million to Tesla, which promised to be a car manufacturer as well as a technology company. Musk was so into Eberhard and Tarpenning’s idea that he ended up contributing the majority of Tesla’s funding. Of the $7.5 million Tesla raised in series A funding, about $6.5 million came from Musk.
After essentially making the Tesla dream a real possibility, Elon Musk became chairman of the company’s board of directors.
Musk has said that Tesla’s goal is to expedite and facilitate society’s eventual shift toward fully sustainable transportation and energy. Back in the early 2000s when Tesla was founded, it was incredibly expensive to purchase an electric vehicle. Now, they’ve managed to introduce electric vehicles into the market in an unprecedented way. More and more Teslas are seen on the road with each passing year, and as the cars they produce get less expensive and more impressive, more people are jumping on the sustainable energy bandwagon.
Tesla doesn’t play by any guidelines from the past. Not only do they not pay for direct advertisement, but they also update their cars as soon as their technology develops, similar to how you can update your laptop’s software periodically over time. This is unlike almost all other vehicle manufacturers, who do not update their technology until the next model of the car is released.
The first-ever car that Tesla produced was the 2009 Roadster. The Model S sedan arrived in 2012, and the Model X SUV took the world by storm in 2015. The Model 3 sedan debuted in 2017, and it has since become the best-selling plugin electric car in the history of the world. In 2020, Tesla produced their millionth electric car.
In 2016, Musk revealed Tesla’s newest phase of development. His vision included more affordable electric cars produced in mass quantities. These vehicles–sedans, SUVS, pickup trucks, hatchbacks, minibuses, and more–will have solar roofs and the ability to drive autonomously. Musk is also passionate about bringing the price of his vehicles down so that everyone can participate in this electric car revolution that will eventually lead to a “sharing economy.”
In 2020, Musk said at Battery Day that he expects Tesla to produce an electric car within three years that will have a shockingly low price point: $25,000. He said it “will basically be on par or slightly better than a comparable gasoline car.”
Musk has also floated other ideas that may or may not come to fruition. One of these is an autonomous taxi service run by Tesla, which would have over 1 million self-driving Teslas on the road, ready to pick up passengers. This plan hasn’t been developed just yet, but you never know what will happen in the next few years!
How Much Is Elon Musk Worth Today?
Elon Musk is a centibillionaire, which describes anyone with a net worth of at least 100 billion units of a given currency. As of June 2021, only eight people in the world are centibillionaires in United States dollars.
In 2019, there were 607 billionaires in the United States, which was a new record. At that time, Jeff Bezos was the richest man in the world. However, he is in constant battle with Musk and a handfull of others like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, as their net worth is always in flux. In January of 2021, Elon Musk surpassed Jeff Bezos to become the richest person in the United States.
At the time of writing, Elon Musk has a net worth of about $167.3 billion. Bezos has surpassed him again (he’s worth about $201.8 billion right now), but Musk is sure to take the top spot for himself again at some point.