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Essay: The Rise of Elon Musk: From Flamethrowers to Space Travel

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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What do electric vehicles, flamethrowers, underground railways and space travel have in common?  They are all creations of Elon Musk.  Elon is the mastermind behind a fair amount of 20th and 21st century technological breakthroughs and businesses.  These include The Boring Company, SpaceX, and Tesla.  Before we can talk about his attributes that make him a great leader, we will look back to what made him to the leader he is today.  

Elon grew up in South Africa and later moved to Canada at the age of 17 to attend school.  He then moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 to study physics and business.  He completed two undergraduate degrees, one for economics and the other for physics.  After he achieved both degrees, he moved to California to pursue a PhD in physics.   Around this time, the internet was booming and he saw a few business opportunities that he could capitalize on.  He dropped out of Sanford just two days after starting school (Biography.com).

After dropping out of school, he started his first company called Zip2.  This was the first true test of his leadership skills. Zip2 was an online city guide that was providing content to the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.  He sold this company to a branch of Compaq Computer corporation for $307 million. Around this time, he also started another company called X.com.  This later went on to become PayPal (Biography.com).

Following this, Musk founded his third company called SpaceX.  His goal for this company was to provide spacecraft for commercial travel.   By 2008, his company was receiving a contract from NASA to handle the cargo transport to the International Space Station.  This company has seen great success is recent years.   In 2012, SpaceX launched a falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station.  This was used to bring supplies to the astronauts there.  This was the first time that a private company had sent a rocket to the International Space Station.  The following year, a Falcon 9 rocket carried a satellite in to orbit.  In 2018, SpaceX saw its greatest achievement of launching a rocket in to space with a heavy load on it.  The company launched a tesla car into space.  This car had a dummy driving the car and cameras to capture images of space. (Biography.com).

The last company Musk has created is Tesla motors.  Tesla was formed in the hopes of creating an affordable electric car.  Tesla has seen great success in recent years with the launch of their Model S line and their partnership with Toyota.  Musk has big plans for this company.  In the fall of 2017, he unveiled two new models, the roadster and the semi-truck.  This semi-truck would be an industry changing car, as it would provide a vehicle that does not use emissions, but would still be able to travel long distances and carry the cargo that is usually carried by traditional semi-trucks.  The Roadster strives to be the fastest vehicle on the market, with speeds reaching 0 to 60 in a time of 1.9 seconds.  Now that Elon Musk’s background and businesses have been established, it is time to move on to his characteristics that make him a great leader.  (Biography.com).

As was stated in the previous paragraphs, Musk is filled with ideas and has started several companies over the past 20 years.  These ventures have always taken off and worked out well for him.  One of his current companies, Tesla, has seen a large stock increase over the past year.  Keith Crane, an author at auto news, states “Last week, when Tesla’s sales were reported, the company’s stock market valuation shot past that of Ford Motor Co" (Crane, 1).  This is quite the feat, as the vehicle industry is not an easy on to break in to.

Elon is very good at knowing his audience and using the internet to make a good marketing campaign.  For example, when he launched his car in to space, the internet blew up.  Millions of people made memes (pictures with humorous captions) or looked at these pictures about his car.  This spread and gave Elon and his companies a lot of free publicity.  Some of the best include photo shopped images of Musk’s twitter where he is asking for a ride to work the next day (his car is in space) and “The traffic isn’t too bad this morning. Bit cold with the roof down though” followed by a picture of his space dummy orbiting around earth (Sioban).  

The car in space trick was not his first time at genius internet marketing.  Elon thought it would be a great idea to use his company, The Boring Company, to create and sell twenty thousand flamethrowers to the public.  It all started with him posting a video to twitter.  In the video, Elon is shown with a flamethrower and the caption “Say hello to my little friend.”  Following the internet’s craze about the flamethrower, Elon went on to say that he is selling a select amount of them and that if the zombie apocalypse were to happen, then you’ll be happy you invested in the flamethrower.  He kept the tweets coming and the internet booming. “Some customs agencies are saying they won't allow shipment of anything called a 'Flamethrower,’" Musk tweeted. "To solve this, we are renaming it 'Not a Flamethrower.'"  “Musk’s oddball sale of the flamethrowers started in January as a gimmick to help sell Boring Company hats.” says Lisa Segarra. Musk ended up selling all of his flamethrowers at $500 a piece.  This totals for about $10 million in profit for his company.  The flamethrowers will also be shipped with complimentary fire extinguishers. (Segarra, 1).

The money was great, but the free publicity he got from news sites, shares on twitter and Facebook, and memes were what really made this idea fantastic.  Elon knows his audience and how to reach them.  He knows what they like and really knows how to use viral videos/tweets to his advantage.  This is a sign of a smart leader by adapting with the times.  When he started his ventures in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, the internet was not where it is today.  There was not a twitter and viral videos/tweets were not even thought of.  For him to be able run successful businesses throughout the years by adapting and using the current tools of the time to market his companies is truly a sign of a great leader.

Elon Musk is also somewhat of a visionary for the future, which is another attribute of a great leader.  He is someone who will lead us to a new way of living, while supplying the new technology to get us there.  His most simple goal would be to make electric cars affordable for everyone.  Musk is working on making the Tesla models cheaper, with the Tesla Model 3 starting at $35,000(Tesla.com).  This model boasts greater miles per charge as well as greater horsepower when compared to previous models.

Musk does not want to stop at electric cars.  He wants to make travel by rocket affordable and safe for the everyday consumer. Musk showed a demonstration of the idea onstage, claiming that it will allow passengers to take “most long-distance trips” in just 30 minutes, and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour” for around the same price as an economy airline ticket. The planned expenditure would be the fastest travel ever created, and would go to speeds of 18,000 miles per hour (O’Kane, 1).  This type of talk will lead us in to the future of travel.  Airplanes will be replaced by rockets and travel time will be cut to next to nothing.

Continuing on with the rocket theme, Elon also wants to colonize Mars.  He has a plan to use giant reusable rockets to do so.  He doesn’t just want to land and explore Mars; he wants to have people living there.  He even has the plans and means to do so.  His plan involves a series of missile tops giving the ship fuel.  The ship would take a little over three months to make it to Mars.  Once landing, the ship is reusable and can be fueled by harvesting methane on Mars.  The ship would be able to be sent back to Earth, which is crucial to his plan.  If it was not, then the travel would be quite a bit more expensive than it already will be (Davis, 1).

Musk also has other transportation plans that would change how we get from place to place.  He recently struck a deal with Chicago to build an underground transit system that would go from the airport to downtown Chicago.  This would drastically cut down travel time for this type of travel.   According to the Chicago tribune, the usual transport time varies slightly depending on what mode of transport you want to take. A cab will take roughly 40 minutes and an Uber is slightly quicker at around 30 minutes.  The current rail system is roughly an hour long (Coale, 1).  With Elon Musk’s new plan for an underground railway, the trip time would be cut to roughly 12 minutes (Blakley, 1).  He does not want to stop with just Chicago.  Elon Musk would like to spread this mode of transport to cities all over the U.S.

Elon is a visionary for the future of transportation as well as a business and marketing genius.  He has the plans to make it happen, and is already making progress to see this vision become a reality.  From electric cars, to colonizing Mars, the future is going to bring great things at the hand of Elon Musk.  He will also have the funds to do so, due to his many profitable businesses he has had along the years.   So the only question is, how will you choose to travel?

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