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Date > 2024 > April
Activity > Book Review | Peoplescape

Book Review Peoplescape

Brilliant Minds


Elon Musk April 4-, 2024

Elon Musk

Author: Walter Isaacson
ISBN-10: 1982181281
ISBN-13: 978-1982181284
Genre: Biography, Business, Computer & Technology
Pages: 688 pages
Country: USA
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: September 12, 2023
Rating: star star star star star (5 out of 5 stars)

  1. fervor - intense and passionate feeling
    e.g. He has the spiritual fervor of a political activist.
  2. ruefully - expressing sorry or regret in a humorous way
    e.g. This starving kid ruefully replaced the stick shift to fit in the crowded car.
  3. wistful - a feeling of melancholy or regretful longing...sad
    e.g. The crumbing coral reef was wiftful given its once vibrant colors.
  4. prescient - knowing something before it takes place
    e.g. Having a Lamborghini in my garage was prescient from my poster fantasies.
  5. wiles - devious or cunning tactic to manipulate or persuade someone to do something
    e.g. A politician is a man of wiles, ingratiating himself to people useful to him.
  6. prosaic - lacking poetic beauty, unimaginative
    e.g. I was expecting a witty remark from Nina, but her reply was prosaic.
  7. impugned - call into question
  8. terse - being brief and to the point
    e.g. His terse reply was viewed by many to be curt and offensive.
  9. iterative - repeating; making repetition; repetitious
    e.g. Website source code is iterative, it can be used as snippets
  10. bucolic - the pleasant aspect of the countryside
    e.g. The bucolic cottage had a warm and cozy feel to it.
  11. sclerotic - becoming rigid and unresponsive, unable to adapt
    e.g. With the leasing of launch pad 39A, 40 and 36 to pioneering young billionaires, the space-exploration torch has been passed from the sclerotic NASA to the nimble private sector.
  12. de facto - not formally announced but already is in reality
    e.g. Sam Teller was the de facto chief of staff of SpaceX when the Grasshopper was prototyped.
  13. first principles - first principles thinking is the practice of questioning every assumption you think you know about a given problem, then creating new solutions from scratch. It's one of the best ways to unlock creative solutions to complicated problems.
    e.g. Using first principles of rocket fuel allowed SpaceX to use densely packed liquid oxygen in sub-zero temperature to cram more power into a rocket without increasing its size or mass.

    1. Identify the Problem - clearly define the problem you want to solve
      e.g. selling bicycles for hauling is not profitable because margins are low
    2. Break it Down - Decompose the problem into its most fundamental parts.
      e.g. why are the margins small? Because there are so many middle men, because construction material, aluminum, is expensive
    3. Question Assumptions - challenge existing assumptions and practices.
      e.g. do we really need that many middlemen? Do we really need to sell aluminum bikes since it's for hauling anyway and not for commuters
    4. Reconstruct from Scratch - build solutions from these basic elements, using the fundamental principles as a guide.
      e.g. we can buy directly from the manufacturer in wholesale, divy up the orders with other bike sellers. Buy bikes made with steel instead of aluminum because it's cheaper even though it's heavier
    In summary, first principles thinking is a powerful approach that involves analyzing problems from their most basic elements and reasoning upwards, allowing for deeper understanding and innovative solutions.
  14. stupor - a state of being dazed (tulala, windang)
    e.g. My cognitive dissonance regarding the non-existence of God left me in stupor.
  15. esprit de corps - a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by the members of a particular group
    e.g. There was an esprit de corps amongst us who climbed Mt. Pulag and endured the hardship, the cold and the hunger.
  16. mordant - (especially of humor) having a biting or caustic element to it.
    e.g. a mordant sense of humor
  17. droll - amusing, witty, whimsical
    e.g. His droll humor went over the head of his friends.
  18. bete noire - black beast, the thing you detest the most
    e.g. My bete noire is the foul smell of cigarette butts on an ashtray near me.
  19. demurred - showed reluctance or hesitation
    e.g. Decompressing from Burning Man, I demurred when invited to cover the mountain bike race in Los Angeles the following week.
  20. latency (in computing) - the delay before data is transferred
    e.g. Internet is slow with conventional communications satellites, but with Starlink, the latency is reduced.
  21. languidness - weakness, lacking physical strength or vigor
    e.g. Mark Juncosa was a laid-back surfer dude who didn't suffer from languidness.
  22. consternation - a feeling of uneasinessk, anxiety or dismay over something unexpected

My 2 Heroes

This is a special book to me for its subject (Elon Musk) and its biographer (Walter Isaacson). Elon is perhaps one of the most fascinating guys who ever walked on this planet and nobody writes better than Walter Isaacson.

Elon Musk
When was the last time a dyslexic person founded 5 of the world's leading companies in diverse industries and manages them all exceptionally well at the same time while being the richest man in the world? He popularized electric cars until it now is poised to ultimately replace combustion engines - with Tesla. He's not a rocket scientist, but he developed his own rockets and is serious about sending a man to Mars. He is one of the biggest manufacturers of solar panels. He bought Twitter so that people can exercise free speech. He pioneered online banking with PayPal. There is no stopping this guy! And unlike most billionaires, he's cool and smokes weed on a podcast - definitely not your stiff executive type on a 3-piece suit.

Walter Isaacson
I love writing and I love the writing style of Walter Isaacson. I read his book about Kissinger and I remember dissecting his long sentence into its anatomy to see why it worked so brilliantly. When I read his book, it's always with a dictionary. He doesn't really use high falluting words, but precise and accurate not-your-everyday-word to make his point. With his book, I expand my vocabulary and my writing improves.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk and his biographer, Walter Isaacson at Vanity Fair

Background: Playground / Adversity

The Playground
Elon was bullied in school as a child growing up in the 2-fisted South AFrica. His father was worse - a horribly stern autocrat who showed no compassion or empathy to Elon's plight. Kimbal, his yougner brother, has always been right by his side.

“Adversity shaped me”
(p 8) Elon's character is largely shaped by his tumultuous relationship with his Dad. He can't help it, even though he is acutely aware of it. 'Not becoming his father' is a constant battle for him. He goes into roller coaster emotional swings from light to dark, intense to goofy, detached to emotional, including his dreaded 'demon mode'. Unlike most people, Elon thrives on pressure, catastrophies, tight deadlines and trauma. If there is no problem, he loses his bearing. He wants complete control - so instead of being on the board of Twitter, he bought Twitter.

In yoga, tapas or austerity is a way to intentionally induce adversity in a controlled setting - like taking a cold shower instead of hot, on a cold day. This strengthens the mind. In the Japanese Bushido code of the warrior, you cry in the dojo and laugh in the battlefield.

1 Adventurers

Joshua and Winnifred Haldeman
(p 11) Elon got his daredevil character from his grandfather, Joshua Haldeman, Joshua was a hardcore adventurer - hobo, stowaway, cowboy, chiropractor, handyman, etc. He was against the Jew's control of money in the economy, and believed that governments should be ran by technocrats and not politicians. He took up ballroom dancing where he met his future wife, Winnifred Fletcher. They both learned to fly airplanes.

Disgruntled over his perceived control of the Canadian government, he took his family to South Africa, then an apartheid regime. He lost his life while flying. Elon was only 3 then and never knew his grandfather from whom he took much of his risk-taking genes from. Maye, Elon's mother, got the genes and passed it on to Elon.

Errol Musk
Errol was Elon's Dad - a wheeler/dealer and hustler who was also an engineer, politician and pilot. He was from South Africa and made money in the emerald business.

Their Marriage
Errol Musk and Maye Haldeman (Elon's beautiful Mom) dated as teenagers. They married and Maye got pregnant immediately, thwarting her plan to move out of a mistake - the marriage.

2 A Mind of His Own (Pretoria, the 1970s)

Lonely and determined
(p 16) On June 28, 1971, Elon Musk was born. He cried a lot, ate a lot and slept little. At 3, Elon's genius became apparent and was sent to nursery school where everyone else was much older. It was a mistake as Elon was tuning out. When Elon retreats into focused thinking (when his brain is computing), his sensory organs stop functioning - can't hear, can't see, etc. Elon didn't know how to make friends - he lived a very lonely life. He dreaded being alone. When he wanted something, he could not be detered - he was uncompromising. He could also be spacey, oblivious to what's going on. Elon was bad at picking up social cues, often believing that people mean what they say - he could read body language. He had no empathy - a character so vital in society.

Not having empathy is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you can be George Bush [Sr and W] or Kissinger who can bomb a neutral country out of a map killing millions of lives...and not lose a night's sleep. On the other hand, you can make the hard decisions that need to be done that others cannot do. Walter Isaacson admitted that when he was the head of CNN News, he knew he had to fire out many useless/redundant employees, but didn't have the heart to do so. Elon on the other hand, fired more than half of Twitter when he took control.

The Divorce
(p 18) Errol was abusive to his wife. He hit her and called her "boring, stupid, and ugly". When Elon was 8, they divorced. Errol continued to give her a hard time. Maye raised the kids by herself in dire straits.

3 Life with Father (Pretoria, the 1980s)

The move
(p 21) At age 10, Elon moved in with his father - big mistake! He realized then just how horrible his father was. 4 years later, Kimbal joined him. It's not clear why, but maybe because they needed a swashbuckling father then than an overworked, distracted and vulnerable mother. One time, Errol brought the kids to Hong Kong, left them in a hostel for 2 days with 50 dollars fending off for themselves.

A confederacy of cousins
(p 22) To be closer to her boys in Pretoria, Maye moved to Johannesburg where her sister also lived with her 3 boys (Peter, Lyndon, and Russ Rive). The 5 cousins would hang out and have fun with the consenting Maye who was less strict than her sister. They would go to concerts unsupervised and have close calls - stabbings, brawls, shootings, etc. Even in those early days, Elon displayed fearlessness in making difficult decisions - like telling off a bunch of bigger boys to keep quiet in a movie house. Elon would also be the most competitive.

The student
(p 23) Elon was a good student but nothing more. He was slow to finish class work. He'd rather play video games than put effort into something he found some school subjects. He loses himself in books sometimes going for 9-hour reading stretches. Being a know-it-all, he was annoying to the other kids. He showed fascination at interstellar travel at that early stage.

4 The Seeker (Pretoria, the 1980s)

Existential crisis
(p 26) Maye used to take Elon to Sunday school, but he asked too many (sensible) questions, "People cannot walk on water!". He was in search of scientific explanations instead of defaulting to religious explanations. He began asking philosophical questions even science could not explain (What's the meaning of life?) - thus his teen-age existential crisis. He took refuge in the writings of Nietzsche but his confusion turned into despair. He doesn't reading that reading for a teen-ager. Reading science fiction saved the day for him - he actually got obsessed with space travel and A.I. This was the genesis for Elon's SpaceX company.

In high school, I remember a confused classmate, Noel Alparaz (RIP), who began reading Jiddu Krishnamurti. After reading the book, he wanted to commit suicide. This left me wondering what should a confused teenager do when facing an existential crisis?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide
(p 27) Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy influenced Elon the most. It kindled in him the Simulation Hypothesis about reality. His take-away was to be smart enough to ask the right questions (instead of getting an answer from a wrong question).

(p 27) The 2 brothers and the 3 cousins were avid players of Dungeons and Dragons. As a Dungeon master, Elon displayed gentleness and patience - not his default personality. They participated in a tournament and won, even though they were the youngest. Elon remarked that the contest Dungeon master was an idiot for being too obvious.

At 11, Elon got his first computer - a real treat during that time. During that time, educational programs weren't invented yet - only games. Elon played space video games and was good at it. He learned BASIC, Pascal and C++ programming. He entered and won programming contests. At some point, he developed his own computer games and monetized it.

5 Escape Velocity (Leaving South Africa, 1989)

Jekyll and Hyde
(p 31) At 17, due to Errol's abuses and wild mood swings, Elon left his Dad and left South Africa. Elon also took this from his Dad. Elon could be Mr. Cool one moment and turn dark and threatening the next. Errol applies his engineering to fruitcake theories like formulating randomness. Nobody understands him, but he believes in his own bullshit. Hearing Errol's mind-blowing rants was a mind-fuck for the kids/cousins. Elon exhibits a lot of Errols's dark side...he can't help it and is often reminded by his wife/s.

A one-way ticket
(p 32) Failing to immigrate to the US, Elon successfully moved to Canada. His father's parting words at the airport, "You’ll never be successful.”

6 Canada (1989)

(p 35) Elon arrived Montreal with $4000 and a list of his mother's relatives. He was surprised that in Canada, people don't just rob and kill you, unlike South Africa. He later moved to Saskatchewan for his cousin and then to Vancouver 6 weeks later. He found a job paying $18/hour, much higher than the usual $5/hour, but it was tough and risky.

Maye and Tosca
(p 36) Maye and Tosca soon moved to Canada as well, but settled in Toronto. Elon followed suit while Kimbal stayed in Pretoria to finish his studies. They all stayed in a 1-bedroom apartment. Times were hard and everyone worked menial jobs. Elon worked as an intern for Microsoft. At some point, they were able to move to a 3-bedroom apartment and purchase a computer for Elon. He had no friends or social life in Toronto.

7 Queen’s (Kingston, Ontario, 1990–1991)

Industrial relations
(p 38) Adressing his social handicap, he enrolled in 1990 at Queen’s where there were more girls. There, he met his lifelong friend, Farooq, who was half Pakistani and Canadian. Together, they would play board and computer games, discuss philosophical questions and explore obscure history. They were both lonely guys in search of a friend. At Queen's Elon struggles with Industrial Relations - dealings between workers and management.

Strategy games
(p 38) In video game playing, Elon was convincing in his negotiations and threats. He loved strategy games (board and computer) involving resource management, high-level tactical maneuvering, and supply-chain logistics. This is where he honed his tactical skills and strategic thinking for business - Elon was wired for war. Elon was good at reverse-engineering the rules of a strategic game so he wins every time.

Bank trainee
(p 39) Elon and Kimbal would call people that interested them the most from reading a newspaper. Usually, they get invited for lunch. It's also good networking where Elon was hired to be a part of a strategic team for Nova Scotia Bank.

Elon realized that banks are dumb and he was smarter. It was hard for him to work for someone stupid or someone not as smart as him. This paved the way for his creation of the online bank, PayPal.

8 Penn (Philadelphia, 1992–1994)

(p 42) Elon found Queen's boring and moved to the University of Pennsylvania to study physics and business. He deemed them a good combination. Elon will apply engineering while working for himself. He made friends with Robin Ren, the only guy smarter than him in physics. At that early point, Elon would already be musing about travel to Mars, rocket propulsion, electric cars, and green energy.

Party animal
(p 43) Elon became friends with a party animal, Adeo Ressi. Adeo pulled him out of his geek shell into the wild world of partying. They rented a house that they used to host parties at $5/pax to a crowd of 500, paying the month's rent. Despite the party vibe, Elon wasn't immersed in it. He would be sober the entire time looking after things. He was still an outsider looking in even though it was his party.

9 Go West (Silicon Valley, 1994–1995)

Summer intern
(p 46) After UofPenn, ambitious students are usually drawn to Wall Street in NY or the tech-craze of Silicon Valley on the West. Elon didn't think bankers and lawyers make a real contribution to society so he chose the West - .com bubble, venture capitalists and instant wealth through technology. He worked as an intern where he indulged his passion for electric vehicles, space, and video games. In another company he applied to, he was able to solve a complicated problem that baffled the executives. He impressed all of them. Even though Elon could make dece t money developing video games, he didn't think it was the best use for his talents.

King of the road
(p 46) In the 70s, whiz kids could tinker with appliances and computers. But the 80s brought about sealed equipment - you couldn't open it up and tinker with it. Thus, in the 90s, the tinkers defaulted to software and coding instead of hardware. But Elon had a panache for both hardware and software - he was able to combine them both. Case in point was when he converted his BMW from 4sp to 5sp transmission just by reading, researching and logical deduction - but it broke down a few times.

Elon also observed that the robotic baggage-handling system of the Denver airport was a mess because it was overly automated and was more complicated than the designers thought. He was keen on noticing the engineering mistakes on systems he observed - and applied the lessons on his manufacturing wheter it's electric cars, rockets, or boring equipment.

The internet wave
(p 47) He thought deep about what can possitively influence humanity - and this would be his thrust. It boiled down to the internet, space travel and green energy.

Elon was on a rush about the internet - it would not wait until he graduated. He had to choose - PhD or the internet. Peter Nicholson of Scotiabank advised that the internet revolution was a once in a lifetime opportunity but the PhD will always be there.

10 Zip2 (Palo Alto, 1995–1999)

Map quests
(p 51) Realizing the shortcomings of NyNex's vision of an online yellow pages, he and Kimbal decided to develop one themselves by merging the business directory with a map database - they were perhaps the first humans to do it on the internet (by today's standards, it's very common). They named their program Zip2 and had it patented. Mohr Davidow, a VC, invested $3M, gave Elon and Kimbal $30,000 each for a car and had their visas fixed. Elon bought his dream car, 1967 Jaguar E-type but it broke down every week. Not long after, the VC brought in the grown-ups to manage the company. Elon was pushed aside as a technology officer. He realized that he cannot do what he wants in the technology department unless he was also CEO. He should not give up control. Zip2 took off and newspapers, an unexpected market, became its biggest customers. At the end of the day, Elon felt that VCs and professional managers cannot make a great company because they lack the creativity and insight of the founders (like him).

(p 53) Elon was hardcore, working all day and all night, resting only to play video games. He also demanded the same from employees. He would correct his employees publicly or correct their 'stupid codes', oblivious about human connections and loss of loyalty. Time and again, he lack of the empathy gene got the better of him - like Steve Jobs. Kimbal was no exception to Elon. They both physically fought over strategy, names and slights. They would wrestle each other to the ground in full view of their employees.

The millionaire
(p 54) When Compaq Computeroffered $307 million in cash for Zip2, Elon walked away with $22M. His bank account grew from $5K to $22M in a wink - he was 27. He bought an 1800 sqf condo and a $1 million McLaren F1. In 3 years, from sleeping on an office floor, he now owns a million dollar car. He bacame a celebrity but it didn't really get inside his head. At the core, he wanted to build more companies.

11 Justine (Palo Alto, the 1990s)

Romance drama
(p 57) Justine Wilson and Elon met at Queen's when Elon was a sophomore. They dated. To Justine, Elon would not take no for an answer. They moved in together in Palo Alto before the sale of Zip2. Justine was anti-social - nobody seemed to like her...not Kimbal, not Maye, not Farooq, not Elon's friends. They would always argue or fight. When Zip2 was sold, Elon proposed.

The wedding
(p 58) The wedding was almost canceled because there was no lawyer to notarize the prenup. Getting married without the prenup worried Elon which sparked a fight on wedding night in full view of the family. Others were relieved thinking the wedding would be canceled. But it pushed through just the same.

12 (Palo Alto, 1999–2000)

An all-in-one bank
(p 61) Instead of living life as a gallivanting millionaire, Elon invested his Zip2 money into, an online banking company that addresses all the shortcomings of NoviaScotia bank, where he previously worked as an intern. X would be his go-to name for his companies and even his kid.

Elon's hard-driving way to his employees nearly caused a rebellion where co founder and key people asked Elon to step down. Elon replies essentially that he was built that way - a given that cannot change. The rebels quit but Elon forged through, partnering with Sequoia Capital and becoming the darling start-up guy in Silicon Valley.

Elon made a public announcement to launch on Thanksgiving weekend, an insane deadline for him and everyone else. Everyone was pushed to the limit. Elon was a stern taskmaster. It was brutal. Engineers came home at 2 am and called to show up early for work. It produced resentment. But in the end, the deadline was met and the staff received joyous bonus on the ATM.

Elon introduced many innovations to the industry - simple interface, ease of signing (ask as few information as possible), members signing up friends, and paying through email.

Max Levchin and Peter Thiel
(p 62) Max Levchin and Peter Thiel were co-founders of PayPal, a fierce competition to for peer-to-peer money transfer. Thiel was a cool risk mitigator while Elon was an intense risk-taker. In the attrition, both realized it was better to merge than kill each other in Mortal Kombat. At the negotiation table, looking serious, Elon said owns 90% of the new business while PayPal gets 10%. It was so absurd peole didn't know what to make of the remark. Elon was just messing with them. While on his McLaren, Elon tried to impress Thiel by flooring the accelerator. The car spun around but no one got hurt. Elon thought he impressed Thiel as a risk taker. Thiel however, saw Elon as reckless. Elon was trying to scuttle the merger but his higher ups warned him not to. The deal went through with a 50-50 sharing, being the merger name with PayPal was the brand. To show that adult supervision is no longer needed, Elon fired Harris to become the CEO.

(p 64) PayPal's electronic payment system was a big success but Elon was unhappy. He wasn't contented developing niche companies no matter how successful. He wanted to develop new innovative industries by scuttling inefficient and archaic ones. What he had in mind was a social-media company with banking services (this was the genesis of Twitter, now

Elon teamed the engineers with the product managers - they work together. One gets to feel the impossibility of the other (like teaming architects and engineers - some engineers complain that architects like drawing fiction on a paper that cannot be built). But who leads the team? The engineers or the designers? For SpaceX, engineers led the team.

Arm wrestling with Levchin
(p 64) Thiel slowly faded from the action leaving Levchin to counter-balance Elon. After an argument on what OS to use (Elon wanted Windows while Levchin wanted Unix), Elon offered to settle the issue by arm wrestling. Resolving a software-coding disagreement by arm wrestling? That's Elon. He lost but still had his way.

The earnest Levchin didn't know what to make of Elon. Intense maniacal genius? Calculating risk taker or reckless craze? Goofball humorist? Elon was a picture of irony. But from time to time, he is impressed by Elon's sharpness and knowledge beyond what Levchin thought to be his expertise.

13 The Coup (PayPal, September 2000)

Street fight
(p 68) Levchin found Elon dismissive, to the point he thought about quitting. His friends rallied behind him, urging him to fight back with them behind him, as they all felt the same frustration. They plotted to dethrone Elon with Thief as the temporary CEO. This was carried out with the blessing of Michael Moritz and the board while Elon was on his honeymoon. Upon learing this, Elon sunk into deep sadness. He put all his money in PayPal, worked his ass off, and postponed his honeymoon, and in return, he gets sacked behind his back, not given the chance to voice his side. Elon promptly returned and reconvened his loyalists to strategize the next moves. Reid HoАman (a Thiel loyalist), out of respect for Elon, agreed to hear him out despite instructions of Thiel to everyone not to give Elon an audience. Elon was unable to reverse Hoffman. Elon gracefully stepped down as CEO and discouraged his loyalists to launch a revolt. Elon remained the largest shareholder and a board member - just no longer CEO. Elon rubs people the wrong way. In the last 3 years, he has been voted out twice. He tried to repair his relationship with Thiel and Levchin.

Risk seeker
(p 70) Elon's PayPal colleagues were unanimous that Elon was a risk taker which was unlike most managers who were risk mitigators. Elon thrived on seeking risk and see how far he can push it, sometimes with almost catasrophic results (like the McLaren incident). Elon displayed this again by playing poker with sharper guys. But he kept betting all and losing all. But in the one instance he won, he took the entire lot. This has been the hallmark of Elon's business behavior as exhibited in SpaceX and Tesla, contrary to Silicon Valley's best business practice. People came to a point wondering that maybe Elon understands risk better than anyone else.

In 2002, Paypal went public and Ebay bought it, earning Elon $250M. Elon talked to Levchin asking him why he turned against Elon in that coup? Elon patched things up with the coup plotters saying had he stayed, he'd still be slaving away at PayPal.

(p 71) After the ouster, Elon took a long deserved vacation in Rio and South Africa with Justine and Kimbal. Upon his return to Palo Alto, he realized he caught malaria and came to hours of dying over a wrong prognosis. Had he died, PayPal would have collected $100,000,000 for a keyman life insurance.

14 Mars (SpaceX, 2001)

(p 74) During his sabbatical after his ouster, Elon learned how to fly and eventually bought a Soviet military training jet where he played Top Gun. He learned aerodynamics experiencially. At some point, he got bored flying.

Red planet
(p 74) After recovering from malaria, Elon got fascinated with space and came to conclude that he can build a rocket. Dismayed learning that NASA had no plan to go to Mars, he attended a meeting by the Mars society and read manuals on rockets. He became public about his plans to colonize Mars and make humanity a space-faring species - the eye-roll of his friends and colleagues. Elon starts off with the goal (no matter how absured,eg colonize Mars) and then reverse the process on how to go about it.

(p 75) Building rockets to colonize Mars by a 30-year old enterpreneur was absurd. But Elon gave 3 reasons why:

  1. technology doesn't spontaneously progress. I can stop or ever backslide. History taught us this. Elon would not have it that way if he can help it. He'll be the catalyst to make progress happen.
  2. suvival of man and his consciousness. Earth could be hit by an extinction-level asteroid and that could be the end of the only intelligent life in this universe.
  3. Elon is an adventurer and he cannot resist this adventure.

Elon passes off his vision (no matter how absurd)as a mandate from heaven.

Los Angeles
(p 76) Because the aerospace industry was in Los Angeles, Elon moved there from Palo Alto. He hosted many gatherings of rocket engineers. He toyed with the idea of sending mice to Mars, then sending a green house to Mars, and even went to Russia to buy rockets to go to Mars.

15 Rocket Man (SpaceX, 2002)

(p 79) Elon went to Russia to buy cheap rockets (decommissioned missiles) but nothing came from it. Instead, he decided he will build the rockets himself, send man to Mars and eventually colonize Mars. Man now becomes a multi-planetary species.

First principles
(p 80) Elon realized that the current mode of building rockets was enormously high compared to the cost of its raw materials - 50x more, giving it a high ïdiot index. This motivated him to design and build the rocket themselves.

(p 80) When Elon's friends knew that he was creating a rocket company, they intervened to discourage him, showing reels upon reels of exploding rockets. Elon was unwavering. Elon became the chief engineer since none of his choices could make it. His guiding metric was cost per pound of paylad to space. Thus he created the SpaceX company and announced to send an unmanned mission to Mars by 2010 - this was in 2002

16 Fathers and Sons (Los Angeles, 2002)

Baby Nevada
(p 83) In May 2002, just as Elon launched SpaceX company, Justine gave birth to Nevada, their first born. At 10 weeks, he died. Elon shut down and refused to talk about it. He got rid of the baby's belongings so as not to see them. Elon's survival mechanism is to shut down his strong emotions.

Errol arrives
(p 83) When Nevada was born, Elon invited his father Errol to visit. But en route, the baby died. Errol could not be persuaded to return home so he pushed through to see Elon in Los Angeles. Elon asked his father to stay, even if it meant buying a home for him in LA. - to the chagrin of Kimbal. Things got weird. Errol was fancying his 15 year old step daughter so Elon bought Errol a yatch to live in. Meantime, Errol's young wife looked to Elon as the provider of her family - not Errol. It came to a point Elon asked his father to go back to South Africa - his extended family followed suit.

17 Revving Up (SpaceX, 2002)

Tom Mueller
(p 86) Tom Mueller was a rocket enthusiast even as a boy. He worked for the aerospace company building rockets. Elon offered him a job at SpaceX as head of propulsion, in charge of designing the rocket’s engines. Playing it safe, Mueller asked 2 years salary on escrow if the company fails. Elon agreed but considered Mueller an employee instead of co-founder - Mueller wasn't risking enough to be co-founder.

(p 87) Having hired a few rocket engineers, Elon bought property as headquarters in LA. He teamed together the designers, engineers and manufacturers - the 3 of them work seamlessly as one intelligence instead of 3 separate brains. Elon kept the risk takers - those who never say, "It's impossible". Elon and his team worked long hours and video-gamed until the wee hours. Elon would beat them all at the video games - he was alarmingly too good. Elon also designated names to the rockets and engines - cool names and not just prosaic letters.

18 Musk’s Rules for Rocket-Building (SpaceX, 2002–2003)

Question every cost
(p 90) Aerospace suppliers would overcharge 10x more than auto parts but essentially the same parts. Elon kept the costs down. With his cost-obsession, he deemed it better to vertically integrate - to manufacture the parts in-house instead of sourcing them outside. Quoted parts for $120,000 would cost $5000 if manufactured in-house. Other equipment for car-wash was repurposed for rocket fueling. At some point, SpaceX was making 70% of its materials in-house.

He questioned the requirements laid down by NASA and the military in developing rockets - who made the law, why, etc. His only boundary was the law of physics. Everything else was merely 'recommendation'. His engineers were made to question all specs.

Have a maniacal sense of urgency
(p 91) Elon sets unrealistic deadlines even when they weren’t necessary. Mueller would not say no but will simply explain why if it didn't finish on schedule. This maniacal deadline obsession brings out the best in people but if the schedule is clearly impossible, it demoralizes the people - it's a double-edged sword and Elon doesn't realize this. Even if impossible deadlines were not met, the process still took faster than industry standards at a much lower cost.

Learn by failing
(p 91) Elon's rockets and engines were designed iteratively - not building flawless designs but finding out what flaws there are and fixing it fast. They were pushed until they broke - now, they know the limits.

Mojave Desert was too bureacratic for a test site. Elon found an ideal site in Texas. They celebrated the first firing of a Merlin rocket there by serving $1,000 bottle of Rémy Martin cognac on paper cups.

(p 93) Elon would encourage off-beat fixes instead of opting for the usual expensive replacements that could take months. Sometimes it fails, but it motivated the engineers not to be afraid to experiment with unorthodox fixes.

19 Mr. Musk Goes to Washington (SpaceX, 2002–2003)

Gwynne Shotwell
(p 95) Elon doesn't like to share power. He will inspire, bully and frighten colleages, but not be cozy with them - except Gwynne Shotwell. She was hired in at SpaceX in 2002, became president and is the longest running employee. She is direct, outspoken and assertive but stays in her lane without crossing the line with Elon. She was a cheerleader, extrovert and good with people. She found SpaceX sales people a bunch of losers who didn't know how to sell its services. At 40, she was reluctant to take the VP of Business Development because SpaceX was just a startup and had a mercurial boss. But she accepted because SpaceX had the potential to turn the industry around. Shotwell knew how to deal with Elon because her husband suffered from autism-spectrum disorder commonly called Asperger’s - something Elon had. This means you have no clue about people and no clue how people will respond to your honest but harsh words - no PR whatsoever, no empathy. Shotwell tends to the wounded. She listens hard to Elon and more importantly, she tries to decipher Elon's spoken intentions.

Wooing NASA
(p 96) In 2003 together with Shotwell, they went to the Defense Department to sell a tactical communications satellites for $3.5 million - it was their first sale. When NASA awarded a no-bidding contract to a competitor, Elon sued for corruption and won. SpaceX was the small David defeating a Goliath. But this move may have hurt his relationship with NASA. But his triumph put into question the prevailing practice of "cost-plus" between NASA and its contractors. Cost-Plus means the contractor charges all costs + pre-agreed profit when the project is over. Elon cited that this practice makes contractors increase the cost further, and delay the project. Elon suggest a "outcomes-based" system where contractors are paid for their milestones (encouraging creativity and innovation) on top of their bids.

20 Founders (Tesla, 2003–2004)

JB Straubel
(p 100) JB Straubel loved tinkering with cars, loved electric cars and chemistry. He got an idea of using lithium ion as battery for electric cars but couldn't find a funder until he met Elon. Elon met a few EV inventors and developers, being referred to one after another, until he met the owners of Tesla Motors.

Martin Eberhard
(p ) Eberhard decided that the most environmentally sound car was an electric car. He couldn't convince the Tzero guys to build a production car, so he decided to build one himself. He registered the brand, Tesla and was bent to begin production, but had no funding. After meeting with Elon, Eberhard got a $6.4 million investment with Elon as Chairman of the Board. They would start building a supercharged EV sportscar - Eberhard as CEO, Tarpenning as president, Straubel as chief technology oГcer, Wright as chief operating oГcer, and Musk as the chair of the board and primary funder. Years later, they agreed that all 5 of them would be called cofounders.

21 The Roadster (Tesla, 2004–2006)

Cobbling together pieces
(p 105) Tesla was successful largely because it decided to manufacture its key components instead of outsourcing them from several hundred vendors. By being vertically integrated, Tesla controled the supply chain, maintained its quality control and kept its costs down.

In the early days though, Eberhard bought components from all over the world, which was the norm then. The first car had the sporty body made by Lotus, and powertrain by AC Propulsion. Tesla made the electric engine. It performed magnificently and Elon invested $9M more.

Whose company?
(p 106) While their functions and titles were clear - Elon as chair board/investor and Eberhard as CEO, it was still a question of whose company Tesla was. Eberhard argued that it was him who thought of the idea, brought Tarpenning along, registered the company name and looked for funders - Elon was was just a board member and investor. Elon argued that he was the one who teamed Eberhard and Straubel together. That until he came along, Eberhard only had a shell of a company - no intellectual property, no employees, no funding, etc. But when Wright was fired, Elon became increasingly involved with Tesla (in addition to SpaceX) with its design and engineering. The heated battle with Eberhard escalated.

Hmmm...why should "whose company is this?" be so ambiguous? Isn't the one with the most shares of the company own the company? In this case, it's Elon.

Design decisions
(p 107) Although Elon's deal was computer software, he insinuated himself with the industrial design of the Tesla Roadster. He researched every beautiful car that was ever designed and tried to understand why. Elon's design corrections were sound but costly. e.g. creating a larger door meant redoing the chassis and spend a $2M recertification. Elon also changed the car lights (to make it look beautiful like a woman's eyes), widened the seats, door handles, body paneling, etc. No small detail was spared by Elon.

Raising more capital
(p 108) Elons changes to design and new hire created a need for more capital. After pounding the VCs of Silicon Valley, he got VantagePoint Capital, led by Alan Salzman and Jim Marver to invest $40 million. When the financing was publicly announced, Elon was shocked that he was not named founder, but Eberhard. After this slight, Elon made his rounds of interviews without clearance from the company PR in charge.

Getting credit
(p 109) Elon enjoyed his celebrity but mixed about being on the spotlight. He enjoyed making tweets and interviews on podcasts though.

The unveiling
(p 110) Elon, urinating on his hydrant, intervened in the unveiling event of the Roadster, even getting the PR lady fired. But the news articles gave glowing reviews but only gave credit to Eberhard, relegating Elon's role merely as an investor. This infuriated Elon. He went into a counter offensive by posting an essay on the Tesla website outlining the company strategy, giving a SpaceX factory tour to Robert Downey Jr resulting in a placement of a Tesla and cameo by Elon in the movie Iron Man.

The unveiling shattered the stigma that an electric car is just a glamorized golf cart. Celebrities started buying - George Clooney, Steve Jobs, Schwarzenegger, etc. Tesla was primed to give EVs a marketing facelift.

22 Kwaj (SpaceX, 2005–2006)

(p 114) It would have been convenient to launch the SpaceX rockets from Vandenberg Air Force Base, just 160 miles south. But the Air Force was too strict about their rules and SpaceX had to be a lower priority to launching spy satellites. Elon had to look for an alternative.

Shotwell scored a $6M satellite launch for Malaysia but the satellite was so heavy it had to be launched along the equator where the earth's rotation was faster and thus can provide added thrust. But the closest one was 4800 miles west at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The facilities were run by the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command under Major Mango. After talking to Major Mango and after visiting Kwaj, Elon decided to make the launch there.

This side of paradise
(p 115) After 4 years, Elon admitted Kwaj was a mistake due to logistics, the heat and the salty air. He should have just waited for Vandenberg Air Force Base to become available. But the trials and tribulations at Kwaf made for an engaging narrative.

23 Two Strikes (Kwaj, 2006–2007)

The first launch attempt
(p 118) The first-ever launch of his rockets, Falcon 1, failed. The team picked up pieces of the wreckage to find out what caused the failure. Elon blew up on Mueller and Mueller dared Elon to fire him. This dark episode gave way to goofy humor - as Elon would have it. He was committed to go the long haul. The failure was caused by a small B-nut that secured a fuel line that a technician, Hollman, removed and reattached the night before. With Elon, every part, every process, and every specification must have a name attached to it. Someone was be made accountable. When Hollman learned Elon blamed him for the failure, he stormed into Elon's office. He left the company a year later. It was later learned that Hollman was not at fault. The B-nut was found still intact, but it corroded given the salty air of Kwaj.

The second attempt
(p 120) After the failure of the first launch, everyone was more careful, scrutinizing every part that goes into production. Elon pulled back on his warp speed for the crew.

The 2nd attempt for Falcon 1 failed again, this time because of the fuel slosh. The team already identified the problem before hand, but considered it 'unlikely' and a low priority. This disregard bit them all hard.

24 The SWAT Team (Tesla, 2006–2008)

Roadster costs
(p 123) After the unveiling of the Roadster in May 2006, the manufacturing began with a target manufacturing cost of $50,000. But due to Elon's design changes transmission issues and cost overuns, by November, it was already $83,000. By July 2007 the cost rose up to $110,000. Elon decided it was time to call the SWAT Team.

Antonio Gracias
(p 123) Gracias was only 12 years old when he insisted on owning Apple stocks. His $300 shares is worth close to half a million now. He was enterpreneurial with a knack for making things efficient particularly in the manufacturing process. He was an early investor for Tesla. When Elon was having cost overruns with the Roadster, he deferred to Gracias.

Tim Watkins
(p 124) Watkins was a ponytailed British robotics engineer and an eccentric wizard at understanding factories. He made a factory run 24 hours with only 16 hours of labor - he knew exactly how long the machines can run on their own until human intervension is needed. Gracias and Watkins would be the SWAT team to troubleshoot Elon's cost overruns.

The supply-chain problem
(p 125) When the British company manufacturing the carbon fiber paneling canceled the contract due to Elon's difficulty, Elon took Watkins to a company in France, Sotira Composites to take on the work. This problem with the supply chain bothered Elon so he asked Watkins to study the overall supply chainfor Tesla. It was a nightmare. Just for lithium batteries alone, they were made in Japan, assembled in Thailand and shipped by boat to the Lotus factory in England for installation on the Roadster chassis. The car body would then be shipped to Palo Alto in California. The lithium batteries alone took a global travel before it ended up on the car showroom 9 months later. It wasn't just logistics but also a cashflow problem since those batteries have to be paid in advance - 9 months earlier. While outsourcing saved money, it hurt the cashflow. There were too many sections in the supply chain that could go wrong and cripple production.

Aggravating the problem was the car design itself which became complex due to Elon's intervention - the body became 40% heavier needing a new chassis which invalidated the crash-test certification previously issued on the original Lotus Elise (the template for the Roadster). At the end of the day, Elon concluded that it would have been a lot better to design the car from scratch on a clean sheet instead of starting off with the Lotus Elise and then making countless modifications.

When Watkins talked to Eberhard to sort out the supply chain for the Roadster, he was shocked to find out that there was no bill of materials. There was no costing for every part that went into the Roadster so the cost to manufacture the car could not be determined. Eberhard argued that he had no CFO to handle the SAP system to automate this. Watkins manually computed this and found out that at the very least, the car cost would be $140,000 - too high for the selling price of $100,000.

25 Taking the Wheel (Tesla, 2007–2008)

Eberhard’s ouster
(p 128) After Elon's trip to England, Eberhard told Elon to look for a CEO replacement. The search was slow and unproductive since Elon couldn't find a suitable one or one willing to be CEO to a 'house on fire'. On a board meeting, when Eberhard couldn't come up with a precise costing for the car, Elon flew the handle and accused Eberhard of lying. Tarpenning took exception to the word, but admitted that they grossly miscalculated on the costings. A few days later, Elon sacked Eberhard even though there was no CEO replacement yet. EVH took it hardly. This began a heated and public disparaging of the other until a legal settlement was made - but Elon continued in spursts.

Michael Marks and the asshole question
(p 129) Elon tapped Michael Marks, a Tesla investor and seasoned CEO who likes vertical-integration in the manufacturing process, to be interim CEO. Things were initially amiable until Marks started steering the company instead of simply going by Elon's dictates. Marks cancelled orders that were not urgent and treated people as people, unlike Elon who has no empathy and thus treats people horribly. Employees were intimidated by Elon so they don't tell him what he needs to know. Their rift pinnacled when Marks suggested farming out the assembly of Tesla. Elon wanted raw materials going in a factory and a complete car coming out on the other end. Elon remarked that Mark's idea was the most stupid thing he's ever heard. Marks, being proud and accomplised, couldn't take it anymore. He soon left but later conceded that Elon was right about vertically integrating manufacturing. Marks began to regard peole like Elon and Steve Jobs as true assholes who get the job done - they come as a bundled package. Another CEO was appointed, Drori, but the board couldn't work with him. He stepped down and soon after, Elon finally took over as CEO while being board chair.

26 Divorce (2008)

(p 133) Shortly after the death of Nevada, the Musks had 5 kids through invitro method - twins Griffin / Xavier and triplets Kai, Saxon, and Damian. Justine and Elon ranged from living in a shanty to a mansion. They had tender moments and were a prized addition to celebrity events. But when they fought, it was also brutal. Justine increasingly felt like a trophy wife, being made-over by Elon for his vanity. Elon didn't intimate to Justine the troubles he had in the company which made Justine unwanted or unneeded. Justine cited that Elon feels nothing for other people - no empathy. He can conceptually think about what people go through, but no empathy. What Elon lacked in empathy, he over compensated by intensity. Justine's peaks and valleys about the relationship morphed into pemanent anger because Elon shut her out. It was just a matter of time and the divorced.

27 Talulah (2008)

Talulah Riley
(p ) Shortly after breaking up with Justine, Elon met Talulah Riley, a tall and beautiful actress in London. This was the time 2 rockets failed at SpaceX and a third was scheduled in the next weeks, when Tesla was suffering from a cash flow crisis and when the threat of a market meltdown was looming. He asked for her number and they were inseparable since then. After dating for 2 weeks, they were engaged. The in-laws met but Kimbal suggested they wait a year before getting married - as Elon just got divorced.

28 Strike Three (Kwaj, August 3, 2008)

3rd Rocket
(p 139) The 3rd launch would have been the last launch if didn't go well. Elon only had enough money for 3 failed launches. On this one, it actually carried payload - satellites for NASA and the Air Force and the cremated remains of Scotty of Star Trek. Again, the rocket failed. This time, it was the redesigned cooling system for the Merlin engine. During the test at sea level, there was no problem. But in the vacuum of space, the problem became apparent. That was supposed to be it for Elon, but in a news announcement shortly after the crash, he said he will not give up until he sends a rocket to orbit. But Elon already ran out of money, Tesla was bleeding cash and SpaceX had 3 failed rockets plus Justine kept the house from the divorce.

Launching the 4th in 6 Weeks
(p 139) Meeting up with his team the following day, they discussed how to prevent this failure. But everybody was prepared to be chewed up. Instead, it was a cool and sober Musk who told the crew to assemble another rocket from the components still lying around LA and to launch in 6 weeks. After this speech, the feeling of despair in the room to that of exuberance and determination.

29 On the Brink (Tesla and SpaceX, 2008)

Rolling out the Roadster
(p 142) Feb 2008, the first few Roadsters arrived at Tesla HQ from production. Elon took it out for a victory spin in Palo Alto. It was a small triumph and not a guarantee of success. Many budding car manufacturers came to this level and still got bankrupt. in the past 100 years, only Ford was the car company that didn't go through bankruptcy.

It was a bleak episode during that time - the subprime market was crashing causing a severe recession, Tesla's cash flow was in the red and SpaceX hasn't made any successful launch. Elon borrowed money from friends and used customer deposits for operating expenses. Elon even asked Kimbal to put in his last money to meet payroll. Musk was driven so close to the edge Talullah thought he would go crazy.

It came to a point where Elon would have to choose which company to save. In trying to save one, that company might survive. But in trying to save 2, both will die. But to Elon, it was like giving all the food to only one child and letting the other child die. It was unacceptable. He had to give it his all to save both.

30 The Fourth Launch (Kwaj, August–September 2008)

Founders to the rescue
(p 145) At the brink of bankruptcy, the co-founders of PayPal (Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, et al), the same people who kicked him out of office, chipped in $20M. Elon was thankful that he didn't give the finger to Thiel and Levshin during his ouster, otherwise this bailout wouldn't happen.

Crunch time
(p 145) Getting the rocket components in LA to Kwaj on a boat would cause delay, so he chartered an Air Force C-17 to haul the components. During the trip, the air pressure dented the rocket parts. Instead of flying it back to LA for repairs, Elon decided to bring it to Kwaj and have it repaied there. There was a sense of surreal optimism with the crew. Elon had to make a hard choice - get the rockets repaired in 5 weeks following the checks and balances he himself instigated, or abandon the checks to repair the rocket in 5 days. He opted for speed. He underscored that Elon was willing to change directives when the situation changes, and that he is willing to take risks no normal person would.

“Fourth time’s a charm!”
(p 147) Elon was in LA watching the 4th launch in Kwaj. The launch was flawless. All 500+ employees were in jubilation (at Boeing, this department would be 50,000). Kimbal cried. Falcon 1 rocket was historic. It was the first ever privately funded and privately produced rocket that was launched into orbit. The stress of the launch was so much Elon nearly felt sick and couldn't feel the joy.

(p 148) The success of Falcon 1 raised the bar for private rocket firms. NASA put out a bidding to supply crew and cargo to the space station. Elon made Shotwell SpaceX president in charge of finances, people and marketing while Elon remains CEO in charge of engineering and product development. Together, they went to NASA and won a $1.6B contract for 12 round-trip missions to the space station. It was the beginning of good fortune for SpaceX.

31 Saving Tesla (December 2008)

Tesla financing, December 2008
(p 150) Tesla didn't even have enough for payroll on Christmas eve, so Elon asked new funding of $20M from his investors. Alan Salzman of VantagePoint Capital, who personally didn't like Elon, was the only one stopping the deal. Without the deal, Tesla would be dead and so would the fate of electric cars. After much bickering and in-fighting, Salzman relented and the deal pulled through. The day was saved, Tesla was saved and the future of electric cars was saved.

Government loans
(p 152) One of the lingering criticisms of Tesla was that it was bailed out by the government under its TARP program. This is not the case. Tesla applied for and received an interest-bearing loan of s $465 million from the Department of Energy. They did't even get the money upfront, but had to incur expenses first and present the expenses to get the money. It prompted paid off $12M in interest while rivals who took the loan could not or did not. Ford still hasn't paid its loan, Nissan was able to in 2017 and Fisker went bankrupt.

Daimler investment
(p 152) In Germany, Elon went to Daimler to pitch for an electric car sale. Daimler agreed to visit the company and hear his proposal for an electric Smart car. Elon had a gasoline-powered Smart car in Mexico driven to Tesla where they replaced it with an electric motor and a battery pack. The Daimler people were impressed that a prototype for a Smart electric car was already available and driveable. The performance also impressed them. They contracted with Tesla for battery packs and drive trains. They also invested $50M to Tesla which resuscitated the company.

32 The Model S (Tesla, 2009)

Henrik Fisker
(p 155) Daimler's investment of $50M, the investor debt loan of $20M and the gov't loan of $460M gave new life to Tesla. If successful, it could mass-produce a 4-door electric-powered sedan for $60K. Designing a sleek Roadster was easier than designing a functional 4-door design, especially with a battery pack on the floor that would raise the roof. Elon contracted Henrik Fisker to be the designer who explained the difficulties to Elon. After 9 months, Fisker couldn't stand Musk anymore and left.

Franz von Holzhausen
(p 155) Franz was a car designer who had a Euro-cool aura about him. Upon meeting, Elon hired him to be the in-house design studio for Tesla. Franz would be one of the very few who will be Elon's professional and personal partner - kinda Lennon-McCartney. The Tesla design studio for Franz was at the SpaceX location so that Elon can be beside it. Franz needed an assistant so he hired a friend and clay-modeller, Dave Morris. While Franz was apprehensive about the company's viability, Morris was gung ho working for a hardcore like Elon. Eventually, Elon bought an aircraft hangar to be the design studio. He would talk to Franz almost daily and on Fridays, they would spend hours perfecting the Model S design. Elon like the talk over a 3D model so that's what Franz and Morris laid ready on Friday afternoons.

The battery pack
(p 156) Elon wanted the battery pack on the car floor to make it stable but without raising the roof. They shaved millimeters off the battery pack to do this. Elon hired Drew Baglino to be in charge of the battery. Baglino rose up in the Tesla ranks over the years. He knew not to challenge Elon's unworldly deadlines or specs. One challenge of the battery being on the floor was to protect it from rocks or from any piercing. It became battleground with lightweight vs safety. The chief engineer for the Model S, was Peter Rawlinson who addressed the problem by making the battery pack, part of the car's structural framework.

In Elon's system, the designers and engineers worked together as a team. Designers and encouraged to think like engineers and engineers are encouraged to think like designers.

Friendly design
(p 158) Although not really that functional, a flushed door handle was introduced for 'friendliness', as a basis for having a relationship with the car. The balked at this, but Elon of course, prevailed. The touchscreen panel for the driver was also an industry first that turned the car industry around. Elon hated stupid government rules and fought consistently with them. The car increasingly became more of an updatable software instead of just hardware. Tesla can globally add software updates on already-bought cars further enhancing its features.

33 Private Space (SpaceX, 2009–2010)

Falcon 9, Dragon, and Pad 40
(p 161) With the NASA contract, Elon needed a bigger rocket, a new launch pad (not Kwaj anymore) and a space capsule. SpaceX used 9 Merlin rockets instead, leased space at the Kennedy Space Center and developed a capsule from scratch. Elon hired Brian Mosdell for fixing up the new place. During new-hire interviews, Elon could go silent for a full minute and go rapid-fire on technical questions. He has a gut-feel for the applicant - thus the hiring of Mosdell. The launch pad was built literally from repurposed scrap - it's cheap. Elon also questioned requirements by the Air Force, usually being successful in revising an outdated requirement and saving more money - like replacing the $2M double crane for something that only cost $300K. The cost-plus system milked the aerospace industry. Elon found alternative sources from non-aerospace companies- even just a hardware store. e.g. a $1500 latch was re-sourced using a bathroom latch for $30.

Obama at SpaceX
(p 162) Lori Garver was a long-time NASA veteran who opposed the traditional cost-plus system and wanted the private sector to provide aerospace functions for the government. The success of the 4th launch got Garver promoted to Deputy Adm of NASA but her boss Charlie Bolden was anti-SpaceX and anti-Elon. Congress was also not sold on handing over to the private sector, what was once the Holy Grail of government tradition - the space program. Obama cancelled NASA's Contellation program as it was "over budget, behind schedule, oА course, and unexecutable.” There were push-backs as expected, but they were proven wrong as SpaceX has put more man/cargo into space than any other country.

34 Falcon 9 Liftoff (Cape Canaveral, 2010)

Into orbit…
(p 165) With the 3 failures of Falcon 9 and Obama's initiative to outsource NASA's space program to the private sector, there was a lot of pressure on Falcon 9's launch. Despite an antenna that got wet, the launch went perfect. This validated SpaceX as the most successful private rocket company in the world - just 8 years from its founding. It also validated Obama's decision.

… and return
(p 165) Returning from orbit was also successful with a derring-do decision by Elon the shear off a crack in the engine skirt instead of replacing the entire engine which would haves spelled delays. Despite the success, Elon realized that Mercury, 50 years earlier, had already achieved this success. America was simply catching up with its old self.

SpaceX has repeatedly proven that it was more nimble than NASA especially with Elon's derring-do and high-risk taking that paid off results. This paved the way for SpaceX to be transporting man into orbit. Elon was already prepared for that - by having a window installed on the space capsule.

35 Marrying Talulah (September 2010)

“I can take a hard path”
(p 168) Elon was manic with Talulah. Once, he sent her 500 roses. They got married in September 2010 in the Scottish Highlands. Talulah was prepared to take the hard path by having Elon as a husband. She finds the child hidden within the man. He would intimate with her reratings from his Dad. He used the same harsh words to other people.

The Orient Express
(p 169) Talulah would throw creative parties that amused Elon. She would have been perfect for him had he chosen stability more than drama and intensity.

36 Manufacturing (Tesla, 2010–2013)

(p 171) Tesla emerged when globalization was at its peak. Manufacturing was offshored to cut costs. 1/3 of American manufacturing was shipped out. Elon didn't subscribe to this. He wanted to have the feel for manufacturing to allow him to tweak constantly as the need presents itself. To him, the machine that builds the machine (the car) was equally important.

Steve Jobs and Elon both have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) but they differ too. Jobs is OC with the design of this products but outsourced production and didn't visit his factories in China. Elon on the other hand was obsessed with design, materials, the science and manufacturing. He would spend lots of time on the assembly line getting the feel of what's happening and applying innovation as needed.

Elon bought a mothballed Toyota factory in Fremont for $42M (it used to be worth $1B). He also convinced Toyota to invest $50M in Tesla. Elon redesigned the factory so that the engineers' offices are along the assembly line - they are not insulated from what's happening on the floor. Tesla went public and generated #266M for the company. Just 18 months earlier, Tesla was dying. Now, it's the hottest company.

Production quality
(p 172) The Model S rolled off the assemby line in June 2012. Elon was not happy with the car - the gaps were stark and the paint job sucked. He asked his design chief, Holzhausen, to move to Fremont to be the new production quality control chief. Holzhausen learned how his designs on paper translate to finished products on the assembly line. Instead of blaming production for a flaw, Elon asks what went wrong in the design?

An overriding theme in Elon's management style is 'hardcore'. He is hardcore and expects everyone in his team to such.

Model S made a historic mark when Motor Trend Magazine picked it car of the year in 2012 - with glowing and superlative review that surprised even Elon. This was a first for an electric car.

The Nevada battery Gigafactory
(p 173) In 2013, Elon delivered the most audacious statement - to build a giant battery factory, bigger than all the world's factories combined. To his people, it was the wackiest Elon proposal ever. They didn't even have a clue how to make a battery.

Tesla partnered with Panasonic. Panasonic will make the battery cells and Tesla will make the battery pack for cars. $2B will be invested by Panasonic while Tesla puts in $3B. Panasonic was reluctant knowing Elon was difficult to deal with. Elon and Straubel created a charade of 'building a factory' - either Panasonic gets on board or be left behind. It worked. Both were invited to Japan by Panasonic. At a formal dinner, Elon behaved his best, impressing and surprising Straubel. Panasonic agreed to have 40% stake, stating that they are too conservative as a 95-year old company, and that they have to adapt Elon's way of thinking.

37 Musk and Bezos (SpaceX, 2013–2014)

Jeff Bezos
(p 176) Like Elon, Jef Bezos was also a billionaire, a lover of science fiction, reusable rockets, obsessed with colonizing other planets and built a rocket company, Blue Origin.

Elon and Bezos met in 2004 when Elon invited Bezos to visit SpaceX. As a reciprocity, Bezos invited Elon to Blue Origin. Elon was overtly expressive about things Bezos could and should not do. Bezos thought Elon was too sure of himself when all his rockets have failed. Bezos also submitted a personal review in Amazon of Justine's book. Elon has been curt and brusque for most of it.

Pad 39A
(p 177) With the scuttling of the Space Shuttle, SpaceX moved into high gear in 2011 in bringing cargo and men to the International Space Staion by leasing launch pad 39A - center stage for the moon landing, the last manned moon mission and first Space Shuttle mission. But Bezos competed in bidding for 39A. SpaceX won and Bezos sued. Elon ridiculed Blue Origin for not having enough thrust to put anything into orbit (not enough thrust to escape earth's gravity). Bezos eventually leased launch pad 36. This was symbolic of the space-exploration torch being passed down from a sclerotic NASA to the much nimble mission driven private sector.

Reusable rockets
(p 177) Bezos and Elon both shared the same vision of using reusable rockets. Bezos looked into the software needed while Elon took a deep dive into the rabbit hole of the underlying physics. Elon obsessed with weight reduction of every component of the rocket - a lighter payload will allow better escape velocity from earth's gravity. Stealthily, Bezos applied and received a patent for sea landing of a rocket. Elon was livid saying the notion has been around for half a century. Bezos canceled his patent, but was considered waged between the billionaire titans.

38 The Falcon Hears the Falconer (SpaceX, 2014–2015)

(p 180) Elon developed a reusable Falcon 9 prototype named Grasshopper that could 'hop up and down'. In a board meeting, even though a reusable rocket was still a prototype, they were seriously discussing what people on Mars will be wearing. As the board was watching Grasshopper rise 3000 feet and land vertically, the rocket exploded. This began a bad streak for SpaceX and the entire rocket industry. Supply missions to the Space Station by other companies also failed and the crew at the Space Station were running low on food and supplies. The pressure was on for SpaceX to launch successfully on June 2015 - but it failed. This the first failure of a Falcon 9 rocket after operational for 7 years.

Meantime in Nov 2015, Bezos was enjoy some success with his reusable rocket that flew into the space threshold - 62 miles up, and landed successfully vertically - the booster reignited to slow down the descent, legs deployed, hovered to fix its bearings and landed vertically. Bezos gloated and Elon derided the event as a ' suborbital hop', not exactly a full orbit with payload.

Jeff Bezos: "The rarest of beasts—a used rocket. Controlled landing not easy but done right can look easy."
(My thought bubble) Bezos: My dick is bigger!

Elon Musk: "@JeАBezos Not quite ‘rarest.’ SpaceX Grasshopper rocket did 6 suborbital flights 3 years ago & is still around."
(My thought bubble) Musk: My dick is harder!

Elon had a valid point. A true reusable rocket is one that can launch into space with cargo (like a satelite) or dock on the Space Station and land back to earth in one piece. This is an accomplishment in greater order of magnitude.

“The Falcon has landed”
(p 181) Just four weeks after Bezos’s suborbital flight, Elon was able to land a redesigned Grasshopper vertically in one piece - by using more liquid oxygen and supercooling it to make it denser and more powerful without increasing mass or size of the rocket. Despite possible glitches, Elon gave the go-ahead. It returned back to earth and landed vertically. Everyone was ecstatic. It was the first-ever that a rocket with payload went into sub-orbit and landed vertically - a fully reusable rocket was born. Bezos tweated a veiled congratulatory note welcoming SpaceX into the rank of Blue Origin. Elon was furious. He has always regarded SpaceX as a bar higher than Blue Origin.

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39 The Talulah Roller Coaster (2012–2015)

Party Organizer
(p 184) Talulah intentionall didn't have kids with Elon. She planned parties for Elon's - wild and wacky parties. But Elon hardly had time to enjoy those. He was consumed by all the trouble shooting he had to do at Tesla and SpaceX. Work was more important for Elon. But since there was too much work, the rest of his life (marriage, socials, etc) was just a distraction. The inattention soon got to Talulah who increasingly hated LA and missed her countryside home in the UK. They divorced in 2012 but she still moved in with him. Then remarried and then divorced.

Neck Injury
During his 42nd birthday celebration, he threw a 350-lb sumo wrestler which damaged in neck disc. He would suffer pain from this injury the rest of his life.

40 Artificial Intelligence (OpenAI, 2012–2015)

Demis Hassabis
(p 187) Elon met Demis Hassabis, a neuroscientist, video gamer, chess prodigy and AGI researcher who founded DeepMind, a computer-based neural network simulating human thinking. They hit it off. Hassabis talked about the existential threat AI was to humankind. Elon was taken by that and invested $5M to have his finger on AI's development. After all, Elon's obsession to colonize Mars was to thwart the threats to man's existence - asteroid impact, solar flare, civilization collapse, WW III. AI was a curb ball he didn't see coming.

Sounding the Alarm
Elon obsessed about AI's existential threat and discussed this with Larry Page (Google founder), who was dismissive, arguing that even if that happens, it's simply the natural process of evolution. When Google bought DeepMind, Elon was alarmed and sounded the call reign in AI. He hosted dinners about the topic and even talked to Obama about it.

Sam Altman
To combat Larry Page's quest for unbridled AI, Elon partnered with Sam Altman to form the now-famous ChatGPT. The vision was to make it open-source so that humanity would have access to the bot's development and ensure it develops in alignment with human values and interests - not like Hal of "2001 Space Odyssey" who went rogue. To gather mega-data, Elon could use Tesla and Twitter's database. Elon also pirated a Google engineer, Ilya Sutskever, which infuriated Larry Page. Both never spoke to each other after that.

AI-related Ventures
Elon's involvement in AI spurred other AI-related companies that eventually came under the Tesla umbrella - a self-driving Tesla, Optimus robots, Neuralink brain chip implant, Dojo and X.AI. Elon's attempt to put OpenAI under Tesla caused Altman to break away and form his own for-profit company. Elon founded his own AI company and pirated staff from OpenAI. This widened the rift between Altman and Elon.

41 The Launch of Autopilot (Tesla, 2014–2016)

(p 192) Elon initially wanted to partner with Larry Page (Google) about developing a self-driving car for Tesla. But their dispute over AI was a deal breaker. Google was using radar which was expensive and relies on non-visible elements in developing a self-driving car. Elon wanted to use visual presence only because man has always driven a car based entirely on visual input - first principles. He founded Tesla Autopilot for this project. His car's autopilot would always fail on a highway curve due to faded lane lines. The engineers were baffled and for months, couldn't do anything. Solution? They painted the highway lane divider themselves. Some of his engineers wanted some kind of radar technology to supplement camera vision for safety. Elon relented and allowed radar for fog and rain 'visibility'.

(p 193) Autopilot was embellished in the company's marketing effort that drivers felt they didn't have to pay too much attention to what's on the road. This led to fatal accidents. To Elon, the Autopilot was not about eliminating road accidents but minimizing them, allowing for statistical fatalities. Elon barked on why there was so much fanfare from the 2 fatalities from Tesla when there were 1.3 million car fatalities in a year. He maintained that Tesla minimized deaths but of course, there were no empirical data on that.

Promises, promises
(p 194) Elon's grand vision for Tesla's Autopilot was to be fully self-driving without human intervention - not just on the highway but on city streets with pedestrians, commuters, cyclists, etc. With his promises faltering, he finally said that to fulfill a fully self-driving car, AI must also be ready for real-world driving conditions.

42 Solar (Tesla Energy, 2004–2016)

(p 197) When Elon's cousins inquired about a business that would help humanity, his 'marching orders' were to build a solar company in the fastest time possible to reach economies of scale. The 2 biggest historical problems were horrible customer experience and too much up-front cost. The company, SolarCity, launched almost in tandem with the launch of the Tesla Roadster. Elon was board chairman.

Buying SolarCity
(p 197) SolarCity was gaining market share through aggressive selling but Elon wanted to focus on product perfection. Tesla wanted to buy SolarCity to integrate a car battery powered by solar panels and Tesla and the house powered by the battery - it was vertical integration. The Tesla board saw this as Elon bailing out his cousins. The public saw this as Elon enriching himself by buy SolarCity higher than its market price, with Elon being the biggest shareholder. Ultimately, the deal went through marking Tesla not just a car company but an alternative energy company as well.

“This is shit”
(p 199) Elon pushed for a solar roof instead of solar panels mounted on a roof. This was revolutionary. With a solar roof powering a battery for household energy use and powering a Tesla in the garage, the energy equation was redefined. The cousins left SolarRoof after a year - it became increasingly difficult to work with Elon.

43 The Boring Company (2016)

The Blank Stare
(p 201) Elon was in one of his blank stare moments when he quipped to build city streets underground in tunnels. He was quick to act on it - bought 2 boring machines at $5M each, and dug a 50-ft diameter tunnel, 1 mile long, 40 feet underground, inside Tesla's compound. Elon founded The Boring Company using $100M of his own money. Instead of digging a hole in the ground first to lower down the boring machine, Elon simply had the boring machine point down to dig the hole itself - so no preliminary digging for the boring machine. Time and time again, Elon displayed his conformity to existing conventions on how thing ought to be done.

The most this company did was to do a 1.7 tunnel in Las Vegas transporting clients in Teslas from the airport to the Convention Center. That was it. It was one Elon project that was hyped but didn't really get off the ground.

44 Rocky Relationships (2016–2017)

(p 204) Elon wasn't political and he wasn't a big fan of Trump. But the 2 met on a few occassions. Elon concluded that Trump being a buffoon during the electoral campaign wasn't an act - Trump was a real buffoon in real life. If you think of Trump simply as a con-man, then all his actions and speeches begin to make sense.

Amber Heard
(p 205) Elon's domestic love life is always characterized by emotional and psychological maelstorm- not your typical Driving Ms. Daisy. This was true with Amber Heard, an actress, who left him damaged to this day. While their relationship deepened, everyone around Elon detested Amber. She was described as creating chaos in her wake, and that she was toxic. They would spend an entire night fighting. They would break up and then resume a tumultuous relationship. Elon often ends up with a beautiful girl but end up damaged with a dark foreboding aura. As Elon himself admits, he's a fool for love.

Errol and Jana
(p 206) Elon hasn't seen his Dad in 14 years. With Elon's visit to So. Africa, he met Errol. It didn't go well. Elon went back to the US. Not long after, Errol got his step daughter, Jana, pregnant. Jana was 30 and Errol, 70. Elon and Kimbal were beyond words.

45 Descent into the Dark (2017)

Are you bipolar?
(p 209) Elon was in alternate states of manic and stupor upon breaking up with Amber and knowing his father got his step-daugther pregnant. 2017-2018 was the most painful time in his life. There were seveal occassions Elon would be found lying on the floor almost catatonic with lights out and couldn't function. He admits to being bi-polar even though he was never diagnosed with it. He never took professional help for it. He simply endured the pain and let his work get the better of him.

“Welcome to production hell!”
(p 209) When Model 3 was launched, with fans, employees and media around, he was blank-faced, depressed, and unresponsive. He tried to hurdle it but eventually turned dark in his speech, telling everyone that in the next 6 months, the company will go into production hell.

Giga Nevada hell
(p 210) For Tesla to survive, it had to produce 5000 cars/week. It wasn't meeting that target so Elon encamped at the factory with his lieutenant fanatics to be the example of what 24/7 means - all hands on deck 24/7. The battery factory must also produce 5000 units/week. But they could only do 1800/week. Elon fired the manager and hired a different one. Elon was a field marshall on the factory floor, rallying everyone to the brink of insanity, sometimes getting 4 hours of sleep on the factory floor. One time when a robot was slowing down the process of sticking fiberglass to insulate the noise, he questioned that requirement and tested it himself and found out it did nothing. So that process was deleted. This requirement-questioning was applied even to the smallest detail including plastic caps for battery prongs. People, some hardworking, but couldn't understand Elon's questions, were fired. It was difficult for his lieutenants to fire staff who were loyal and became friends, over Elon's mindless orders. It might seem like a heroic battle story, but those on the front lines were decimated. People even had to work on Thanksgiving Day.

(p 213) Elon started with automation in the assembly lines instead of human workers. It didn't work. If robots were holding up the line, the robots were replaced by humans. Elon eventually learned that he had to wait until the design process is finished, unwise requirements deleted, before introducing automation. In April 2018, the battery factory in Nevada was working better. Elon now had Fremont (car assembly plant) on his radar.

46 Fremont Factory Hell (Tesla, 2018)

(p 215) Fremont was only producing 2000 cars/week. With Elon's unrealistic public announcement of 5000/week, investors shorted the stock thinking that the 5000 mark was impossible. Short sellers used drones and inside information to find out the true numbers in real time. Tesla and Elon were attacked online to further drag the company's profile down. To counter the short sellers, Elon went public about not getting paid if Tesla's price/share or value is $650 billion, 5000 cars/week were not met. If he is successful however, he willl receive a $100B paycheck.

Walk to the red
(p 216) Inside the Fremont factory is the 'war room' where meetings are done, where Elon sleeps, where the production flow is monitored by green/red lights. If the flow is slow, the light is red and Elon makes a walk to that station where he asks pointed questions, "what's the problem?", "who's in charge?", "who can fix this now?". He would question why there are 6 bolts on a gadget when only 2 will do. He questioned all assumptions and factory settings and discarded them if unjustified - first principles. He deleted safety sensors for Tesla and Space X since they were too sensitive and slowing down the production. It could be 2 am and he would still be prowling the factory floor.

Elon was making decisions on the fly. He admits that perhaps 20% of his impromptu decisions will be wrong and will readjust later. But if those decisions are not met, Tesla dies. Those who weren't fired, left, feeling that the constant pressure was compromising safety to meet production goals. Tesla's safety failure rate was 30% higher than the industry.

Elon realized that in a factory, there are production patches that should have the optimum density, flow, and process. This prevents choke points or bottle necks that impede the entire production process.

Robot removal
(p 218) Elon learned the hard way that there are certain tasks humans can do better than robots - usually the most simple of tasks. He tested himself if he can do certain things faster than a robot. Eventually, he ordered the removal of every 'unnecessary machine' within 72 hours. With all the improvements, the Model S was being produced at 3500/week, double, but still short of the 5000/week. The short sellers were gloating given their spies and drones.

The tent
(p 218) To beef up production, Elon emulated what was done in WWII to rapidly produce bombers - use the parking lot as an adhoc factory assembly line. This is what he did. In 2 weeks, he had a tented assembly line 1000 feet long and 150 feet wide - no robots, just human builders. He was willing to pay the fine if it violated regulations.

Birthday celebration
(p 219) Despite the frenzied pace and trouble shooting at Tesla, Elon also had to mind the 15th launching of SpaceX for NASA and rushed for Spain to be best man for Kimbal's wedding. It was insane. On July 1, the 5000th Model S rolled out of the assembly line. They made it!

The algorithm
(p 220) Given the production surges at Nevada and Fremont, Elon developed his 'algorithm' that was perused pervasively across the Elon companies.

5 Commandments of The Algorithm (in priority sequence)

  1. Question every requirement - it doesn't matter if it came from the legal department or safety department, it doesn't matter if the person who made it is smart. The rule is to attach a name to that requirement and question that person - including Elon himself. Then make the requirement less stupid
  2. Delete any part or process you can - you can always add them back if it was a mistake. If you didn't add back at least 10%, then you didn't delete enough
  3. Simplify and optimize - this comes after Step 2 because it makes no sense simplifying something that should have been deleted to begin with
  4. Accelerate cycle time - any process can be speeded up, but follow the priority sequence because you could be accelerating a process that should have been deleted already
  5. Automate - this has to be the last when unneccesary process are already deleted and what's left has been simplified and then accelerated. The mistake Elon did was to automate everything before the 'tests' were implemented.

Corollaries to the Algorithm

  1. All technical managers must have hands-on experience - if you're in charge of roofing, then you should be able to install a roof yourself. In short, you add your real-world experience to the job and not just be an order-giver
  2. Comradery is dangerous - because it's hard to fire someone who already became your friend. Or it's hard to correct the mistake of someone who has become a friend. Keep an arms-length distance with colleagues.
  3. It’s OK to be wrong - no one's perfect. If you're not willing to be wrong, then you'll always stay on the safe side, not coming up with anything brilliant or noteworthy
  4. Never ask your troops to do something you’re not willing to do - Elon sleeps on the factory floor, gets underneath the assembly line. E.g. Mike doesn't order me to clean the dirty pond - he goes into the dirty pond which prompts me to get myself dirty to clean the pond.
  5. Whenever there are problems to solve, don’t just meet with your managers - talk to the guy on the production floor so you know the full story. Managers can be good in hiding things or making mistakes and blaming it on the lower ranks
  6. When hiring, look for attitude first, then skill - skill can be taught. Attitude is a whole new mine field with deep roots. E.g. when applying for Chapters Online, my future boss, Ilan, hired me because he liked my 'moving forward' attitude
  7. A maniacal sense of urgency is our operating principle - impose tight deadlines because processes can always be speeded up
  8. The only rules are the ones dictated by the laws of physics - everything else is a recommendation

47 Open-Loop Warning (2018)

Pedo guy
(p 223) Kimbal, while on honeymoon, received an urgent message that Elon was having a meltdown - this lasted from July through October 2018. Odd, but Elon should be celebrating - he produced 5000 Model 3 Tesla in a month, launched successful launches delivering heavier payloads and reusing the rockets for SpaceX. These are all milestones that he practically single-handedly achieved. But Elon craved adversity and catastrophies. Celebrating the wins was anti-climactic. He needed his drama.

The Cave
(p 223) Elon read a simple tweet if he would like to assist in the rescue of the Thai boys trapped inside a cave north of Thailand. Feeling a hero to the rescue, he assembled an adhoc team of highly qualified engineers from SpaceX and Tesla to build a mini submarine which he shipped to Thailand. But before it could do the job, rescue scuba divers were able to rescue the boys. One of the divers remarked that Elon was just grandstanding and that the sub wouldn't have worked. Elon ranted online that Unsworth was a pedophile. This caused a series of legal and public relations issues. Kimbal reset his brother by alarming the 'open loop' - Elon was ranting uncontrollably oblivious to consequences, thus the intervention of Kimbal.

It's interesting that as Elon waded inside the flooded cave in Thailand, he hurried to his jet for the opening of his giga factory in China - this globetrotting guy is really bigger than life!

Take private
(p 225) Elon met with Saudi Arabia’s government investment fund who intimated that they have already quietly acquired 5% of Tesla and that they wanted to take Tesla private. This appealed to Elon because he didn't like the heavy regulation of being on the public exchange and didn't like the company value influenced by short-sellers and speculators. Prematurely, before informing the SEC, he publicly announced the privatization of Tesla at $420/share with funds already acquired. Immediately, the SEC launched an investigation. The Saudis were taken aback and cautioned themselves. Elon refused to talk to them again for being 'unsupportive'. Elon retracted about the privatization. This caused a flurry of push-backs. Elon was cast as a bi-polar who may not be in a sound state of mind to be making rash and unsupported claim that jeopardizes the interest of the company and its shareholders. The SEC sued Elon for misleading the public investors. To mitigate the backlash, Elon made a deal with the SEC but publicly remarked that there was a gun to his head.

Needlessly, Elon made a very costly mistake by being impulsive and making unprocessed and reckless statements with profound ramifications.

48 Fallout (2018)

“Are you OK?”
(p 229) David Gelles, a business reporter at the New York Times, interviewed Musk where Elon intimated that things were not going well, that sometimes he stays in the factory for 3-4 days without coming out, not seeing his kids, etc. Elon revealed his vulnerability which astonished Gelles. When the interview was published, the public began to question Elon's mental soundness and Tesla's price plunged 9%.

The Joe Rogan show
(p 229) As damage control over the PR nightmare that Elon is mentally unsound, he guested at Joe Rogan's podcast. Everything seemed harmless until they both smoked weed on live streaming video. The following day, Tesla's price per share plummeted. He was also investigated by NASA since he was a NASA contractor, doing space flight delivering cargo to the space station.

(p 230) Also on Joe Rogan, he played around with a plastic flamethrower branded by the Boring Company. He sold all 20,000 at $500/piece in 4 days.

When Elon is in his darkest moments, he flips from angry demon to a wacky goof. His humor ranging from toilet humor (open butt-hole command to open the rear of a Tesla) to mordant (wishing upon a star unless it's a meteorite) to droll (sending a Tesla into space).

Kimbal rupture
(p 232) Kimbal has always been Elon's most loyal friend who would dare tell him uncomfortable truths. But when Elon said yes and then refused a $10M loan for Kimbal's restaurant group on grounds that it wasn't financially sound, Kimbal's growing frustration about his brother reached a climax, reminding Elon that when Tesla's finances were dire, Kimbal was there...unconditionally. Ultimately, Elon loaned out $5M but the relationship caused a rupture.

JB Straubel exits
(p 232) With his mercurial outburst and impossible demands, Elon lost many of his top executives, some after being loyal for many years. The most symbolic departure was JB Straubel who has been with Elon for 16 years since the inception of electric cars.

Elon, however, is unfazed by all this. He seems incapable to feeling such loss. Maybe it's part of his lack of empathy or lack of feeling altogether. He simply labels it as 'phoning rich', meaning they've become rich and not as hungry anymore to do the wild ride.

Elon had a little hesitation letting JB Straubel go. They continued to be friends in 2019, but Elon had wild swings from being a human to being a robot with a blank stare. Elon remained fond of JB and asked him to be a part of Tesla's board in 2023.

49 Grimes (2018)

(p 236) In the spring of 2018, reeling from his break up with Amber Heard, Elon met Claire Boucher, known as Grimes, a smart Canadian performance artist, who would eventually bear him 3 children. They both shared the same sentiment of how AI could eventually spell an existential end to humanity. They shared many things - Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Lord of the Rings, human cyborgs, etc. She stayed with him during the hellstorm of 2018, but the storm never ended. During a date, Elon stared blankly into space for a few minutes and then borrowed an eyeliner from Grimes from which he drew an engine heat shield to visualize what he was thinking. Elon was never fully out of his work.

Towers of Hanoi
Elon and Grimes at the Metropolitan Museum’s annual gala

Rap battle with Azalea Banks
(p 237) Grimes was not a calming influence to Elon. She was asleep daytime, awake at night, distrustful of his household staff, and didn't like his mother. Despite that, she and Elon were a good fit. She brought sweet chaos into his life while Amber brought evil chaos. Grimes invited Banks, an unhinged rapper friend, to stay over at Elon's. Banks posted that Musk was on acid, untrue, which caught the eye of the SEC. Banks was just trouble.

Many shades of Musk
(p 238) Grimes understands the many distinct personalities hidden inside Elon. She edges away or gets close to Elon depending on 'who's driving the car'. There's an Elon she loves and an Elon she avoids. She likes Elon best with his Burning Man vibe, and her bete noire is Elon's dark moments when he dives deep into the storm in his mind. But she knows that Dark Elon is also what gets things done.

50 Shanghai (Tesla, 2015–2019)

Robin Ren
(p 241) Robin Ren was the Shanghai-born physicist who graduated with Elon in 1995 from Penn. They caught-up for lunch 20 years later where Elon invited Ren to come with him to China to help him fix his 'China Problem' about selling more cars. They met with the vice premier and other high officials who told them to manufacture in China if they wanted to sell more cars in China. That was complicated as it meant having Chinese partners - Elon is not good at working with partners. Elon invited Ren to join Tesla. Ren was finally able to convince China to have Tesla manufactured in China without doing a joint venture. It was easier to change that Chinese law than it is to convince Elon to have new partners. A 200-acre factory was put up with low interest rates. In October 2019, cars rolled out of the new factory and 2 years later, nearly half of all Teslas were coming out of China.

51 Cybertruck (Tesla, 2018–2019)

Stainless Steel
(p 244) Franz von Holzhausen has been heading the Tesla Design Department. Elon and him brainstormed on a pickup truck for Tesla, but nothing came inspiring enough. Elon, given his nature to question tradition, realized that pickup trucks have not changed in design and construction materials in so many decades. Inspired by Lotus Esprit and stainless steel's load bearing structure and natural beauty without a paintjob, he decided to radically use stainless steel for a pickup truck. By using a different construction material, the entire design can be altered as well, creating something new and out of the box.

Charles Kuehmann, materials engineering chief for both Tesla and SpaceX developed a cold-rolled steel that was both strong and cheap to manufacture for cars and rockets.

Stainless steel acts as an exoskeliton (load-bearing structure is outside, like that of a crab) so there won't be any need for a chassis for structural integrity. It can also redesign the body with straight panels, edges and corners instead of curves - to make it look futuristic.

Cybertruck it or hate it

“Don’t resist me”
(p 245) Elon wanted something radical and futuristic and told his people to think along those lines, not in terms of being able to sell it. He wanted the future to look like the future. This new thinking led to the creation of the Cybertruck. It wasn't popular with the team and others secretly designed an alternative model. Elon pushed for a 3-month unveiling of a prototype instead of the industry-practiced 9 months. Everyone had to rally around that time frame, working 24/7.

When it was unveiled, nearly everyone was in disbelief (me too). It just looked too weird - for a pickup truck. To impress the crowd, it sledgehammered with no dent. But when a baseball was thrown on the glass window, it cracked, to Elon's shocked dismay. The presentation was a fail and Tesla's stock plunged 6% the following day. Elon was unfazed.

52 Starlink (SpaceX, 2015–2018)

An internet in low-Earth orbit
(p 247) Elon never forgot his vision to colonize Mars. Weekly fun meetings are held to brainstorm over this. But to fund this expensive project, he would launch revenue-generating projects - one of which was Starlink. He rebuilt the internet on space using his own communications satellites, hoping to get 3% of the global internet market projected at $30B.

To reduce latency, Elon used low-orbiting satellites at 340 miles instead of the conventional 22,000 miles in space. The downside is that a low-orbiting satellite cannot cover as much area, thus more satellites are required. For Elon's project, an estimated 40k satellites are needed.

Mark Juncosa
(p 248) Starlink wasn't producing well - too expensive, too big, too slow. The team didn't have a sense of urgency - a fatal flaw with Elon. He fired the top ranks of Starlink and replaced them with tenured SpaceX engineers headed by its structural engineer, Mark Juncosa. Having the same guy do structural engineering for both SpaceX and Starlink means harmonious crossovers and design consistency. Mark also gets Elon's thinking being a risk-taker and rule-breaker.

Improved Starlinks
(p 249) When Juncosa took over Starlink, he threw away the existing designs and started from scratch using First Principles - throwing away pre-existing assumptions until you're down to the barest law of physics. He would constantly ask why it was done that way and then revise the existing models - e.g. why are the antennas on a separate component? Thermal heat? Show the proof or data! Ultimately, he was able to reduce the size and weight of the satellites so that more than double can be put on a rocket being deployed into space. Despite those tight controls, Elon still improved on it - e.g., instead of dispersing all the satellites at once, they were individually connected which added mass, weight, cost and complexity. The connections were removed and it worked out fine, no collisions given that the moving spaceship naturally spaced the satellites upon deployment.

By May 2019, the first batch of satellites was launched and Elon tweetted that the tweet was sent through Starlink.

53 Starship (SpaceX, 2018–2019)

Big F Rocket
(p 251) SpaceX with its reliant, efficient and reusable rocket, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy were big money-makers, but Elon didn't want to stop at being rich. He wanted man to be an interplanetary species. He had to build a much bigger rocket that can go to Mars. With this objective, he began to develop the Starship. Despite the turmoil at Tesla and SpaceX, he found time to meet weekly with his 'Mars Team' to brainstorm on the project, part of which was transporting 100 people on a 9-month journey to Mars.

Stainless Steel (SS), again
(p 251) Initially, Starship was being developed with carbon fiber (CF) for its light weight. But it was difficult to develop, slow and expensive. Elon has always had a knack for materials building. Instinctively he asked his engineers to run the numbers if stainless steel is a viable alternative. Turns out, SS was 50% stronger in the cold of space. Besides, SS has a higher melting point which eliminates the heat shield and thus lessens overall weight. SS can be welded in rough environments instead of other materials that required pristine conditions. Elon hired a water tank company who were using SS as building materials. He talked to the workers (not the executives) about optimum thickness of SS for a rocket. Pushing the limits of SS to 4mm, they built the Starhopper, a prototype. Elon was so confident about this new rocket system that he ordered the cancellation of Falcon Heavy. Gwynne Shotwell rushed to dissuade Elon, and he relented. Not too many of Elon's executives were willing to do that.

(p 253) Boca Chica, an alternative launch site that has been neglected was chosen to be the manufacturing site of Starship. Immediately, massive tents were erected and by 2020, the place was employing 500 engineers and workers doing round the clock work. In-house living spaces were constructed, entertainment areas, etc, to make it a self-contained township.

54 Autonomy Day (Tesla, April 2019)

Self-driving Tesla
(p 255) After the turmoil of 2018, Tesla still needed more money. Elon thought of a marketing approach by showcasing a self-driving Tesla to potential investors. Elon has long thought about an autonomous Tesla and kept promising the public its launch 'in a year'...which never took place.

He put his team to the task of producing an autonomous car in an insane amount of time, like he always does. And like most surges, he thought about firing the entire top team, but dissuaded by his top lieutenants. Upon unveiling to the public, he also promised that thousands of RoboTaxis would ply LA next year. The investors didn't buy it and no RoboTaxi rolled off the assembly line until 4 years after.

Tesla Robotaxi
Tesla Robotaxi that was promised year after year. As of June 7, 2024, not even a prototype has been unveiled.

55 Giga Texas (Tesla, 2020–2021)

(p 259) Fremont wsa running at full capacity of 8000 cars/week and expansion there didn't make sense. Elon chose Austin, Texas, based on gut feel, unlike Jeff Bezos who pandered the next HQ of Amazon to whoever made the best offer. In less than 2 years, the Giga Factory at Austin was complete with 32 feet tall glass walls, 10M square feet floor space, 50% bigger than that of the Pentagon. Only a few structures on the planet would be bigger. Omead Afshar was to run the factory. A similar process was done to choose Berlin as the European factory for Tesla. Altogether, the manufacturing bases of Tesla would be Shanghai, Fremont, Austin and Berlin.

Elon would do his usual rounds, walking inside the factory and grilling the technicians/workers/engineers on the station, "How long to cool steel?", "Is that based on the physics of steel?", "Do the cooling within one minute".

Tesla Giga Factory in Austin, Texas
Tesla Giga Factory in Austin, Texas

(p 260) While scrutinizing a die-cast toy version of the Model S, he found that the entire underbody was a one-piece diecast. Traditional underbody chassis was made with hundreds of parts that had to be welded, bonded or rivetted. There were gaps causing rattling and leaks. But nobody questioned this process - until Elon. He asked his executives why they can't do that with the real car. The answer was that there was no such diecast machine big enough to do it. They looked at 6 of the world's biggest diecast manufacturers and an Italian company took the job and especially produced the diecast machine big enough to spew out a whole new integrated diecast underbody in 80 seconds. What used to be a manufacturing nightmare was now easy, fast and cheap to make. Since then, the Cybertruck and Model Y came with a one-piece underbody.

Diecast toy model of the Model S
Diecast toy model of the Model S with a one-piece underbody

(p 260) Elon took to toys for inspiration. He also advocated that to his engineers. He took Lego as an example. By being precise to 10 microns, lego pieces are interchangeable. He told his engineers that precision is a function of caring...not cost. If they can care enough, they can build with precision.

56 Family Life (2020)

X AE A-12
(p 263) Grimes and Elon had their first born named X. X and Elon were inseparable. They were highly interactive but not cuddly. There was intense bonding but kept their spaces too.

The Kids

  1. Saxon - autistic, triplet with Kai and Damian
  2. Kai - tall, good looking, hands-on with life's practical problems, athletic, protective of Damian, joins his Dad on rocket launches
  3. Damian - introvert, classical-music prodigy, vegetarian, Math and Physics wiz
  4. Damian vs Kai - twins, same genetics, same upbringing, same environment, but different personalities. Damian is smarter.
  5. Griffin - older than the 3, understands his Dad, most sociable until X came along, gentle unlike Elon, smart in Science and Math
  6. Xavier - twin of Griffin but not identical, anti-capitalism, anti-wealth, hates Elon, strong-willed, transitioned to being trans and called herself Jenna. Elon had many trans-issues publicly especially on his tweets. Elon made overtures but Jenna would not have any of that. This was painful for Elon, next to Nevada's death.

    Elon founded a schook, Ad Astra, for his family and friends. But the kids went outside for high school. Elon blames the high school, Crossroads, for the woke indoctrination of Xavier. In hindsight, he should have just developed Ad Astra all the way to high school.
Elon and his kids

(p 265) Elon didn't think there was anything wrong about being a billionaire especially if done for the greater good of humanity. Later, he felt that using that wealth to lavish himself was also wrong. He lived in lavish houses but decided to sell it all and not own one. He lived simply in Austin with Grimes at a non-descript cul de sac.

Elon and Kimbal reunited
(p 266) Both Elon and Kimbal had a mild case of Covid that brought them back together, especially after the 'loan' issue. Elon refused to do the Ayahuasca ceremony saying there's a ton of concrete burying his demons and he wasn't ready to unleash them. They bonded and spent memorable moments especially after binge watching the later version of Karate Kid where both related as parents and kids.

57 Full Throttle (SpaceX, 2020)

Civilians into orbit
(p 269) The Space Shuttle was discontinued in 2011 and since that time, NASA has lost its will, ability and verve to send a man to space. It relied heavily on the Russians to send Americans to the Space Station. This was to change in May 2020 when SpaceX sent 2 NASA astronauts to the Space Station. The first time in 9 years and first time ever that a private company has done this. It was such a celebrated occassion that even Trump and Spence went to see the launch.

(p 269) When NASA awarded SpaceX in 2014 for its space program, it also awarded Boeing with 40% more funding. Boeing was not even able to launch an unmanned mission to the Space Station by 2020.

Kiko Dontchev
(p 269) Elon went to the launch site one night and saw only 2 people working. This enraged him. He wanted all hands on deck. So he moved in at the hangar and worked tirelessly, demanding everyone else to do the same. Not finding the launch VP, he called on Kiko Dontchev, an ex-Boeing engineer who defected because he wanted to kick-ass with work, which impressed Elon. Dontchev was promoted to Chief Engineer at the Cape as the shake-up continued.

Kiko Dontchev
Kiko Dontchev with Elon

(p 271) Elon did things his own way and produced miraculous results. He sent astronauts back to space, mainstreamed electric vehicles and took people off the electric grid. But he also defied the SEC and Covid restrictions which got him in trouble.

Hans Koenigsmann
(p 271) Hans has been with Elon since the early days of SpaceX when launches were still being done in Kwaj - they go back. Hans has been in charge of SpaceX's flight reliability and compliance - not an easy task given Elon's defiance vs authority. During a scheduled launch where the FAA restricted launching, Elon gave a nod of his head to go ahead anyway. The launch was successful but the FAA was pissed. It held an investigation and put a 2-month hold on all tests. Hans had to file a report and he did no without whitewashing anything...that Elon nodded his head for the green light. Elon didn't like that. The book didn't say so, but it was inferred that Elon wanted Hans to take the blame. This put Hans in bad light. Elon didn't fire him on the spot but eased him out.

Hans Koenigsmann
Hans Koenigsmann with Elon....happier times

58 Bezos vs. Musk, Round 2 (SpaceX, 2021)

Goading each other
(p 274) Elon and Bezos have always had a rivalry about their space obsessions.Though it may look petty squabbling amongst billionaires, this has put the US back into the global arena where it can complete again vs the Russians and Chinese in space initiatives. This rivalry was rekindled when SpaceX got the NASA contract to carry astronauts to the moon. Both are alike in many ways but differ in engineering approach. Bezos want it slow but sure, Elon shoots from the hips with insane deadlines and make corrections later. Bezos tells that Elon is disruptive with his micro-management style which former employees concur with. Elon counters that Bezos doesn't spend enough time with his engineers and doesn't know what's going on on the production floors. When Starlink proposed to lower the altitude of its satellites for lesser latency, Bezos again complained since his Kuiper satellites would be orbit along this range.

Billionaire jaunts
(p 275) Bezos and Branson, both billionaires, wanted to go into space themselves. Question was, who's doing it first? Branson did 9 days earlier than Bezos. On Branson's launch day, Elon was there with BabyX, to wish him godspeed. Virgin Galactic was launched from a cargo jet and went 53 miles. According to NASA, above 50 miles is already space, but according to most European countries, space begins at the Karman Line at 62 miles up. Bezos reached 66 miles into real space where he enjoyed bragging rights. To rain down on Bezos' parade, Elon remarked that sending a man to space is small potatoes compared to achieving orbit, which is 2 orders of magnitude more difficult - something Bezo's Blue Origin has not achieved yet. Elon always doubted the objectivitity of the mainstream press especially when Bezos bought the Washington Post. But Bezos was actually hands-off on influencing the newspaper. Its space reporter, Christian Davenport, often writes glowing reviews of SpaceX while mentioning the shortfalls of Blue Origin.

Elon and Branson
Elon of SpaceX and Branson of Virgin Galactic, both space-obsessed billionaires

59 Starship Surge (SpaceX, July 2021)

(p 278) For the Starship project, Elon wanted raoid reusability of the rockets like a plane taking off, landing, and taking off again. With the current set up, this was not going to happen until they make more powerful rockets cheap and develop a radical new system to deploy rockets fast. Currently, Falcon 9 has landing legs on its booster - this adds weight and therefore decreases payload. Elon mobilized his team to look into using the tower of the launchpad to catch the rocket upon landing (instead of using legs). Originally, Elon envisioned using the towers to stack the rockets before launch. Now, he wants to use the towers to catch the rockets upon returning to land.

It wasn't popular with the engineers. If the tower fails to catch the rocket and crashes, it destroys the tower and it will take months of repair before another launch could be made. Besides, the tower's stacking arms were already too complex as it is.

Just 7 months after that brainstorming, June 2021, the Mechazilla was put in place on the launch pad. Elon twitted that the tower will catch the rocket with its chopstick hands.

The Surge
(p 279) Elon wanted to stack the booster and the 2nd stage quickly in the hopes the FAA would grant a speedy approval of the launch. The urgency was actually pointless since the Starship wouldn't be ready until after 21 months after, In April 2023. He launched another surge - an all-out burst of 24/7 frenzied activity to rattle, shake and move things around. This meant impromptu firings, verbal lacerations and head-to-toe trashing. He has done this at the Nevada battery factory and at the Fremont car assembly plant.

His eruption began at the launchpad when he saw no one working late Friday night (which should be typical). He unleashed his wrath on the guy working there at the time, Andy Krebs, an infrastructure engineeer. He ordered the stacking done in 10 days. He pulled 500 workers and engineers from all 3 SpaceX locations to work nonstop in Boca Chica. He even delayed Falcon 9 launches and prioritized on Starbase. There was a scramble for logistics - housing, food, etc. There was even a 10-day countdown on the monitors. It was successful. The rockets were stacked after 10 days. But it was all pointless - Starship still couldn't fly and the FAA was not rushed to issue any flight green light. But the entire exercise woke everybody into a heightened state.

Raptor costs
(p 280) The Raptor engine for the Starship was already 2X more powerful than Falcon 9's Merlin engine (making it the most powerful rocket ever built). But it wasn't enough to transport man to Mars. He needs 40 Raptors/Starship and he needs to deploy hundreds of Starships. He needed to mass produce the Raptor. With its present design, it could not, so Elon fired the top brass and took charge of propulsion. He had to reduce the cost of the Raptor from $2m to $200k.

Lucas Hughes
(p 281) To nail down the cost of the Raptor, Elon chewed up its cost analyst, Lucas Hughes. He grilled Lucas for not knowing the Idiot Index (ratio of component cost vs raw material cost) of every component. Lucas knew the cost of every component but didn't know the Idiot Index. Elon leaned harshly on Lucas and threatened to fire him. The following day, Lucas came prepared and showed cost charts factoring in Elon's Algorithm. When asked, Elon showed no remorse for his harsh treatment of Lucas, claiming that Physics doesn't care about hurt feelings, that the important thing is, the rocket works.

Andy Krebs and Lucas Hughes
(p 282) The episodes with Andy and Lucas underscored how low Elon's emotional EQ is. To him, it's not personal. But the person being chewed, of course, it's personal. It's a good thing Gwynne Shotwell is there to balance things out since she cares deeply about human factor especially the staff.

After putting up with Elon, it came time for these people to choose comfort and quality time in their lives. This also means they have to leave their jobs. Elon uses a tool until they get worn out and then replaces them without a thought. That's also how he deals with people.

The lesson of Andy
(p 284) Andy learned a trick, and that was to parrot Elon after making an order. This reassures Elon that he was heard and understood. Even Elon noticed that Andy had a good feedback loop - understanding what was told to him and responding positively. Once, he climbed up the wall to do hard scrubbing as others left because of high winds. Andy admitted that he fears and loves Elon at the same time. But after 2 more years, Andy decided to have a better work/life balance and left Elon.

60 Solar Surge (Summer 2021)

(p 286) After Elon's Starbase surge in the summer of 2021, his next line of fire was the solar roof company. He purchased the SolarCity company from his cousins through Tesla for 2.6B which caused a law suit vs him for bailing out his relatives. He has been sprucing the company's bottomline to convince the public that SolarCity was a noteworthy purchase. Elon has already fired many top level people that people were scared of him. His goal was to have a solar roof that was easy to install, and have more installations. His Algorithm was applied where processes were deleted or simplified. But installing solar roofs was labor intensive and it didn't scale. The cost of installing a roof remained the same per roof whether you do 100 or 1000.

SolarCity with solar roofing

Brian Dow
(p 287) In order to find out the real problems, he ordered his man, Brian Dow, to come with his 8 men and do an actual installation in Boca Chica. Elon saw all the details - reducing the nails, noticing too many fasteners, eliminating the cardboard packaging, etc. He was so outraged that he demanded the designers and engineers to come and do the installations themselves. This produced a big improvement. Elon kept grilling Dow - on costs, on expenses, on being there, etc. Dow was unwavering in his enthusiam and even worked tirelessly during his birthday, but in the end, Elon fired him. Dow was a good worker with great attitude. But to Elon, Dow was simply expendable collateral damage.

Court Ruling
(p 289) The court ruled in his favor and this somehow quenched his urgency for more installations. Ultimately, the company only produced 30 roofs/week, a far cry from the 1000/week Elon wanted.

61 Nights Out (Summer 2021)

Saturday Night Live
(p 291) At SNL, he used humor to come clean with his shortcomings - no emotional EQ, having Aspergers, etc. He was awkward, but that became part of this charm. His mother Maye and Grimes were both there. After the event, they partied with some comic celebrities.

Fiftieth birthday
(p 291) His birthdays used to be celebrated with fantasy parties choreographed by then-wife Talulah Riley. This time, having just been operated in the neck to alleviate pain, he decided to spend a quiet evening at Boca Chica with close friends. Kimbal and Elon's older sons fired off some fireworks. They just hung out all night in the tiny house.

Burning Man 2021
(p 292) Burning Man has been an annual tradition for Elon, Kimbal and key executives. When it was canceled for Covid, Elon chipped in $5m to revive it, if Kimbal is also on the board. That year, it was again canceled. Kimbal re-organized a renegade burn where he used drones instead of burning the Man. Elon came Saturday only and left to trouble shoot a Tesla issue. Grimes and Elon weren't going well. They decided to break up. Grimes composed a fitting song, Player of Games.

Met Gala, September 2021
(p 293) The break up with Grimes wasn't permanent. Their relationship took the form of boundary testing, loneliness refuge, co-parenting, etc. At the Met Gala, Grimes came with a Dune-inspired costume. Elon wasn't too excited and spent more time with the magician. He left soon to trouble-shoot something that really didn't need his attention. Elon found celebrity life exciting but awkward. The following day, they flew to the Cape to launch the first civilians into space.

Grimes with her Dune-inspired costume + sword

62 Inspiration4 (SpaceX, September 2021)

Jared Isaacman
(p 296) Despite Branson and Bezos going into space, it was never Elon's motivation. He wanted space for humanity and not for him. Besides, billionaires enjoying monopoly on civilian space travel didn't sound good to him. Instead, he took Jared Isaacman, an intrepid adventurer and successful interpreneur, to take the first civilian space flight into orbit (not just going into space). The added risk of this flight was that it was going higher in orbit than even the Space Station. At that level, there were more space debris that can collide with the rocket. Isaacsman knew the risks and took them. He was so stoked that he offered half a billion to do a space walk and be first for the Starship space flight.

Jared Isaacman
Jared Isaacman

This launch was also Koenigsmann's last mission before leaving the company over his factual reporting to the FAA. There was no emotion exchanged. Elon wanted his employees to take the fall for him.

Dana White?
There was even an offer by a UFC promoter (unnamed, but probably Dana White) for $500M for a space match...but the top brass and Elon thought it would cost the company its goodwill and reputation to do so at this early point.

Human Agency Required
Civilian space flight by a private company opened doors for many possibilities. Elon was philosophical, stating that technological progress is not inevitable, as was exampled by NASA who gave up on its space missions. For technology to progress, it needs man's conscious agency.

63 Raptor Shake-up (SpaceX, 2021)

Engineering mode
(p 300) Because of the complexity of the Raptor engines and the huge task to develop a lighter and cheaper version, Elon mandated a daily 8pm meeting including weekends. He pushed for the cheaper stainless steel as the material base of choice.

Jake McKenzie
(p 300) Elon was looking for someone who could oversee the development of the Raptor rocket. After a few more meetings with his executives, he narrowed down his choices to Jake McKenzie, a cool-looking dreadlocked engineer with a composed demeanor. His job was to keep the cost down and delete anything even potentially unnecessary. Jake applied an automotive approach to the problems which reduced costs up to 90%. Jake asked Tesla engineers to oversee how automotive technology can be translated into rocket building to simplify production. Designers were subordinated to Production people - if the designers were making complex designs or making them expensive to manufacture, change the design - this was the new mandate (analogy would be to have the civil engineer tell the architect what to design...not the other way around). Jake moved all the engineer desks next to the assembly line.

Jake McKenzie
Jake McKenzie

The 1337 engine
(p 302) Instead of infinitely tweaking the complex Raptor engine, Elon redesigned the entire product and even detracted from the eagle naming convention. Instead of Raptor, he named the new engine, "1337". The goal was to lower the cost to less than $1000 per ton of thrust. This was the benchmark to make man a multiplanetary species. He urged his team to go ultra hardcore on deletion and simplification. Midway, Elon reverted to improving the Raptor to Raptor 2, instead of furthering the futuristic 1337. The 1337 was nowhere in sight but Raptor engines need to come out of the production line, 1/day ideally. By 2022, Jake was making more than 1 Raptor/day, enabling a huge stockpiling of Raptor rockets.

64 Optimus Is Born (Tesla, August 2021)

The friendly robot
(p 305) Ever since Elon got a scare about AI being an existential threat to mankind, especialy after his conversation with Larry Page, he made efforts towards making robots symbiotic to humans - the chip implant to make human cyborgs (NeuraLink chips), starting OpenAI (with Sam Altman), and self-driving cars (Tesla). He has always been fascinated by a humanoid robot. In 2021, he began talking to Tesla engineers about a that vision, naming the robot, Optimus - 5'8", elfish and androgenous-looking. It should learn by looking and mimicking human behavior (machine learning).

Optimus Gen 2 (Dec 2023)

AI Day
(p 305) AI Day was unpolished. But Elon was able to take his message across that humanoid robots (Optimus), supercomputers (Dojo) and self-driving cars (Tesla), will transform the way we live life.

65 Neuralink (2017–2020)

Human-computer interfaces
(p 309) One of the technological ground-breaking leaps of the digital age was the human-computer interface where human brains and computers communicated. A great example was Apple's Siri where humans and computers interacted by voice. Elon found typing to be slow, inefficient and tedious. He wanted the human input to be 'thought' and not typing. This meant implanting chips inside a human brain. This coupling would defend man vs malevolent AI.

He founded Neuralink with 6 top neuro-scientists. Amongst the top team were Shivon Zillis (became head of NeuraLink), Max Hodak (brain-machine interface expert) and DJ Seo (survivor of Elon's surges).

The chip
(p 310) The chip would be implanted under the skull so it cannot be seen. The brain transmission to the computer would be wireless. In its infancy, it only connected to 100 of the brain's 86B neurons. In a public demo, a cyborg pig was shown to be walking on a threadmill. When his engineers showed him an updated version with 4000 connections, wired to a router in the ear, he rejected it. He wanted a single piece containing everything - so no failure point. The engineers initially thought it was impossible, but they actually produced the product. The 2nd challenge was to disregard requirement about the chip size to accomodate a bigger battery (First Principle thinking).

(p 311) This device was installed on a monkey, Pager where his neural feedback was recorded as he was playing Pong on a joystick. Having determined what neurons are activated in the game, they attached the chip needles to them. From thereon, Pager was playing Pong from his mind without a joystick.

Pager uses his mind to control the game, Pong

66 Vision Only (Tesla, January 2021)

Delete radar
(p 314) In making self-driving cars, radar (to detect non-visible hazards) and cameras (for vision) were both utilized. Elon eventually scrapped the radar to make Tesla pure vision. This was contentious and caused a top manager to leave.

(p 314) This decision went public with NY Times. It talked about the misgivings of the engineers who felt safety was compromised by using only vision with no radar sensor. Other competing auto-pilot cars were on radar, LiDAR and thermal imaging. The picture painted was that Tesla was going backwards instead of forward. This prompted an investigation by a government agency regarding Tesla's safety, citing its accident record.

Elon argues that bad drivers cause accidents and not software. He pushed to waive privacy issues on accident related issues.

Lex Friedman podcast discussing radar removal issue

Phoenix rises
(p 315) Elon wasn't against radar per se, but against radar that doesn't measure up to his standards. Lars Moravy was the new guy hired to further develop Phoenix, the radar software. A new approach was taken - to radar only what the driver could not see - it was a high precision military grade radar. Elon was open to installing it on his high-end Tesla models.

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Ending Thoughts

I was exposed to Elon initially through the podcasts with Joe Rogan, Lex Friedman and the Youtube Shorts. From this, I regarded Elon as a formidable man who moves and shakes things around to make the impossible happen. But after reading this book, I realized that what is shown in the podcast is only one side of the coin. The ugly other side of the coin is that Elon is an asshole as a manager and husband...or as a person for that matter. The book explains that maybe it's the nurture effect of his abusive relationship with his dysfunctional Dad and/or his Asperger's affliction. Regardless, an asshole is still an asshole - even if he gets things done.

Reading this book humanized Elon to me. Before this, I thought his vision had divinity stamped on it. Just think about it. A private individual building his own rocket to colonize Mars so that man becomes a multi-planetary species? A man who revolutionized EV to become mainstream and eventually replace combustion engines? But this book talks about Elon along human terms - dysfunctional at times but brilliant, driven by ego and excellence, flawed, etc. This makes him even more amazing.

Not exceptional writing
As for the writing, I have to confess my disappointment. This book isn't as literarily well-written the way the Kissinger book was written. This book is simplistic and conversational. I didn't come across a sentence so magnificently contructed that it wowed me into deconstructing the sentence just to see where the magic was. My simile is that the Kissinger book was for university level reading while this is high school reading. Still, it was a good and engaging read. I couldn't put the book down. But again, writing-wise...nothing exceptional.

Young man
Given Elon's accomplishments, I kinda looked up to him as a very wise man, way ahead of his time. But while reading this book, him playing Dungeons and Dragons, I realized that he's about as old as my younger brother. Elon is a young man. The burning question now for me is, "Where did I go wrong?" - LOL!

Wealth of Knowledge
This is not just a good reading book. It's packed with knowledge gleaned from the trenches. Any one can learn something just by reading this book. I learned the concept of "optimized production patches" where densities, flow and processes are in sync for a smoother production flow with no bottleneck. I learned about the 5 commandments of the Algorithm. I learned to 'Go as close to the source as possible for information' - so if you want to know about welding SS, don't talk to the company executives, talk to the welders. Because Elon thinks out of the box, he thought about making his cars using the one-piece diecast of a toy Model S. This meant having the biggest diecast machine ever to be manufactured. It was done. What used to be made with hundreds of parts that are welded, bonded and rivetted together and still created gaps, leaks and rattling, is now an 80-second job that was quick, easy and cheap to make - it took Elon to have that thing conceptualized and done. Elon also coined the Idiot Index to determine if the manufacturing process was inefficient or if the design was too complicated to make (ratio of component cost vs raw material cost). Elon also prioritized on attitude vs resume. A person showing zeal and willingness to work hard and learn is more valued than a person with a well written resume.

Elon for a Friend?
I'm fascinated by Elon. But would I want him to be my friend? Hell NO! He has a sense of family, but I don't think he has a sense of friendship. I don't think he has the gene for that. To the extent he appears to have one, I think he's faking it in order to appear normal and not a monster. That being said, I firmly believe the world is a much better place with him around. His likes hasn't happened ever...not in humankind's history.

Many thanks to Marky for giving me this book.

--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
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