It’s true — there are many people not focused on making money who don’t become billionaires. It’s also true that Elon Musk wouldn’t be so successful if he didn’t understand finance well and use it intelligently to grow his businesses. But there’s a critical point that came to mind while I was going through this article — Elon Musk’s tremendous success is due in fair part to the fact that he’s not that focused on making money.
I don’t recall now what triggered this thought, but whatever it was, it reminded me of some deeper history regarding Elon Musk’s closing months at PayPal. Toward the end of his time at PayPal (which he cofounded), most of the other cofounders and executives (or all of the others?) wanted to go ahead and sell the company. They were getting a huge offer and it seemed like time to cash out. However, Elon didn’t want to sell. In the end, he got outvoted and they sold. Elon reportedly didn’t want to sell because he still saw much unrealized potential for disrupting the antiquated global finance industry.
It’s a little thing here, but I think it’s an important one, and it especially comes to mind in this moment when Tesla stock [TSLA] is popping (Tesla now has a market cap larger than Toyota and GM combined, larger than Disney, and larger than ExxonMobil). Many are tempted to cash out (or have been cashing out) because, well, they saw a tremendous return on their investment and the money was calling them. It’s just logical — when your focus is on making money. Sooner or later, with such a large rise in valuation, it seems like selling is the only sensible thing to do*.
I’m convinced Elon’s mind works a bit differently. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he is so obsessively looking at the future, looking at the potential of doing “this or that,” looking at the ability to improve on today’s systems (the world of finance in that PayPal example), and looking at ways to evolve today’s machines (old-school cars, large and dirty power plants, etc.) that he doesn’t really spend time or care to think much about how much a certain investment has risen and whether it’s time to sell. It’s just not in his mind to think about that. He’s too focused on the future, and the future can always be better!
Call it obsessive optimism (Elon has mentioned before that he’s perhaps a bit too optimistic, and I think that’s been a clear trait of his for more than a decade), but it is optimism like this that can get stuff done, especially stuff too many people think is impossible.
Coupled with this optimism is a penchant for taking risks. There are a gazillion examples with Elon, I’m sure. You can spot examples of this almost every day. But the point is that he’s optimistic about a better future being possible and he’s more than willing to take risks to try to achieve that future. And if that means risking a lower valuation at PayPal in the future if they fail (way back in the day) or risking everything he earned from PayPal to save Tesla and SpaceX (also back in the day, but not as far back), well, that’s what it means. No use fretting and giving up just because you are scared of losing all your money.
And that gets back to my core point about the money thing. Elon didn’t jump into each of his big ventures to make money — or primarily to make money, if you want to be somewhat more skeptical about the purity of his goals. He jumped in because he wanted to create a cooler future. He also didn’t risk everything he owned in order to move Tesla and SpaceX forward when they were both on the brink of collapse because he wanted to be richer. He did so because it would be worse to give up on his dreams of a better future with these companies than to lose all of his money. What was that money worth if he couldn’t pursue his dreams? Money was never the be all and end all for Musk. It was simply the tool.
I see so many people focused on investing in a certain company or furthering a certain career or completing a certain task just in order to make money.
It’s not the way to live, imho. Live for your dreams, and dream as large as possible.
*Note: This is definitely not investment advice and we do not offer any sort of investment advice here on CleanTechnica.
All photos by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica. Final image modified by Chanan Bos for CleanTechnica.
Oh, yeah, Elon Musk is reportedly now the world’s 19th richest person. (Though, there are some obvious people missing from that list — Putin, for example, who might even be #1 — and if Tesla’s market cap keeps growing as it has been lately, Musk may well be a few places higher by the time you read this. Again: this is not at all investment advice. The stock price could also deflate after its steep rise in recent weeks/months.)