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How Selling PayPal Helped Elon Musk Realize His Biggest Revolutionary Plans

Denis Granjou publishes Elon Musk Changing the World in City editions.

© JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

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Denis Granjou publishes Elon Musk Changing the World in City editions. SpaceX, Tesla, PayPal… All of these successes are the work of one man: Elon Musk. He is the most visionary entrepreneur of the century. The one who changes habits, anticipates changes in society, constantly innovates, and the one who embarked on the conquest of space simply dreams of colonizing Mars! Extract 1/2.

What to do with 180 million dollars? In 2002, Elon Musk did not wonder for long. As always, he had already prepared his future. In 2000, he discreetly founded Space Exploration Technology Corp from commercial premises in El Segundo, along Santa Monica Bay, California, near the Los Angeles Airport. He aims to develop a space launcher that would allow him to split the cost of putting it into orbit tenfold. Initially, he seeks to buy ballistic missiles and goes directly to the Russian space industry. He travels to Moscow to meet the engineers and explain his idea to them, but leaves empty-handed with the impression that no one really believes in his vision of things. A Russian company is offering him a rocket for $20 million. Elon Musk categorically refuses this offer. Since no one wants to sell him what he asks for what he thinks is a reasonable price, he will do it himself!

The jackpot won thanks to the Paypal sale allows him to launch his incredible project: to produce a launcher that is not only cheaper, but also reusable! When the space community hears about the young investor’s project, they face general skepticism. It must be said that since the end of World War II, the domain has been reserved for two major powers: the United States and Russia. We can add to this duo France, the real spearhead of the European Community in the conquest of space. None of the luminaries of the space industry suspects for a second that this exceptional entrepreneur, confident and chatty, will truly revolutionize this landscape. I must say that the first photo of the employees of a new startup can cause a smile. The picture was taken in the dining room of the Mexican restaurant La Fiesta in Cape Canaveral, Florida, next to the famous NASA launch base. We can make out a group of men in their thirties in jeans and T-shirts. Among them are four mariachis in traditional Mexican clothes, black pants, white shirts, with large guitars and a sombrero on their heads; to their left, Elon Musk holds maracas in his hands, which he frantically waves, bursting into laughter. Shortly speaking. Who can imagine that it is this team that will make SpaceX the new world number 1 in space in a few years?

I must say that if we look closely at this picture, we will very quickly realize that Elon Musk left nothing to chance to make this skewer of talents. First, Tom Mueller. He is one of the world’s leading specialists in spacecraft propulsion. This gifted engineer, eight years older than Elon Musk, will very quickly become his right hand and indispensable master in the creation of future SpaceX launch vehicles. Other attendees include Phil Kassouf, R&D specialist, or Hans Koenigsman, Ph.D. The latter retired after more than twenty years of conscientious and loyal service during 2021 and told an American TV channel how he felt when he met Elon Musk in the early 2000s: “When I arrived at SpaceX, I inherited number 7! Indeed, I was the seventh employee hired by Elon. At first, I quickly realized that he knew little about rockets, but I was amazed at how quickly he managed to get comfortable. It was really amazing. He also had a global vision and pulled us into his frenetic pace of work where weekends were extremely rare! “Last character in the big photo: Chris Thompson, also a brilliant engineer who will take part in the creation of SpaceX, even if fifteen years later his name will cause controversy on social networks, although he is not responsible for this. Indeed, a journalist would attach to him in the report a mention of the co-founder of SpaceX. Elon Musk’s response was immediate and unvarnished: “Because he’s one of the original employees of SpaceX doesn’t make him an absolute co-founder of the company I founded on May 6, 2002.”

During this period, as if this new company was not enough for him, Elon Musk decided to take a very close interest in a startup in which he firmly believed: Tesla. It was created in early 2003 and you have to open the door of Buck’s restaurant in Woodside again to immerse yourself in this special birth. Indeed, this is where Martin Eberhard told us about Tesla’s origins with a smile in his voice. After a divorce and to restore some morale, Martin Eberhard decides to buy a sports car. He then goes to the dealership of a famous German car brand, but after seeing the prices, he turns around and changes his mind. He then considered an alternative: an electric car. Because this trained engineer is also a resourceful entrepreneur. Noticing that no American manufacturer is interested in an electric car, he tells himself that he is going to take on this non-competitive sector that is reaching out to him: “You are completely crazy! objected to his best friend and partner Mark Tarpenning, who, however, agrees to go on an adventure with him.

The Tesla startup officially launches from the restaurant of Jameis McNiven, who, as he runs his fingers through his long gray beard in front of an American channel TV crew, recalls this exact moment: “It happened at table 40! Tesla was literally founded in my house because I say the foundation is real when the money hits the table! This is exactly what happened to Martin and Mark. Elon likes to say that he is the founder, but in this case it is not him, he was not there. He took Tesla to the top, but he didn’t find it! I talked about it at Buck’s, where he returns from time to time. He is a true titan of the industry who will be remembered for a long time. »

Martin Eberhard returns to the concept the duo launched in 2003 in an interview given to Temps.com in 2020: “We started from the principle that new technology is neither economical nor affordable. The same was true for flat screen TVs. New technologies are born in the premium segment, and only then are they introduced into mass production. As an electrical engineer, I knew how to build a machine that would shut down everyone else.

That’s why the first Tesla was an expensive sports car. And it worked. Tesla Roadster has changed the idea of ​​an electric car around the world. In addition, we used technologies that have never been applied to cars. No one chose lithium-ion batteries in this area. We have launched something sustainable. »

Elon Musk, of course, is not the founder of Tesla, but he has been interested in an electric car for several years. In 2000, he discovered the amazing Tzero, developed by American company AC Propulsion, as he verbally recalls in a podcast that chronicles his beginnings in the world of electric vehicles. It is a bright yellow car with a bright red dashboard and a red bucket seat. The prototype did not leave Elon Musk indifferent, but the sports car, certainly electric, is not at all ready for sale. It has too many flaws and safety on board is far from guaranteed. Elon Musk is hesitant to invest in this manufacturer when he hears about the existence of Tesla.

He immediately saw the potential of this startup. He asks its founders to clearly explain their project to him. Accompanying them to the spartan SpaceX offices that day was Ian Wright, the engineer responsible for the detailed technical review of the electric vehicle as it was intended at launch. As in the case of rockets, Elon Musk wants to know about this topic of interest to him. Since he already runs SpaceX and the company, although in its infancy, largely takes up his days, he “simply” suggests that they invest in car development in their spare time, i.e. twenty to thirty hours a week. Surprised but seduced, Tesla’s creators agree to this original deal. After all, they know that Elon Musk is in front of them and that nothing really is done with him, like with the rest. But the problem of leadership in the management of the company very quickly arises, and Elon Musk offers himself to the position of chairman of the board of directors. Martin Eberhard runs the company he created. As for Ian Wright, he realized that there was no place for him, and in 2004 he left the company. That same year, Elon Musk decided to invest $6.3 million in Tesla capital and became definitely the big boss, with a big project. : build from scratch GigaFactory 1, which will produce lithium-ion batteries on 180,000 m2. The site chosen for this plant, which will be shaped like a giant L with white walls topped with a spectacular red stripe, is 35 kilometers from Reno, Nevada, almost in the middle of the desert.

Tesla and SpaceX. Elon Musk is ready to lead two industrial adventures that will definitely make him a legend, even if things don’t go as he planned, whether on the pavement or in space. On a personal level, he is also preparing for major changes. Since marrying Justine Wilson in 2000, Elon has lived perfect love in his large and beautiful home. The two 30-year-olds, who are among the elite of Silicon Valley’s rich and famous couples, regularly make the front pages of people’s magazines that talk about the dream life of this couple who seem to be succeeding. However, in 2002, Justine and Elon Musk go through a terrible drama. Ten weeks after the birth of their first child, Nevada Alexander, the child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

An excerpt from Denis Grange’s book, Elon Musk Changing the World, published by City.

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