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Who is Elon Musk?

BACKGROUNDER | How the world’s richest man got his start


Illustration by Koray Nergiz

Who is Elon Musk?
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Entrepreneur Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, started making headlines in the 1990s and never stopped. From electric cars (Tesla) to spaceships (SpaceX), Musk is on the cutting edge of business and technology. Pundits are watching to see if his latest venture—a $44 billion purchase of Twitter in late October—meets with similar success.

Where’s Musk from? Musk was born in 1971 in South Africa, and grew up there. His parents divorced when he was 10, about the time he developed an interest in computers.

Is he a college drop-out like so many other tech entrepreneurs? No. He began his college career at Queen’s University in Canada after moving there at 17 with only a few thousand dollars in traveler’s checks. He eventually transferred to the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a degree in economics and $100,000 in student debt.

How did he make his fortune? Instead of going to graduate school, Musk in 1995 started Zip2, a company combining business listings and mapping software. Compaq Computer Corp. purchased Zip2 in 1999 for $300 million, and Musk got about $20 million of that. He invested the money into founding X.com, a website that developed into PayPal the following year. After eBay bought PayPal, Musk walked away with $180 million.

Then he invested in cars and spaceships? In 2002, Musk founded SpaceX, the first privately owned company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and now a contractor for NASA. Musk, who was an early investor in Tesla, an ­electric car company started by engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in 2003, became Tesla’s CEO in 2008. Though Tesla has neared bankruptcy at least twice, it has sold over 2 million vehicles and become one of the most successful car manufacturers in the world.

What about Twitter? Musk originally offered to buy Twitter last April but later rescinded the offer, saying Twitter executives lied about the number of bots and spam accounts on the platform. After Twitter sued to enforce the deal, Musk finalized the purchase on Oct. 27 and immediately fired four of Twitter’s top executives. Musk said he wants Twitter to become “the most accurate source of information about the world.”

How’s his family life? Musk has had more success in business than in ­relationships. His first two marriages ended in divorce, and he’s known to have fathered nine children with three women since 2000.

Where does he stand politically? Last year, Musk tweeted that “he would prefer to stay out of politics.” He supports free speech, criticizes much progressive ideology, and believes renewable energy is the future. Regarding climate change, Musk said in an interview with the Babylon Bee, “I am not in the camp of the super-alarmists.”

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