Top 7 Lessons from the Greatest CEO of All Time
Elon Musk is the ultimate icon for success. He has built not one, but three billion-dollar companies: first PayPal with his brother Kim, then Tesla Motors and now SpaceX. He’s also the inspiration for famous comic book superhero Tony Stark—aka Iron Man—with his brilliant mind and eccentric personality. His amazing successes have made him a role model for thousands of entrepreneurs around the world. His top 7 lessons from the greatest CEO of all time will help you become more successful as well.
Know your product.
When Elon Musk was first launching the Tesla Roadster, he went to a major car show to promote his product. There were hundreds of other companies showing off their latest models, and the Tesla Roadster stood out as a truly unique vehicle. Musk was asked what special “new” features his car had, and he replied that there actually weren’t any new features on the car at all. Instead, he said that the car simply did everything that the average sports car did, but it did those things at a level that was 10 times better. He was demonstrating his knowledge of his product and the fact that he and his team already knew everything they needed to know about designing and making the best sports car in the world. Every product you sell should be the best at what it does. If it isn’t, then you haven’t done your homework.
Mistakes are just feedback.
Elon Musk has made a lot of smart mistakes over the years. Some of them have been costly and have almost derailed his companies, but he has always used those mistakes as feedback to make better decisions in the future. When he was starting Tesla, Musk tried to raise money from venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. They were interested in the idea of a high-performance, all-electric car, but they wanted him to partner with a larger car company like Toyota or General Motors. Musk refused and raised the money he needed to start a new car company himself. It was a risky move, but those VCs couldn’t have been right about partnering with a larger company, because Tesla is now worth far more than either Toyota or GM. Musk’s decision to go it alone is one of the reasons why Tesla is such a successful company. Take Musk’s mistakes as inspiration for your own entrepreneurial journey. Every mistake you make can be turned into feedback so that you can make better decisions in the future.
Musk’s frugality has saved his companies millions of dollars over the years. When he was first starting out, he was living in the house in which he had been renting a room. He didn’t even have enough money to buy the computer parts he needed for his new company, so he got them for free by cold-calling computer manufacturers and asking if they had any parts they were planning to throw away. When he was starting to build his SpaceX rockets, Musk had to make his money go as far as possible. This meant deciding which parts of his rockets to build and which parts to buy. Musk decided that he would buy the cheapest parts and build the rest of the rockets himself. This saved him millions and billions of dollars, which he was able to use to fund his next idea, Tesla. If you’re careful with your money and don’t spend extravagantly, you can save enough money to start another business.
Hire the best people you can find.
When Musk was first starting out, he hired people who were better than he was. When he interviewed his first PR person, Musk asked the person how many cars Tesla would need to sell to break even. The PR person said 10,000 cars. Musk told him he actually needed 100,000 cars to break even. This brilliant PR person told Musk that he was hired, and then he worked for almost nothing because he believed in Musk’s vision so much. When Tesla was trying to raise money from venture capitalists, Musk’s brilliant chief engineer, who had already been working at Tesla for almost nothing, pitched the idea to the VCs. The chief engineer’s pitch was so good that Musk hired him as his own PR person and made him the face of Tesla. This is just one example of Musk hiring people who are better than he is, but this is the only way to build a successful company. If you want to be the best CEO you can be, you have to hire people who are better than you at almost every job in your company.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
No matter how brilliant you are, nobody will ever know it if you don’t communicate your ideas and visions to your employees. Musk is a master of communication. He communicates his visions and ideas to employees by sending them emails that are sometimes tens of thousands of words long. He also communicates with them by having them work on the things that he thinks are important. When Musk was first starting Tesla, he was financing the company with his own money. He asked his employees to work insane hours for zero pay for months at a time. He also asked them to work in the factory, doing whatever job needed to be done to get the company off the ground. This kind of hands-on, communication-heavy management is the best way to lead a team, especially when you’re first starting out. If you want your employees to be successful, you have to lead them. You also have to make sure that you keep them informed about what’s going on in the company and what they need to do to help you achieve your goals.
Don’t be afraid to fail.
Musk has failed multiple times in his career. In fact, he has failed at almost every business he has ever started. However, each of these failures has given him valuable feedback so that he can make better decisions in the future. When Musk was trying to make his first car company, Tesla, succeed, he was asked to build an electric sports car for a movie producer named Justin Timberlake. Musk and his team built a car that was far better than what the producer needed. He then gave the car to the producer for free because he wanted to be associated with the movie. When Musk was asked to build a car for Justin Timberlake again, he refused because he didn’t want his company to be associated with a B-list movie like the first one. This led Musk to build a car for another B-list movie, and that’s how he got his first big order for the Tesla Roadster. These failures have also led to some of Musk’s greatest successes. If he had been too afraid to fail, he never would have built a new car for the first movie. He also wouldn’t have built the first electric sports car in the world, which is still being used as a benchmark for electric cars more than a decade later.
When Elon Musk was five years old, he wrote an essay entitled, “Business Plan.” He was probably around nine years old when he started selling computer software and computer parts out of his bedroom. When he was 11 years old, he called up COMDEX—a computer expo—and asked if they needed booth boys. He was at the trade show pretending to be a booth boy when he overheard that Atari needed someone to build an operating system for their new computers. Musk built the operating system and made $50,000. He was 12 years old. When you’re successful, people will always try to copy your ideas. This is why you have to be innovative and creative. You have to know what you’re doing, and you have to be better at it than everybody else. Elon Musk is the ultimate icon for success. His top 7 lessons from the greatest CEO of all time will help you become more successful as well.