50 Surprising Facts About Elon Musk

What’s the real story behind the idiosyncratic entrepreneur? Getty Images/Reuters

Lately, it seems as though Elon Musk is never out of the news. Whether it’s attacking the media over negative coverage of his car company Tesla, offering to help in the Thai cave rescue, or poaching staffers at satirical site The Onion, it’s hard to guess what the billionaire entrepreneur’s next move will be.

Most people know the basics of Musk’s journey to becoming one of the world’s most powerful and talked-about men. The 47-year-old was born in the South African city of Pretoria, moving to his mother’s home country of Canada at 17 before eventually making his way to the U.S.

Once there, he founded a string of successful tech companies before turning his attention to space exploration with company SpaceX. He’s famously obsessed with colonising Mars, reportedly hoping to send 80,000 people to the planet for $500,000 per trip.

It’s not just space exploration on his mind. He became CEO of electric car company Tesla in 2008 and has since gone on to explore and develop environmentally-friendly power sources, high-speed transportation systems and artificial intelligence.

His journey hasn't been without controversies. He’s been accused of suppressing unions at his Tesla factories, something which he vehemently denies. While celebrated by some, his recent moves to help the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand were branded as narcissistic by others.

So what’s the real story behind the idiosyncratic entrepreneur, and what makes him tick? We’ve found the most interesting facts about Musk which shed light on his motivations, desires and beliefs, as well as detailing the strangest incidents of his life so far.

Did you know he was almost a teenage arcade game mogul? Or that he was the inspiration for Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Iron Man? How about his mysteriously fluctuating hairline? Brush up on your Musk knowledge with these 50 surprising facts about the tech billionaire.

He coded a video game at age 12—and you can now play it online
In 1984, 12-year-old Musk published the source code for his video game Blastar in PC and Office Technology magazine, under the name E. R. Musk. He received $500 for his efforts. You can get a glimpse into young Musk’s head by playing the game at blastar-1984.appspot.com.
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His first business venture was an arcade
Along with his brother and cousin, 15-year-old Musk started an arcade business, according to Vogue. The three boys managed to get the idea to the city zoning phase before their parents found out and stopped the budding businessmen.
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He was bullied at school
“South Africa was quite a violent place,” he told Vogue in 2015. “There was a level of violence growing up that wouldn’t be tolerated in any American school. It was like Lord of the Flies. There were a couple of gangs that were pretty evil, and they picked their victims and I was one of them.” He was once beaten so badly he ended up in hospital.
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During college, he ran a nightclub out of his house
While he was studying at the University of Pennsylvania, Musk and his roomate Adeo Ressi, who would go on to become a successful entrepreneur in his own right, rented a large house and turned it into a nightclub in order to pay rent. It wasn’t a small operation—the club could hold up to 1,000 people, according to Vogue.
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He quit his Ph.D after two days
Most people would be thrilled to be accepted into such a prestigious program as a Ph.D. in applied physics at Stanford University. Musk, on the other hand, quit after two days in order to start Zip2, an online city directory.
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He used to sleep on a couch
Although Zip2 landed contracts with The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune, Musk lived in office buildings during this period, sleeping on a futon couch and showering at the local YMCA, according to The Sunday Times. In 1999 Compaq Computer Corporation bought Zip2 for $307 million in cash, of which twenty eight-year-old Musk received $22 million. He used part of the money to fund his next company, X.com.
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Our early 2000s eBay addiction made him millions
In 2000, X.com bought PayPal’s parent company, and the online money transfer website became Musk’s primary focus. PayPal took off in 2001 thanks to the popularization of eBay, and later that year, eBay bought the company for $1.5 billion, of which Musk received $165 million.
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He once tried to grow plants on Mars
In 2001, Musk said that the permanent settlement of Mars is a "a positive, constructive, inspirational goal capable of uniting humanity at a critical time." In lieu of any NASA plans to travel to the planet, he announced his “Mars Oasis” project, which planned to launch a mini-greenhouse to Mars, growing samples of food crops to test the feasibility of humans one day living off the planet’s land.
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His failure launched his success
The prohibitive cost of rockets stood in the way of Mars Oasis, spurring him on to innovate new space-faring methods to bring down the cost. He went on to launch SpaceX, his space exploration company.
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He’s so obsessed with Mars that he wants to die there
During a 2013 talk at SXSW, Musk expressed a sense of urgency and excitement over the fact that “it’s the first time in four and a half billion years that we are at a level of technology where we have the ability to reach Mars. I've said I want to die on Mars, just not on impact.”
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His official wage is only $37,000 per year
Although he didn't found the company, Musk became Tesla’s CEO in 2008 following the financial crash and grew it into one of the most valuable auto companies in the world. Because California law prohibits him from earning less than minimum wage, he still has a token salary, according to The Times, although Musk does not collect it. Instead, he looks to make more billions through stock options if the company keeps on being successful.
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