I interviewed Elon Musk on stage at the Founder Showcase. He may have saved his best line for last: “Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death. …So if that sounds appealing…” Followed by his trademark James Bond villain cackle.
Musk’s career as an entrepreneur has been hugely successful—in addition to co-founding PayPal, he started SpaceX, which has a $2 billion NASA contract, and Tesla, which just went public. But that journey has been anything but smooth. In his first public appearance since the IPO, Musk spoke about a range of things. A particularly human moment came when Musk said that December 2008 was one of the worst times of his life: SpaceX’s launch failed, Tesla’s funding fell through and he was mired in his way-too-public divorce. It was a reminder for the audience that even those entrepreneurs who we think have it all are still flawed and still struggle.
Here are some other highlights of our discussion. The full video is below.
1. Musk had kind words for the venture industry—except for one firm. He wouldn’t spill who it was but he did list all the ones he’d worked with that it wasn’t, leaving it pretty obvious that the barb was aimed at VantagePoint Venture Partners, an investor in Tesla. I couldn’t get more out of him on stage than that, so either party, feel free to call me if you want to dish.
2. So far his best return in terms of multiple hasn’t been Tesla or PayPal—it has been SolarCity.
3. Musk has said before that being the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX is unsustainable. He confirmed that it’s “beyond the fun point”, but says he’ll keep both jobs for while.
4. Musk and Adeo Ressi—of the Funded—started a nightclub when they were in college and Musk was the sober one who always talked to the cops when they came calling. “He was the biggest dork I’ve ever met,” Ressi said from the audience.
5. Musk still plans for his next company to focus on electric vertical-take-off planes. He says he thinks it’ll work, but the question is how long they can fly. But between his rockets and electric cars, it’ll be a while before he can get to it.
6. Musk still wants to retire on Mars, but admits some other things have to happen to make that possible. It’s worth noting that while SpaceX has turned into a viable business of shuttling astronauts between space stations, Musk’s dream is still to facilitate inter-planetary life. He noted that a Martian colony would be by definition an entrepreneurial, engineering focused group, because only risk-taking geeks would self-select to move to Mars. That sounds like a place a lot of our readers would also like to retire.