10 Things Elon Musk Taught Me About Growing A Successful Business

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Like millions of other entrepreneurs around the world, I sit back and look in amazement about what Elon Musk has achieved in his relatively short career as a serial entrepreneur.

Not only is he the founder and lead designer of SpaceX, he is also the co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla, Inc and founder of the now infamous Boring Company (there are a few others).

All 3 companies have big plans with big visions. The main ones are to help the world to transition away from reliance on fossil fuels and toward the embrace of sustainable energy sources.

10 Things Elon Musk Taught Me About Growing A Successful Business

He sold his first company Zip2 to Compaq in 1999 and then sold his shares in his second company PayPal in 2002 and came away with $180 million.

With the money, he saved from the sale of his companies he invested into Tesla and SpaceX.

Let’s look at the 10 things I learnt from Elon.

Dream BIG

Tesla Gigafactory

I don’t think anyone could accuse Elon of NOT thinking big. The image above is a clear example of Elon thinking BIG!

He didn’t want to rely on a 3rd party to supply Tesla batteries. He wanted to be the master of his own destiny.

To be clear, this is one of the largest factories in the world. It is estimated 10-million square feet, with 6,500 employees, and occupying 500-1,000 acres.

Thinking BIG is what all successful entrepreneurs must do if they have goals and dreams. There’s a great quote by Norman Vincent Peale:

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars

Elon Musk

Lesson learned:

Even though the “shoot for the moon” is an analogy, it’s a really great way to describe what your thought process needs to be when all you have at the beginning is a dream.

It’s kind of similar to Grant Cardone’s philosophy in his book The 10x Rule, which is something I look to do in everything I produce or create.

Whatever you are planning on doing, try and do it 10 times better than the competition. Or if your goal is to earn $10,000. Then, why not exceed that goal and think 10x larger by trying to earn $100,000 instead.

Psychologically, thinking big ironically expands your mind to look at the ways in which you are going to achieve that feat. If you think about it, it takes as much energy to think about how you can earn $10,000 as it does to think about how to earn 100,000. You just need to look at the steps you need to take to get there.

You also have a great chance of exceeding your first goal of earning $10,000 by quite a margin when your mindset is focused on the larger number.

The problem with thinking too small is you achieve small results. You might not achieve the larger goal, but even getting halfway there is an improvement of thinking small.

Constantly try to improve your product or service


Source: Electrek

The image above is of a Tesla model 3. The backseat image on the left is the old seat and the one on the right is the new and improved back seat.

I’m guessing that Tesla customers were either complaining to Tesla or to Elon via Twitter about how uncomfortable the backseats were in the Model 3.

Elon encourages criticism and therefore was able to make the seat cushions and side support are a lot larger than in the Model 3 without affecting the height of the seat.

Lesson learned:

Always encourage criticism and feedback. Evaluate whether it’s something you agree with and then make the changes to improve your product or service as soon as possible.

Important note: Once you have made those changes. Notify the world (via social media I mean) that you have made those changes and post pictures.

Elon is a master of this. Most companies shy away from telling people the problems they’ve had. Elon takes the opposite approach and tries to be as transparent as possible.

I started doing this as of May 2018 and my most popular posts are “Changes I’m Making To My Social Media Strategy” and “Is It Time To Change Your Marketing Strategy For Social Media?” These are two articles I wrote explaining the problems I had faced and what I was going to do about it. Both articles have resonated with more people than some of my other articles combined. Go figure…

The take away is – keep bringing out better versions of a product or service. Whilst your competition is standing still, you keep improving, innovating and seeking feedback. Just take a look at Amazon as a great example of a company doing this. They started off by just selling books online. They increased their product offering by constantly asking for feedback and suggestions from their customers.

Seek criticism

Seek criticism

Constantly seek criticism. A well thought out critique of whatever you’re doing is as valuable as gold.

Elon Musk

I mentioned seeking criticism in the previous section. However, that was more of a sidenote to improving your product or service.

Lesson learned:

If you’re anything like me you’ll hate getting criticism. Especially if it’s about something you feel really passionate about. However, if you are like me, then this is where we’re both going wrong. Whatever sort of business you are running or hoping to run you must always seek out criticism (sometimes the best critics are family and friends).

Why is it so important?

If you are one of those busy entrepreneurs sometimes you can’t see the wood through the trees and also tightly woven in whatever you’re doing you simply don’t see the things that you are doing wrong.

From outside looking in, it’s a lot easier to see these mistakes and that’s why you should constantly be asking for feedback from potential clients as well as the existing ones.

Start From First Principles

So what exactly does Elon mean by this?

In life, we reason by analogy.

This is because most things that you embark on and the vast majority of our points of view are based on things that have happened previously in life. Either by you, a family member, friend or a total stranger.

So, as humans, we very rarely think outside of the box and try to see things from a different perspective.

It suggests that it’s much easier to reason by analogy than from first principles.

Lesson learned:

In essence, first principles is a physics way of looking at the world. this means:

Boil things down to the most fundamental truths. Then reason up from there

Elon Musk

So, whenever you have a problem in business. Never say that you can’t solve it, because no one in your industry has solved it before.

Always come at a problem with a fresh mind and a fresh perspective. This way allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists.

Have a bigger vision than just making money and getting rich

Have a bigger vision

I’m interested in things that change the world or that affect the future and wondrous, new technology where you see it, and you’re like, Wow, how did that even happen? How is that possible?

Elon Musk

There have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live. Why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future? If the future does not include being out there among the stars and being a multi-planet species, I find that incredibly depressing.

Elon Musk

Lesson learned:

Whatever Elon is doing there’s always a larger reason than simply to make money. as you can see from the quotes above, Elom talks about things that can change the world instead of just his local town or city.

Not only does this have a massive impact on Elon and his own mind it also resonates all the way down through his companies and into the minds of his employees which in turn resonates down to the customers of his products.

When people buy an Apple device they’re not buying a piece of technology, they’re making a statement about the way they perceive themselves and how they want others to perceive them.
Apple’s main slogan was “think different”.

Take a look at this Simon Sinek video as he describes how Apple has managed to sell so many products to the highest demographic around the world.

In essence what Elon has done is exactly the same. When you purchase a Tesla product you’re not just purchasing a car you’re purchasing your “Why.”

Even though the products are fantastic, what you’re doing is buying into the dream of making the world a better place by helping us use fewer fossil fuels and improving the environment. These are pretty big statements.

Challenge your existing beliefs

First Principles - Challenge your existing beliefs like Elon Musk

Einstein said,

You can’t solve problems with the same thinking that caused them.

Just because something has been done for years and years doesn’t mean you can’t think of a new way of doing it that’s an improvement.

For quite a few years the price of producing rockets was very expensive. This was because the producers of the parts that make up a rocket charged governments a lot of money. Mainly because they could and also because there is little competition.

So what SpaceX had to do was produced most of these components in-house which dramatically reduced the cost to build a rocket for example.

By cutting out the middleman,  SpaceX had reduced the cost of producing the rockets overnight. This was pure genius, not just because of its simplicity, but, because no one else I thought about it.

Lesson learned:

I suppose the main takeaway is, you really do need to ensure that you are always willing to have a fresh perspective on something.

That’s why when you’re growing a business you always need to hire from all demographics. Especially young people. Even if you’re technologically savvy I can guarantee you that there’s a new flasher shiny object or piece of software you can use to make what you’re doing much better.

Elon thought the same when he was producing his first round or battery packs. as far as the industry was concerned battery packs were really expensive. and to be fair they were.

When you break a battery down into its core components (cobalt, nickel, aluminium, carbon, polymers etc) you can quickly learn which are the cheapest and which are the most expensive and then make it your priority to find out where you can source these components from or even produce them yourself.

By challenging your existing beliefs, you are always opening your mind up to new possibilities. Often times the answer is staring you right in the face but you don’t see it. Not until you force yourself to challenge your existing beliefs.

Narrow your focus

The power of focus is as old as the hills. There isn’t a self-made millionaire or billionaire that didn’t master this particular tactic. As you can imagine, Elon is no different.

When Elon sets his mind to something he doesn’t have a scattergun approach to the problem. He has a steely laser focused obsession with it. In fact, I’d go one step further and would say he throws his all into understanding it, breaking it down into small bite-sized chunks and then eventually solving the problem.

There are other outside influences that come into play, but the number one goal is solving a problem for the common good of the product, service and even humanity.

At Tesla, we’ve never spent any money on advertising. We’ve put all our money into R&D, engineering, design, and manufacturing to build the best car possible. When we consider spending money, we ask, ‘Will this create a better product?’ If not, we don’t proceed with spending the money.

Elon Musk

Lesson learned:

Successful entrepreneurs are absolutely brilliant at applying focus. While most of us get distracted and jump from one shiny object to the next, really great entrepreneurs learn to focus on a few things and do them really well.

Elon is a master at this. he would be prepared to wait to market a product only when he feels it is great.

In his mind, there’s no point marketing a mediocre product. So, his sole focus is on producing a magnificent product and won’t entertain any ideas or producing anything else.

This is easier said than done. In today’s world of the internet and mobile devices, getting distracted and thrown off track is a problem we all have.

You need to learn to master this problem the best way you can. To do this, it might be a good idea to place your mobile devices in another room and even switch off your wifi connection whilst you work on your project or solving a problem.

This sounds pretty extreme, doesn’t it?

I suppose it is.

I think what I’m trying to say is, master this one problem and see your productivity go through the roof!

It’s the difference between those that win and lose essentially.

Have a backup plan

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”

Elon had enough money to launch four rockets when he started SpaceX. He had three failures in a row and if IV rocket had failed then he would have had to of shut down space x.

Fortunately, the fourth rocket didn’t fail and it was a complete success. This is an example of giving yourself a backup plan because if Elon had trusted his instincts and only budgeted for 3 rocket launchers then SpaceX wouldn’t exist today. The fourth one was a backup plan.

Be Stupidly Optimistic

“I figured if I could live off a dollar a day then, at least from a food standpoint, it’s pretty easy to earn $30 a month.”

Elon Musk

Elon has quite a few quirks and from outside looking in may seem kind of strange. I think like any entrepreneur he has a positive attitude and it’s stupidly optimistic about every project he starts.

If you’re a one-man band then this is really important. But, I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you have a team within your business, it’s even more important because this optimistic outlook and this type of positivity trickles down through the organisation no matter what the size.

I can’t remember what the quote is but it’s similar to:

If you say something enough times then people start believing it

Lesson learned:

This optimism and this positivity sometimes gets Elon into hot water, since he’s so optimistic he often times predicts something will happen when it’s clearly not possible to do this within a given time frame.

Even though, a lot of people may see this as a negative I actually think this is a positive.

Being stupidly optimistic is a trait that served Elon well over the years because when you have this trickle-down effect through your organisation, people start going the extra mile to try and make things happen even though on the face of it, it’s not humanly possible.

I love this!

Create a Superior Product

One of the main driving forces behind Elon’s philosophy is to produce an amazing product that’s better than what’s out there in the marketplace. Strangely enough, this philosophy is very similar to a few other billionaires but the name of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.

If you think about this logically, it makes total sense.

If you’re producing an amazing product that’s much better than a competition, then this provides a solid foundation for your business.

Tesla Model S Awards

Source: Evannex.com

Take for example a company like Apple which is the richest company on the planet.

Their technology and the components they manufacture with aren’t really that much different to work everyone else is producing. however, is that the margins were a company like Apple really excels.

I think Elon has taken is on board and really doesn’t look to copy or imitate another company.

I truly believe that he takes on a lot of the criticism and recommendations from his customers. There’s no other CEO that responds on Twitter regarding problems with their products and then guarantees to fix those problems.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to go onto Twitter every day and answer problems in this way. but, a good takeaway would be to react to what your customers are asking for in the shortest time possible.

Lesson learned:

In marketing, there’s no better system than the referral system. That’s because your customers are doing the selling for you and are recommending your product or service to their friends and family.

So, when you think about. Receiving a recommendation from one of your friends about product they have just purchased means your trust level is probably the highest it will ever be, knowing that your friend or family member won’t recommend a bad product to you.

This is where companies like Apple, Amazon and Tesla really stand out. they let their customers do the selling for them.

I can’t tell you how unbelievably powerful this is.

Image credits: seek criticism, have a bigger vision, challenge your existing beliefsnarrow your focus,

About the Author Des

Des is a full-time online marketer who sells information products and a membership program. He tests and studies what does and doesn't work and then shares his findings on this website. He takes you behind the scenes of how he runs his business to help you market yours.

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