From dropping out of Stanford to getting fired from PayPal to becoming the fifth richest man on the Planet – The unconventional journey of the outspoken Elon Musk

The young Elon Musk was evidently just as driven as he is today – and equally inclined to break with convention. Photo: @elonmusk/Instagram


Anyone who’s been following Elon Musk’s career and life in recent years knows that the billionaire is anything but conventional. The quirky founder of Tesla and SpaceX is no stranger to making the headlines, whether it’s by hanging out with the equally eccentric Kanye West, selling flame-throwers through his venture The Boring Company, or (most recently) becoming the fifth richest person in the world, and the third richest in tech, surpassing Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, according to Forbes.

And Musk’s journey to this point has been just as unconventional as he is.

Via Instagram / @kimbalmusk

Musk moved to Canada to escape South Africa’s compulsory military service
As a child, Musk taught himself to code and published his first product at the age of 12, a simple shooting game called Blastar. At the age of 17, he, his Canadian mother and his two siblings moved to Canada, in part to gain citizenship but also to avoid him having to enlist in mandatory service in the South African military.

While at UPenn, Musk and his classmate turned a frat house into a nightclub
Two years after arriving in Canada, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania in the US. While there, he and friend Adeo Ressi rented a 10-bedroom fraternity house and cannily converted it into a nightclub, where they charged patrons to pay for the rent.


After obtaining two bachelor’s degrees, he went to Stanford to get a doctorate, but only lasted two days
Two days into a Stanford University PhD programme in physics, Musk left the prestigious institution because he believed that internet companies could have a greater impact on the world.

Musk slept on his office couch in his early days because he couldn’t afford to rent a flat
During a 2014 commencement speech at the University of Southern California, Musk recounts his early days in business with his brother Kimbal: “My brother and I were starting our first company. Instead of getting a flat, we just rented a small office space where we slept on the couch,” he said. He may have been referring to Zip2, the online software company he founded with Kimbal and Greg Kouri in 1995. They later sold to Compaq for US$307 million.

Believe it or not, Musk says he still sometimes sleeps in his Tesla factory. In 2018, Musk fan Ben Sullins started a GoFundMe campaign to buy the billionaire a new couch after Musk revealed he had been sleeping on an extremely narrow, extremely uncomfortable one during an interview with CBS.


Musk was fired as PayPal’s CEO while he was on holiday
When Musk’s prelude to PayPal, X.com, merged with another company, he was named as its CEO. During his short-lived tenure, Musk made the decision to switch PayPal’s servers, but the rest of the company’s board didn’t agree. While en route to Australia for a holiday, he was ousted and replaced by Peter Thiel. The betrayal made him more determined than ever to start SpaceX and Tesla, he said later.

Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.

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