Insider Secrets About Billionaire Elon Musk

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: OnInnovation/Flickr

Ever since the creation of Zip2 Corporation in the 1990s, Elon Musk has made a name for himself as a leader in the tech world. These days, he serves as CEO of Tesla and is involved in countless other successful projects, including space exploration and artificial intelligence research. He is as unique personally as the life he leads.

Want to know even more about the eccentric billionaire? Let’s take a peek into the most intriguing insider secrets about billionaire Elon Musk.

South African Born

Elon Musk was born in South Africa in 1971 to Maye and Errol Musk. His mother was a Canadian model — the oldest to appear on CoverGirl, in fact — and his father was an engineer. Musk has a sister named Tosca and a brother named Kimbal.

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Photo Courtesy: Charles Ethelman/Getty Images

Although the family didn't go through dire times economically, mother Maye did work five jobs for a time to pay the bills. Perhaps this is where Musk got his work ethic? Unfortunately, when Elon Musk was only 10 years old, his parents' relationship ended in divorce.

They Thought He Was Deaf

As a kid, Musk was notorious for daydreaming. He would disappear so deeply into his thoughts that he wouldn't notice his friends talking to him. This worried his parents, so they decided to have doctors run tests to make sure he wasn't losing his hearing.

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Photo Courtesy: Jewel Samad/Getty Images

As it turned out, the only thing wrong with Musk was an overactive imagination. His mother claims to this day that he still gets that far-away look in his eye, although now she knows to leave him alone while he mentally plans his next great venture. With a track record like Musk's, he can afford to get lost in his thoughts!

His Model Mother

Elon Musk's mother is quite a unique woman. During her modeling career, she appeared on the covers of Elle Canada, Time and New York Magazine and was even a finalist in the Miss South Africa pageant in 1969. In addition, Maye Musk runs her own nutrition business and has authored a book.

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Photo Courtesy: Edwardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

On Maye's website, she wrote, "my favorite hashtag is #ItsGreatToBe71, because IT IS!" She certainly lives up to this quote, recently appearing in a Beyonce music video and signing a new contract with IMG models. This inspiring woman no doubt influenced the person her son would one day become.

A Not-so-Great Relationship with His Father

It’s no secret that Elon Musk doesn’t think highly of his father. He has called him both "evil" and "a terrible human being" on separate occasions, and he reportedly hasn’t spoken to him in a long time. Why the rift?

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Photo Courtesy: Cyrus McCrimmon/Getty Images

According to Business Insider, Errol Musk had a baby with his former stepdaughter, Jana, in 2017. When Errol married Jana's mother, Jana was only four years old. Twenty-six years later, they had a child together. This shocking development didn’t go over well in the family and likely contributed to Elon's hostility toward his father.

A Way to Cope (and a Way to Defend)

Shortly after his parents' divorce, Musk found an outlet in computers. He learned how to program all on his own when he was still a pre-teen. At age 12, he made his first software sale, Blastar, a video game he created himself. His peers weren't impressed, however, and the nerdy Musk was a victim of bullying in his early teen years.

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Photo Courtesy: OnInnovation/Flickr

To stand up for himself, Musk decided to learn karate and wrestling. This gave him more interests than books and technology, and it increased his physical strength. His training paid off in some ways, but it didn’t stop the bullying.

Violence in South Africa

Musk has spoken about his experiences growing up in South Africa, and it wasn’t all good. He describes the school he attended, Bryanston High, as being rife with bullying and violence. It all came to a head one day when bullies kicked him down a staircase and then continued to beat him.

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Photo Courtesy: NurPhoto/Getty Images

The assault was so bad that Musk had to undergo reconstructive surgery. He switched schools afterwards but still jumped at the chance to move to the United States when he was 17. It makes you wonder where those bullies are today (jail or dead, perhaps?).

He Tried to Open an Arcade at 16

Elon Musk had ambition from a young age. When he was 16, he and his brother and some cousins wanted to start a video arcade close to their school. It wasn't a fleeting idea blown out of proportion by kids. They signed a lease and started completing paperwork for the city.

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Photo Courtesy: Sam Howzit/Flickr

Things fell apart when they tried to get the required real estate permit. Unfortunately, it's impossible to get one at age 16 without parental consent. Elon's dad apparently really hated the idea and wouldn’t agree to it. (Maybe another reason he has hard feelings toward his dad?) Kids or not, opening an arcade near a high school probably would have been a profitable business.

Humble Beginnings

Musk wasn't always wildly rich and successful. When he came to the United States to attend college, he didn't have a lot of money to live on. This didn't get him down too much. He simply made the clever decision to buy his food in bulk. Doing the math, he determined he could eat for a dollar a day using this method.

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Photo Courtesy: Diego Donamaria/Getty Images

Of course, living on bulk hot dogs, bread and pasta is no walk in the park, but Musk rarely complained. He was too happy to be away from the aggressive environment of the South African secondary schools.

An Underground Nightclub?

One of the ways Musk made up for his measly finances during college was by setting up a "nightclub" at his house. Instead of living on campus, he and a buddy rented a big former fraternity house farther from the school so they could pay less for rent.

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Photo Courtesy: Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

Per CNBC, they crammed up to 500 people inside at once and offered music, drinks and fun for only $5 per person. With their earnings, they managed to pay their rent and bills. On some nights, Musk played video games in his room instead of joining the party.

He Skipped Out on a Ph.D.

Musk planned to continue his education after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. He was all set to attend Stanford, planning to earn a Ph.D. in energy physics, but he dropped out after only two days in the program. Why? He wanted to take the plunge into the dotcom boom.

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Photo Courtesy: Daniel Oberhaus/Flickr

Musk teamed up with his brother Kimbal and created Zip2 Corporation in 1995. This virtual city guide software boomed in popularity, and the pair sold it for $307 million four years later. Apparently, dropping out of school worked well for young Elon Musk. Who knows where he would be if he hadn't?

SpaceX

Elon Musk is famous for his fascination with space. Because of it, he founded SpaceX in 2002, a company that develops rocket technology. His dream is to improve space travel to the point where humans can live off the Earth's surface (maybe even on Mars).

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Photo Courtesy: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Musk loves space so much that he used his own money to get SpaceX off the ground. Many advised against this approach, but he somehow made it work. Now, SpaceX has a deal with NASA to take people to the International Space Station once the technology can replace the space shuttle.

The Inspiration for Tony Stark?

Not everyone knows that Robert Downey Jr.'s interpretation of Tony Stark (a.k.a Iron Man) is based on Musk. Given that Stark is a billionaire and a genius, the director had to think of a way to make the character believable. What better way than to base him on a real-life billionaire genius?

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Photo Courtesy: Chris Doornbos/Flickr

Downey Jr. actually met with Musk to get to know him and his personality quirks. In the film, Musk's SpaceX company is a setting for some of the scenes. Musk himself gets a short cameo in Iron Man 2. You can catch it if you're paying attention.

A Not-so-Smooth Love Life

Musk is famous for having a bit of a rocky track record with the ladies. He met his first wife, science-fiction author Justine Musk, during college. They went on to have five kids together before things disintegrated. Post-divorce, Justine described Elon as being a "domineering" husband, treating her more like an employee than a life partner.

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Photo Courtesy: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

His next wife, actress Talulah Riley, actually married and divorced him — twice. They just couldn't seem to make things work. Today, Musk is dating Canadian musician Grimes (pictured). He admits he can't stand being alone — when single, he seeks a partner quickly.

Musk Gives "Homeschooled" a New Meaning

As Musk's kids grew up, he decided he didn't like the education they were receiving. As a solution to this problem, he created his own school named Ad Astra (Latin for "to the stars") and enrolled a total of 15 children, including his own. With only three teachers, this school didn't focus solely on grades.

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Photo Courtesy: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Musk wanted his children's education to be flexible to meet the needs and abilities of the students instead of trying to mold students to fit a predetermined set of skills. This customized teaching took place at one of Musk's homes and provided quite an experience for the kids.

The Musk Foundation

Elon Musk loves space so much that he created the Musk Foundation to further space exploration. But wait, doesn't he already have SpaceX? Apparently, one organization isn't enough for him. At the Musk Foundation, you can check out a simulated Mars environment to test what it would be like living on the red planet.

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Photo Courtesy: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Also, the foundation isn't only about space. The staff also works to discover new sources of sustainable energy and provides grants to research projects Musk supports. The whole thing is shrouded in a bit of mystery, truthfully. Just look at the website. Less is definitely more on the site.

Musk Is a "Thrillionaire"

The term "thrillionaire" has come about in recent years to refer to people with lots of wealth who have the desire to use it for thrilling purposes. Sometimes this manifests as epic adventures or life-threatening stunts, but in Elon Musk's case, it refers to his dedication to science-fiction-like pursuits.

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Photo Courtesy: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Musk hopes to make the habitation of Mars a reality. He also heavily invests in artificial intelligence research. Another "thrillionaire" in this rare category is Jeff Bezos, who shares Musk's dream of space travel. These guys are always looking toward the future, and it might be part of why they're so successful.

A Cameo on The Simpsons

Throughout the years, Elon Musk has made a smattering of cameos in television series. According to IMDb, he has appeared on shows like The Big Bang Theory and South Park, and he was also featured in a Simpsons episode entitled "The Musk That Fell to Earth".

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Photo Courtesy: Loren Javier/Flickr

In the episode, Elon Musk drives a dragon spacecraft to Springfield and meets the show's protagonist, Homer Simpson. Ironically, Musk gets some genius ideas from Homer! With appearances from big names like Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Tina Fey and more, it's safe to say that when The Simpsons writes you into the show, you're officially famous.

He Signed “The Giving Pledge”

Elon Musk is very vocal about fighting global warming, supporting sustainable energy and protecting the Earth in general. He also puts his money where his mouth is and has signed The Giving Pledge, along with other billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

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Photo Courtesy: J.D. Lasica/Flickr

The Giving Pledge is meant to guide the world's wealthiest people toward philanthropy. Signing this pledge means you commit to donating the majority of your earnings to bettering the world in social, environmental or other ways. Currently, 204 of the world’s wealthiest people have signed.

Open AI

Although Musk is a strong supporter of artificial intelligence research, it's not necessarily because he's excited about it. He has actually expressed fear and uncertainty surrounding the development of artificial intelligence. As Vox explains, Musk believes AI can surpass human intelligence to dangerous levels.

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Photo Courtesy: Geralt/Pixabay

That is why Musk serves as co-chair of Open AI, a non-profit group working to "ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all." In the excitement to move into the future — an excitement that Elon Musk shares — the world could be playing fast and loose with AI without the appropriate precautions. At least, that is how Elon Musk sees it. (Terminator, remember?)

Wet Nellie

Sure, we all love James Bond, but would you spend $997,000 for a prop from one of the movies? Well, Elon Musk did exactly that. Of course, the word "prop" might not be appropriate to describe this custom-made submarine car nicknamed Wet Nellie, but it's still a non-functioning vehicle.

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Photo Courtesy: Phil Parker/Flickr

Nonetheless, Musk had to have it. His love for the submarine car dates back to his childhood, when he watched James Bond drive off a pier in it. Now, Musk's company Tesla has designs for an underwater cruiser, although it's unlikely they will ever follow through with it. Hypothetically, however, it is possible to make it.

A Negative Work Environment?

Elon Musk's reputation for how he conducts business isn’t all good. Specifically, female workers at Tesla have come forward claiming unequal pay and sexual harassment. There has also been one known case filed of racial harassment against an electrician, but that case was settled out of court.

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Photo Courtesy: Mark Ralston/Getty Images

As the cherry on top, one worker took legal action when nothing was done about a supervisor's derogatory comments regarding his sexuality. It looks like nothing is perfect, even for Elon Musk. These kinds of complaints and lawsuits not only reflect poorly on the businesses, but they also reflect poorly on the man behind them.

Anti-Union

Elon Musk has a less-than-favorable view of unions. A judge even ruled that Musk's company was acting illegally by preventing unions from forming through intimidation and restrictions on union paraphernalia. Musk even allowed one employee to be fired for promoting union efforts.

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Photo Courtesy: Maurizio Pesce/Flickr

Although this behavior can no longer continue, he didn’t have to do much to make up for the bad behavior. No fines were issued, and as long as the company ceases the negative activity, there aren't any consequences. This theoretically makes it easier for workers to unionize. Musk doesn't legally have the power to stop it.

Anti-Press

Okay, it's not that Elon Musk is anti-press exactly, but he doesn't like what's happening in the media today. He believes there isn't enough accountability in the news, and that media companies are too focused on clicks and page views instead of presenting the real, valuable truth.

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Photo Courtesy: Max Whittaker/Getty Images

Musk has even outlined the creation of a website for people to rate and vote on the reliability of articles. This includes rating and voting on their authors as well. If this comes to fruition, he would call the site Pravda after the Soviet communist newspaper whose use of name, which means "truth," was a farce. To be compared to Russian propaganda makes it quite clear just how far American journalism has fallen.

His Work Ethic Is Unbelievable

It shouldn't be too shocking that a billionaire has an insane work ethic. Even so, his capacity for productivity could be called concerning. He has said that if an entrepreneur wants to be successful, they should put in 80 to 100 hours a week. That's twice the time of a full-time job!

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Photo Courtesy: USNORTHCOM Public Affairs/North American Aerospace Defense Command

For Musk, that's exactly the point. In order to stay ahead of your competitors, you have to do more work than them. He is known to multitask whenever possible and to start his day early at 7 a.m.

He Tried to Save the Thai Soccer Boys

In 2018, a youth soccer team in Thailand got trapped in a cave due to heavy rains in monsoon season. The 12 boys and their coach spent 10 days inside the cave, waiting for rescue and growing weaker. After seeing the news, Musk sprang into action.

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Photo Courtesy: Capt. Jessica Tait/US Department of Defense

He had a mini-submarine that he hoped could aid in their rescue. It was supposedly designed for this type of task. For one reason or another, the equipment wasn't practical for the rescue team (pictured), and it wasn't used. Despite his best intentions, he wasn’t able to help resolve the situation.

He Plagiarized a Farting Unicorn?

In 2017, Elon Musk tweeted a photo of a mug with a colorful drawing of a farting unicorn under a rainbow. He loved it! Unfortunately, an uncannily similar drawing later appeared in a Tesla Christmas card. This didn't go unnoticed by the artist's daughter, who called Musk out.

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Photo Courtesy: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

Although he eventually deleted the tweets, Daily News reports that Musk brushed off the daughter's concerns by writing "too bad, I'm stealing his mug crayon drawing... tough." Musk also called the artist "lame" for seeking financial compensation. In any case, he is sure to think twice before doing it again in the future.

He Doesn't Like Vacations — For a Good Reason

There's a good reason that Musk has claimed his vacations are cursed. He just doesn't have good luck with them — something always seems to go wrong while he's away. When he first took a vacation from PayPal, he was replaced by someone else. After creating SpaceX, he took another vacation — and a rocket exploded!

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Photo Courtesy: NASA Kennedy/Wikimedia Commons

Finally, when Musk was traveling in Brazil, he ended up with malaria that could have been fatal. It makes sense that he's wary of taking time away from work. For a man with so many businesses to manage, it's honestly a surprise he's able to go anywhere at all.

He Has "Let Loose" on the Air

Elon Musk went on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in 2018 for a long discussion about his life, career and beliefs. It was a relaxed atmosphere, and the two had a good time talking artificial intelligence, technology and colonies on Mars. But did they have a little too much fun?

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Photo Courtesy: NASA Kennedy/Wikimedia Commons

Viewers were shocked to see Musk drink some whiskey with Rogan and also toke a joint. When asked if he regularly used marijuana, he said he didn't because it "isn't good for productivity." What else would you expect from the king of working long hours?

His Salary Isn’t as High as You Think

The CEO of Tesla has said that he would be happy not receiving a salary at all for the work he does. That isn't possible under California law, so Musk settles for minimum wage. That’s right — he makes $37,000 a year.

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Photo Courtesy: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

Why does he refuse a higher salary? Well, it’s not like he isn't making money — he's one of the richest men alive, after all. Musk makes money on the stock value of Tesla. He's not the only one who opts for a small salary. Mark Zuckerberg only accepts official payment of $1 as CEO of Facebook.

Net Worth

Elon Musk found economic success starting at a young age, and things have only improved for him since then. He sits at #23 on the Forbes 400 list and has a net worth of $22.4 billion.At only 48 years old, he could still reach even greater heights.

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Photo Courtesy: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Despite controversies and criticisms, Elon Musk has a brilliant mind that works in mysterious ways, and it has served him well. He might not live to see settlements on Mars or AI technology that benefits humanity, but he is certainly paving the way for those achievements.