I found this documentary very informative and well-done. Yes, I had heard of Elon Musk before, and the current rivalry with Jeff Bezos to be the world’s richest man. And I knew of Paypal, Tesla and various space ventures, but how they all fit together, and who Musk was, I had only the vaguest notion. Sonia Anderson did a good job of directing this documentary, which was released in 2018.
Elon Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1971, of a Canadian mother and a South African father. The parents divorced at age 9, and Elon went to live with his father, which he now views as a big mistake. There were unspecified conflicts, never resolved. His mother, Maye Musk, is shown as a glamorous, sought-after model, in her 60’s. Apartheid is never mentioned, but he left South Africa as it was ending, in 1989, going to Canada for university. Thereafter, it was the USA, where he dropped out of his Stanford PhD program to work in Silicon Valley.
In the late 90’s he started an on-line yellow pages called Zip 2. He was able to sell it in a short period for $307 million, netting enough multi-millions to be able to retire in his late ‘20’s, as one commentator said, to the South of France. Instead, he plowed his winnings into a company that he wanted to be a major influence in the world of international finance: Paypal, which pioneered direct entity-to-entity payments. Conflicts with other Board members led to his removal as CEO from his own company, yet he was still the company’s largest shareholder. When eBay purchased Paypal in 2002, Musk acquired “serious folding money” which he used to finance other companies that have shaken their respective industries.
Most notable, and I certainly give him many kudos for it, is Tesla, the electric car manufacturer. He assembled the best engineers, and he is one himself, unlike most CEOs, and he likes to “tinker,” and they created a car that could go head-to-head with the very best gasoline-powered cars, like Porsche, and win the race! Space X is another major initiative. A reusable rocket is the key to making “space” a feasible proposition. After several notable failures, he succeeded – managing to have a rocket land back on the “postage stamp” size launch pad that it arose from. A major goal in his life is to establish a self-sustaining settlement on Mars. Solar City is another major initiative. He has created a way of providing electric power in remote areas, off-the-grid, without having those clunky car batteries for storage.
Two current initiatives that also at one time seemed to be difficult to impossible are Hyperloop, a vacuum tube that would be underground and capable of transporting passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour; and Neuralink, dedicated to ways of controlling Artificial Intelligence, so it does not control us.
No question, any one of the above is an impressive achievement, in areas that can greatly benefit humankind. I had concerns however that the documentary edged too much toward hagiography. A person who did PR for him was one of the major sources. One academic who analyzes high-achievers ties it to incidents in their childhood, such as bullying. In Musk’s case, it was how much time he spent alone, without caring parenting. So, it would be interesting to know how his own family does. With his first wife, Justin Wilson, they lost their first baby to SIDS, at 10-weeks. To compensate, she started taking fertility drugs, and the couple soon had triplets and twins, for a total of five. Yet how much caring parenting is he giving them when he still works 12-16-hour days and insists all his other startup employees do also? Not to mention his involvement with glamourous second and third wives.
Overall, a good documentary that will help me want to stay tuned to the man and his further achievements. 4-stars.