“When young people were going to a big party, having fun, drinking a lot and talking about rugby or sports, Ilon was comfortable in the libraryI immersed myself in reading books. This is how Errol Musk defined his son Elon in an interview with Forbes magazine. Ever since it was revealed that Elon Musk wanted to buy Twitter for 42 billion euros, the part of the world that didn’t know who Musk was already knows. The richest man in the world. A geek who wants to take a man to Mars. Tesla, creator of electric vehicles. A person who launches rockets for NASA. The one who invented PayPal.
Almost all of his recent biographies are devoted to that part of his life that is full of success. But what was Elon Musk like before people wanted to know who Elon Musk was? “When I was very young, three or four years old, one day he came to me and asked:where is the whole universehis father said in an interview with Johannesburg Radio. “That question made me think that I was somehow different from other children.”
The rarity has already come from the pedigree. On his mother’s side, his grandfather was Joshua Haldeman, a Canadian adventurer who traveled through Africa by plane and tried to find the “Lost City” in the Kalahari Desert. Musk’s maternal grandmother, Winnifred, was Canada’s first chiropractor, an alternative medicine method based on massage to treat ailments. Musk’s maternal grandparents moved with their children to South Africa and were the first travel South Africa-Australia in a small plane. His mother May Musk has been modeling for 50 years and has appeared on the cover of many magazines. Musk’s father, Errol, is an engineer, pilot, sailor, real estate developer and for a time owner of an emerald mine in Zambia.
Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1971. He has two younger brothers: Kimbal and Tosca. According to some biographers, his paternal surname Musk has British and French ancestors. For others, they are of Dutch and Swiss-German origin. When Elon Musk was very young, his parents they thought he was dumb because when they spoke to him, the boy looked at them from afar. “He really was in a different world,” said his mother Ashley Vance, the journalist who wrote Musk’s biography.
Elon Musk at school experienced several episodes of harassment. One day a colleague pushed him down the stairs. He had a broken nasal septum. Since then, he has had breathing problems and visits the doctor from time to time for surgeries. Musk admits that the problem worsens with age. Musk grew up with his brothers in South Africa, where there was a separation of races: apartheid. His biography, written by Ashley Vance based on numerous interviews with his acquaintances (“Elon Musk: a businessman who anticipates the future.” The Peninsula), fails to decipher this part of his life. These were difficult years for South Africa as it faced sanctions imposed by the international community due to its racist policies. “Growing up, Musk traveled overseas and had an idea of how foreigners feel about South Africa,” says Vance. “But what had an even greater impact on Musk’s personality was the white Afrikaner culture so prevalent in and around Pretoria. Hyper-masculine behavior was adored, and tough athletes were revered. At that time Musk enjoyed a certain level of privilege, and lived as an outsider whose reserved personality and provocative inclinations were at odds with the prevailing attitudes of the day.” But the biographer does not add more. When journalists from The New York Times recently tried to contact Musk about his years in racist South Africa, Musk ignored them. He didn’t want to talk about this South Africa. According to Vance, Musk sought refuge from his surroundings and dreamed of a place “that would allow his personality and his dreams to blossom.” That place was America.
“Elon has always been an introverted thinker,” his father told Forbes. The parents separated when they were very young, and the children settled in their father’s house. When he discovered the world of computers, he immersed himself in this technology. His sister Tosca said, “You can ask Elon to do a lot of things on his computer, but don’t ask him to take the bus.” The children traveled the world with their father. When they were in the car, Elon was in the back seat; lost in my thoughts. “Kimbal, my other son, as energetic as Elon, was in charge of guiding us and orienting us,” Errol Musk told Forbes.
IBM invented the personal computer in 1981. The computer hobby was alive. The world was fascinated by this junk. When he was eleven (1982), Elon told his father that he wanted to take a course that taught how to use a PC. It turned out that a group of experts from the UK was going to visit South Africa to give computer science courses. Elon’s father asked the organizers of Hyperama to allow his 11-year-old son to attend one of these courses, but he was told that it was not intended for children. In the end, the father managed to enroll his son in the inaugural lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for 75 rand, which was a large sum of money. The organizers told him that the boy should sit aside and be silent. In addition, he had to be dressed in a jacket and tie.
His father dropped him off at an event and went to eat a hamburger with Kimbal. Returning to the territory, they did not find Elon. They searched for him until they found him in a room with his jacket and tie off, his sleeves rolled up, and standing chatting with some Brits. When they approached, one of the Britons told the father that this child had to somehow get a computer. “So we got one, thank God, at a discount, and with this computer, he taught himself, using the operating system to program,” Forbes’ father told Forbes.
“I remember how in the mid-1980s he showed me a box with a red light and said that it was a modem: “With it, computers can communicate with each other. If this computer is connected to the network, I can talk to a computer in England and ask him questions. He was always in touch,” Errol said. At the age of 12, Musk developed a video game program called Blastar, which he later sold for about $500. The game consisted of destroying an alien ship full of weapons of mass destruction.
At 14, like many boys his age, he had an existential crisis: searched for answers in different religions and even in philosophy, but he did not find them. Then he got his hands on a science fiction book that has become the Holy Grail for many young people: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. From this book, he learned something that helped him develop critical thinking: one of the most difficult things in this life is to know what questions should you ask. “Once you ask the question, the answer is relatively simple,” Musk said.
Idea to do the right questions It likely comes from a passage in Adams’ book in which two galactic beings ask a supercomputer called “Deep Thought” what the answer is. The computer asks, “Answer to what?” And beings say to him: “Answer to Life, the Universe, everything.” The computer asks them to think for a while. And in the end, he says that he does not have an answer to the Ultimate Question about Life, the Universe and Everything, because they “do not know how” to ask the right question. “When you know what the question is, you will know the answer‘ the computer tells them. So, Deep Thought promises them that it will create a computer that can ask the right questions.
At the age of 17, Musk left South Africa and went to live in Canada, where he began studying at the University of Queens. He then moved to the United States, where he continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania and received a degree in physics. In 1995, he entered Stanford University to earn his Ph.D. in physics. and discovered the internet. Two days after enrolling, he stopped attending classes and began working on a website that collected data on stores and places, with phone numbers and addresses of interest. It was like a guidebook. It was called Zip2.com and launched in 1996. It provided online services to 180 newspapers in the US. Three years later, Compaq Computer took notice of the company and bought it for $307 million. Musk was entitled to about $22 million. In 1999, he invested half to get rid of x.com, a company that competed with banks to provide secure payments over the Internet. In 2000, he merged it with Peter Thiel’s Confinity and they created PayPal. Years later, in 2003, eBay bought PayPal for $1,500 million and Musk received $165 million.
This is where Musk, known to all of us, began: Spacex, Tesla, SolarCity, The Boring Company, Hyperloop, Twitter… Today the richest man in the world. Or, as some say, he is the richest African American on the planet.
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