The best words that describe Elon Musk are probably “serial entrepreneur.” After emigrating from South Africa to Canada and later the US, Musk used his natural, wizard computer talents and instincts to bring to life his visions for how the world would pay for products, the future automobile, solving the world’s energy needs, and exploring the last frontier. This article explores the companies founded by Elon Musk, the visionary, industrialist plutocrat. In fact, his entrepreneurial ventures began at the young age of 12 when he wrote code to develop a space video game, Blastar, which he reportedly sold for $500.

A Timeline

Just as he began attending Stanford University to pursue a Ph.D. in physics, Musk started his first company, Zip2 Corporation, an online city guide that provided content from online versions of large, legacy newspapers. After four years, Zip2 was sold to Compaq Computers [now owned by Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)] in a deal that earned Musk $22 million.

Having a true entrepreneurial spirit, Musk did not rest on his laurels, and he started X.com with the proceeds from Zip2. X.com, an online bank, bought a company called Confinity that owned a global payment system, PayPal. Musk renamed the entire company PayPal and re-focused on the payment system. Three years after starting X.com, PayPal was sold to eBay Inc. (EBAY) and Musk took home approximately $165 million worth of eBay’s stock. PayPal is perhaps Musk’s greatest legacy and crowning achievement, but he did not pause to enjoy his success. He started three additional ventures within a six-year span.

The first, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Musk started in 2002. He still holds a two-thirds stake in the company that is developing rocket technology to launch space vehicles. SpaceX has contracted with NASA to transport cargo and possibly to and from the International Space Station, but Musk’s ultimate goal is exploration of Mars.

The second, Tesla Motors, Inc. (TSLA), is garnering the most press these days. Musk owns approximately 30% of this all-electric car company, which he co-founded in 2004, and he continues to put his mark on the design and architecture of the cars. The company has designed and manufactured several versions of electric cars and today is focusing on a more economical version. Shareholders have been rewarded, especially if they have been holding the stock since it went public in June 2010 at $17 per share, as it is now trading at over $250 per share.

The final, in 2006, is SolarCity, a photovoltaics (solar panel) design and installation company, co-founded with his cousin. Musk owns one quarter of the company.

The Bottom Line

Elon Musk embodies the entrepreneurial spirit. He is not afraid to implement his vision for many obscure industries and stake his personal wealth on these ventures. Being the largest financial stakeholder for most of his ventures, particularly in the nascent stages, Musk is tireless in his pursuits. 

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