Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance: Book Summary and Key Lessons

Date published
May 25, 2021
Last updated
Jun 6, 2021 12:35 PM

1. Dream big — create a grand vision and inspire

Elon's most successful businesses are the products of his aspirations.

Elon was dreaming about space travel since childhood and actively contemplating electric cars during his school years.

He admitted that his earlier companies zip2 and x.com (PayPal), were the stepping stones to something bigger.

SpaceX was created to make space travel accessible to everyone. And also, to get people on Mars.

Tesla was formed to produce the next generation of vehicles - electric cars that are accessible to everyone.

Both companies worked on something nobody has ever done before at such a scale.

People, driven by Elon's vision for Tesla and SpaceX, came to work for these companies looking to create something groundbreaking.

They were willing to sacrifice comfort and personal time to turn that vision into reality.

SpaceX engineers consistently spent 100-hour weeks on the Falcon test sights in the middle of nowhere under the burning sun. During Tesla's Roadster production, engineers worked night and weekend shifts to meet Elon's tight deadlines.

Employees chose to work hard because it was something they wanted. They had this grand vision Musk created, constantly motivating them to move forward.

2. You can learn anything

Elon has an exceptional ability to consume new information fast.

Before getting to SpaceX and Tesla, Musk was never an expert in a rocket or car manufacturing. But if you watch recent Elon interviews, you probably won't find another person so knowledgeable about spaceships and automobiles.

He learns about new things from different sources — books, studies, industry experts. Most importantly, books.

During childhood, Elon was reading 10 hours a day. After school, he spent all the available time in the book store from 2 pm to 6 pm.

At the age of 10, Musk read the handbook on BASIC programming language in a single week. Typically, it would take 5-6 months to complete this book for other readers.

Of course, you may not be able to process new knowledge as quick as he does. But you don't need to be Elon Musk to read books about the things you are passionate about. With enough eagerness to learn, everything is possible.

3. Hard work pays off


Arguably the most outstanding of Elon's talent is his ability to work hard.

80-hour workweeks are a norm for Musk, with 4 days at Tesla and 3 days at SpaceX.

For each company aspect, especially product and growth, he is all around the place, making sure everything is handled right.

Quick facts:

  • Musk personally interviewed everyone out of the first 1000 SpaceX employees — even janitors and technicians.
  • Elon wanted to recruit prominent students from aerospace & engineering universities. He personally called student dorm rooms and invited them to SpaceX (students thought it was a prank.)
  • To see if SpaceX contractors meet the deadlines, Musk checked in on them by personally visiting their facilities late at night.
  • Even during a short vacation with his wife to Europe, he was on the business call late at night with SpaceX engineers.

It is debatable whether such an approach is reasonable for a person's life. In the case of Elon Musk, the results are undeniable.

4. Cross-domain experience is the source of innovation

Truly great business opportunities emerge out of combinations of different industries. SpaceX is a great example.

Until the '00s, the space industry had a significant business challenge. It was too expensive to enter. Space launches to orbit were mainly done by government companies, with costs for one launch being around $200 million.

Considering the required investment, new companies just couldn't compete on the same level. So the industry remained primarily stagnant for the last 40 years.

With SpaceX, Elon chose a different and radical approach.

Using his experience in .com products, he applied a similar product development methodology to build rocket ships. Fixed budgets, aggressive deadlines, and hundreds of product iterations were all part of the plan.

Elon did something that nobody had done before — running a rocket manufacturing company in a startup fashion.

In 6 years with such an approach, from the complete ground zero, SpaceX developed a Falcon rocket that can launch things to orbit for $16 million instead of $200 million.


  • Create a grand vision that will drive your businesses and employees to success.
  • There is no ceiling for learning. Constantly seek new knowledge in things that you are passionate about.
  • Hard work is the cornerstone of extraordinary results. Without putting your time in, you can't expect to become the greatest.
  • Use your knowledge from different industries to identify prominent cross-domain business opportunities.