Elon Musk: Overcoming Setbacks and Saving Tesla | Summary and Q&A

December 11, 2015
Stanford eCorner
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Elon Musk: Overcoming Setbacks and Saving Tesla

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In this video, the speaker discusses the parallel between wanting to inspire the world to have a Mars program and the goal of Tesla under Elon Musk's leadership to transition all vehicles to electric. The speaker highlights the ambitious scope of these initiatives and asks how Elon Musk approaches starting with such big goals in mind and then determining the best path to achieve them.

Questions & Answers

Q: What was Elon Musk's mindset when starting SpaceX and Tesla?

When starting SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk believed the probability of success was very low. He did not have a definite expectation of success and thought it was maybe 10% likely. Both companies came close to failing in 2008, with SpaceX experiencing three rocket failures and the Tesla financing round falling apart due to the recession and the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.

Q: What was the turning point for SpaceX and Tesla in 2008?

At the end of 2008, SpaceX had its fourth launch, which was the last launch they had money for, and it was successful. Additionally, Elon Musk personally saved Tesla by closing the financing round on Christmas Eve, with just hours to spare. This act of entrepreneurial zeal and commitment shifted the mentality from fear to greed, leading to widespread support and a change in fortune for Tesla.

Q: How did Elon Musk's personal savings affect the situation with Tesla?

Elon Musk was willing to go net negative personally, risking his entire net worth to save Tesla. His personal investment and commitment to the company when no one else was willing to write a check made a significant difference. This level of dedication and sacrifice is considered a remarkable story in the entrepreneurial community.

Q: How did others respond to Elon Musk's actions to save Tesla?

Others, including the speaker, were amazed and appreciative of Elon Musk's support to save Tesla. They saw his actions as extraordinary and a testament to his entrepreneurial zeal and commitment. Many joined the bandwagon and shifted from a negative perspective to supporting and believing in the success of Tesla.

Q: How does Elon Musk approach starting with big goals in mind and determining the best path to achieve them?

Elon Musk initially starts with a recognition that the probability of success is low. He acknowledges the challenges and uncertainties involved. However, even with this understanding, he takes strategic actions to increase the chances of success. He evaluates the obstacles and looks for solutions that can unlock value and get the project or initiative unstuck. This approach allows him to navigate through the complexities of achieving ambitious goals.


Elon Musk's mindset when starting SpaceX and Tesla was not one of certainty, but rather an understanding that success was unlikely. However, his dedication and willingness to take risks contributed to the turning points for both companies in 2008. His personal commitment to saving Tesla and his strategic approach to problem-solving have been crucial in overcoming challenges and achieving ambitious goals. This video highlights the immense scope of Elon Musk's ambitions and emphasizes the importance of perseverance and determination in the face of obstacles.

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