When Elon Musk gives advice, why should you care? Well, for starters he is the business and tech pioneer who co-founded PayPal during the dotcom boom, sold it to Google for $ 1.5 Billion, and then went on to found some of the most innovative companies today such as Tesla, Space X and SolarCity. So Elon Musk advice on topics such as entrepreneurship, innovation and beating the odds is about as valuable as it gets.
Which is why I took the time to go through interviews and public appearances of him and condensed his advice that he gave at numerous occasions into 5 rules of success. Use those if you feel crazy enough to start your own company….
Elon Musk advice 1: work super hard
Elon Musk is known for his crazy work ethic. He is a firm believer in gaining a competitive advantage simply through putting in more hours. He often mentions that the person who is working 80 hours a week will get twice as much done as the person who only works 40 hours. Musk also talked about when he started his first company with his brother, the website would be live during the day and he would code during the night – every day, seven days a week. He would sleep in the office (since he couldn’t afford an apartment) and showered in the nearby YMCA. If you want to succeed, this is the kind of dedication you have to be willing to put in.
Elon Musk advice 2: love what you do
To be able to work that hard, you have to love what you do. You will not be able to commit so fully if you are not passionate about what you’re doing. An obsessive love for your project has to be the foundation for everything else. It has to be something that you cant stop thinking about, even if you’re not working. It has to be something that keeps you up at night. And you have to be unshakeable in your will to make that dream a reality. Elon Musk says: “If you need inspiring words, don’t do it!”.
Elon Musk advice 3: signal over noise
Musk is a firm believer in creating the best product possible. He says that this is what he focusses all his energy and resources on. Whenever he has to make a decision, he asks himself “Does that make the product better?” and if the answer is no, he doesn’t do it. That is why Tesla for example doesn’t spend money on advertising. Elon Musk is convinced that developing an excellent product always has highest priority and is able to cut through the “noise” of competitors or inferior products. For that however, the offered product has to be a lot better than everything else out there. It can’t just be a little better, otherwise customers will stick to what they already know and feel comfortable with.
Elon Musk advice 4: Listen to criticism
Constructive and well thought-out criticism is the most helpful source for improvement, says Elon Musk. If you can get this kind of feedback and are willing to apply it, it is pure gold. And the people who can give valuable feedback like this are usually the ones closest to you like family and friends. The problem however, he says, is that especially the people close to you are afraid to hurt your feelings. So in order to make sure that they don’t hold back, you have to create an environment of trust and openness in your life as well as your company. This way you can encourage people to point out flaws and ways for improvement to you. As Elon Musk puts it: “Assume that you’re wrong. Your entire job is to be less wrong.”
Elon Musk advice 5: Be bold
This piece of advice is taken from a commencement speech that Musk gave in front of graduate students from USC in 2014, but I think it applies to people of all age: There will never be a better time to do something bold. Your obligations will only increase in the future. You might have a family and kids down the road, so then taking risks becomes exponentially more dangerous. That’s why you have to be willing to take risks when you’re young and and have nothing to lose. (More on why you should ignore the downside here). Expect failure (Elon Musk is very aware that only 10% of all startups succeed), but take the risk anyway. We live in extremely comfortable times, so even if you do fail, you won’t starve.