Elon Musk & The Toll

"What Does It Take To Become A Billionaire?"

Full disclosure: I'm not a billionaire

Elon Musk has been a competitor of mine. We have competed with each other in the clean energy market. He has holdings in SolarCity and I respect and admire him. He is a billionaire, today. Justine Musk, his first wife, also knows several things about what hard work is and how wealth can be accumulated. Her ex-husband is also the founder of PayPal and the Chief Executive Officer of SpaceX and Tesla. He has an estimated net worth of over twelve billion dollars.

Recently, Justine Musk responded to a Quora thread that asked about whether a person could become a billionaire if he or she is determined and if all necessary work is put in.

She answered with a NO. She pointed out that this particular Quora reader was not asking the correct question. She went on to say that determination is not sufficient. She mentioned that determination should correlate with the desperation of running naked in waters that are infested by sharks. She asked whether a person would remain determined if he or she was washed up on a deserted island and he or she was bloody, ragged and disoriented and beaten into staring into the distant horizon while waiting hopelessly for signs of rescue.

She went on to offer a little advice. She asked the reader to shift the focus away from the goal of earning billions and become immersed and curious about what the world actually needs and wants. She asked entrepreneurs to ask themselves about their potential and what they could offer to the world. What they offered had to be compelling and unique. It had to be something that could not be replaced by any other human or machine. Your offerings should be such that they cannot be outsourced and no one should be able to steal what you have to offer and make it better and push you aside into oblivion. Such a potential has to be developed. One key thing has to be selected and then perfected so that an entrepreneur becomes a master of it. Then, a second thing has to be chosen and that too has to be mastered. When an entrepreneur becomes a master of two worlds such as business and engineering, he or she could bring about a blend in a manner that introduces compelling ideas; these ideas could then be multiplied and they could reach levels that have never been attempted before. They will help create a kind of competitive advantage and the entrepreneur could then move between these worlds, speak both the languages and connect in order to project fresh and creative insight which changes the entire scenario of your industry.

If you want to become a billionaire, do not expect the world to throw a billion dollars at you just because you want it or you have worked so hard for it and because you feel you deserve it. The truth is the world is not bothered about what you deserve and about what you want. The world will always give you money in exchange for something that you offer and which the world perceives to be of some equal or a greater value than what they need; it has to be something that can change a cultural aspect. It could be reworking a familiar tale and introducing a new story that changes the very way people think about a particular niche category of business so that they can use it in everyday life. There are no road maps that can be provided in order to do this and there can be no blueprints. Many people may come forward and give their advice. Most of it will be trash and some of it may be good. You will have to work out what may apply and what to toss aside as you are always travelling with different curves on your road. You have to remember you are doing this alone until you build up the necessary credibility and have the charisma to draw in the talent you require giving you support throughout your business journey and on your path of becoming a billionaire. So have courage and move forward. You will need this courage and loads of luck along with it.

Blackberry, Research In Motion & The Tragedy


If you know about RIM then you know about the beginning of Apple's iPhone. 

The risk that an entrepreneur has to take when he or she takes the decision to launch a business is not always the biggest one. Much against the expectations of a typical `start up’ tale, the biggest kind of risk will always be faced when the business is in a developmental stage down the road when the entrepreneur has to make bets in involving larger strategies.

Risks connected with strategy are essential as entrepreneurs are constantly forced to take charge of landscapes that are continuously changing. These landscapes could involve policy, legislation, competition, technology and general management or financial issues. These are all the crucial factors that force entrepreneurs to change their course of strategies.

`Losing the Signal’ by Silcoff and McNish reminds people of the continuous risks that have been taken by the co-founders of RIM. In its nascent stage, Blackberry was considered as an innovative kind of technology which managed to change the entire course of how communication was done globally; in the beginning, it was a business-oriented device but it went on to become a daily necessity for individuals when RIM opened its doors to Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone.

The risks taken at RIM were huge and it is not easy to explain the scope of those risks though I consider myself as a big risk taker. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsille, co-founders of RIM had the long term vision when they opened the risky flood gates for a market that could be highly scalable. The unfortunate part of that vision and their story was their eventual inability to get their company mobilized so that it could keep up pace with the very same industry they helped create. It so happened that their competitors started to leapfrog their very technology and they were able to strike better deals with their vendors while leveraging strong capabilities as far as software was concerned. The end result was that they ate into the market share of RIM.

This chain of events is similar to other types of industries and it includes the clean energy market where the growth rate of the market is growing fast. It is not easy to comprehend such a phenomenon. Whoever has taken the first place is finding the going tough as it does not seem to be the favorable position. This is because everyone else is hell bent on catching up and pulling that position down. Therefore, the market leader has to be equipped with keeping up with technology and innovations and indulge in larger strategy risks in order to maintain its market share.

You are going to enjoy this tale if you like the risk taking part of your business and if it also thrills you. This is going to be a good source of inspiration for all those entrepreneurs who badly need a dose of a bolder perspective on how to take business risks.

John D. Rockefeller & The Early Days

To reference Rockefeller, the climate-change-demon-himself, is a unique paradox; to some, he may come across as some kind of an Anti-Christ personality. Can I talk about a subject such as clean energy and not link its origins to one of the demons of modernization. William Blake had compared the first factories to dark satanic machines and mills; and similarly, you cannot ignore the oil devils when you want to speak about clean energy. The fact of the matter is that clean energy in the modern day has plenty of similarities with the early struggles of a manufacturer like the Standard Oil Company.

We need to have a clear perspective on business history if we want to discuss intelligently. I have a passion for this subject. My motivation to discuss a subject such as clean energy is derived from unique personalities who have gone before me and who have dealt with the volatility of the energy market in more challenging circumstances than what I have gone through. One personality that comes to my mind before anyone else is John Davidson Rockefeller.

Let me take you as far back as 1866. This is the time when John Rockefeller launched his oil business. It was the post civil war time and a turbulent new nation was evolving. Many business entrepreneurs took advantage of this period and they turned adversity into an opportunity and made it prosperous for themselves. Industrial titans entered the railroad and oil business during this time.

When people think about John D. Rockefeller and speak about him, they only connect with the billions he made or for his philanthropic ideas. No one talks about the obstacles he faced, the setbacks he encountered and the daily stress he had to go through during his initial growing years. They fail to realize that the growth was not unique to John Rockefeller; it applied to the entire oil market then.

During this period in history, oil companies did not have the luxury of floating in cash as you would find it in today’s situation. These companies never had the advantage of earning predictable income and barring few cases, they never had strong entrepreneurial personalities like Rockefeller to support them. Several companies, during these times, had to borrow heavily and even turned bankrupt on frequent basis. Some of them had to create demand for their own products by thinking of promotions such as selling their oil lanterns.

The largest companies in the clean energy market today such as Sunedison have faced bankruptcy along with many others before it. When you read the remainder of this book, you will come to know that entrepreneurial sharks exist even today.

Coming back to the role played by Rockefeller in his age as an entrepreneur, he was pressurized when he faced political pushback and situations of bribery and policy infringements. This may have been due to the fact that the oil market was in its early stage of growth and it was not fully developed. The government was not able to cope with managing the oil empire that was growing at a slow rate.

Flash back to the clean energy market! It is in the same boat as Rockefeller found himself in 1866. A good example could be derived from any of the hundred utility-based attempts to close solar-based markets.

As the oil industry evolved, it became clear that it was Rockefeller who made all the gutsy moves among all the giants of his time. He never shirked from taking the dangerous risks and always continually doubled down by smartly reinvesting the profits he made in rebuilding and one of the results that you have in front of you today is Exxon Mobile. What I appreciate about Rockefeller and how I link him to the clean energy market is this personality’s ability to evolve a business model. He simply grew from a basic partnership concern in oil production to become an oil and shipping giant and expanded his business to the fullest potential of horizontal integration. He not only managed an empire; he also went on to build a monopoly and it was the same kind of monopoly that the clean energy industry is hell bent on breaking down. I cannot give a better example of how this irony thickens today!

Ellen Degeneres & Honesty

 I didn’t know much about Ellen Degeneres - short of the fact that she had a talk show host and was an advocate for the LGBT community.  But, last night, on a business trip to San Francisco, I had a free evening - to make the most of life, I typically try to do something unique wherever I am - go for a hike, try out an interesting restaurant or see an event.  Last night, was Ellen Degeneres. She was doing a stand-up for the first time in more than a decade. I booked a ticket and went to the show.  The first thing I noticed was her following.  Her fans were so energetic and excited about the event. It was amazing! I’ve been to my fair share of concerts & sporting events - this was like nothing I’d ever seen before. People were cheering and enthusiastically reaching out to say hello to another - it was an amazing feel good vibe.  During her stand up, what caught me by surprise was her opens about her struggle.  Back in the day, after she disclosed her sexual orientation, she shared what happened: “People who loved me, hated me” and she lost her job and couldn’t et back on TV for years.  It was simply remarkable the way she explained it - in hindsight, it was a an important piece of her journey because, in her own words, “I found out how strong I really was.”  For me, this is everyone’s journey - particularly that of an entrepreneur - or anyone who ventures out to create their own path.  I see Ellen as the super star that she is - truly remarkable!