Are you up for a wild ride through the mind of an rock-star entrepreneur? Give Elon Musk a call and ask him to share his secrets to success. I did just that and the 39-year-old billionaire did not hesitate to give me three lessons he’s learned the hard way. Here they are in his own words.
- Put the product first: “I’d say stay very focused on the quality of the product. People get really wrapped up in all sorts of esoteric notions of how to manage etc., [but] I think people should get much more focused on the product itself – how do you make the product incredibly compelling to a customer – just become maniacally focused on building it better. I think people get distracted from that.”
- Hire slowly: “I think you definitely don’t want to grow too fast. Make sure that every person you hire you really need to hire that person.”
- Fire fast: “One lesson I learned [at PayPal] is to fire people faster. That sounds awful, but I think if somebody is not working out, it’s best to part ways sooner rather than later. It’s a mistake to try too hard to make something work that really couldn’t work.”
While many companies put people and corporate culture first (think Zappos and Google), Elon takes the refreshing view that the mission of the company is to create great products. His efforts have not been about air-hockey tables and free lunches… he is 110 percent focused on building a business and changing the world. Space Exploration, Electric Cars, Solar Power…. Big issues need big solutions and Elon’s not looking to hire anyone that is not going to push as hard and as fast as possible toward a common goal.
But wait. This emphasis on “hire slow and fire fast” can also be a problem, he told me … like when you set your sites on hiring the best aerospace engineers in the world to build rockets at SpaceX. Here’s the downside as he described it:
“The biggest single challenge I have is hiring people. I have an exceptionally high standard for people that get hired, and especially for SpaceX. We really aspire to hire quite literally the best people in the world at their job.
Finding such people is so hard. When we find them, we are generally able to attract them to the company… But the number one issue for me is finding superlatively talented people. I think we’ve been fortunate to find some very, very talented people at SpaceX, but that is always the governor on growth.”
Clearly he’s sticking to his three rules… and it must be working. Elon continues to roll out the shock and awe. Besides now being chief executive at Tesla Motors, Solar City, and SpaceX, Elon will receive the $250,000 Hienlen Prize on June 29, 2011 for his exceptional contribution to space exploration.
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