Elon musk, founder of X.com (which later became PayPal), Space X, Tesla Motors, the Boring Company, and probably several more companies after this blog post is published, is a master of building huge, industry disrupting businesses. And today, we’re going to use Elon Musk and tap into his brain a little bit to help you start your first business, too.
By the end of this post, you’re not going to have money magically appear in your pockets, but you will understand how Elon thinks, and how you can begin to think about problems and solutions just like he does. Then, we can work toward growing your income.
First, we must learn about the 3 interwoven principles that Elon lives and breaths by. Then, we’ll go over a simple 3-step process, with those principles in mind, to help you get started.
Let’s get into it.
Three Principles That Elon Musk Uses
To start, I want to ask you: “What’s the absolute worst thing you could ever tell yourself when you’re trying to solve a problem of any kind and start a business?”
Do you think Elon started with “that’s impossible” when he thought about building EV cars that are actually fast and have great range? Or when he’s thinking about colonizing mars or building tunnels underground or selling a flamethrower to raise money?
To Elon, and this is where we enter principle #1:
Nothing is impossible, at least not unless physics says so.
I remember when I started my business back in 2008. I was presented with the opportunity to write a book to sell study material to architects passing an exam. Any guess as to what I was telling myself at the time?
And of course, I used confirmation bias to validate that.
My reasons were:
- I never wrote a book before.
- I never went to business school or sold anything like that before.
- I wasn’t qualified to write a study guide.
- No one was going to read my book.
- I wasn’t meant to be an entrepreneur because I went to school for architecture.
Can you relate? Do you search for any excuse in the book to counter the very same ideas that you were initially excited about in the first place?
“That’s impossible” was a false statement. It just felt impossible because I’d never done it before, but not knowing what to do is completely different than something being impossible. If you believe those two things are the same – well – I’m sorry, but you’re screwed.
One thing that really helped me was connecting with other new entrepreneurs who had done it before me. That alone proved that this wasn’t impossible – someone else had done it once before, and to connect with those people and even get help or mentorship from them was huge.
When things seem impossible, try to think about how you might be able to prove that it's impossible. Is it REALLY? You want to find the truth behind that statement. IS it actually true, or is this just a story you’re telling yourself?
Elon is all about finding the fundamental truths behind anything, which takes us to principle #2, a physics-based approach to creating better solutions to problems, and that’s finding FIRST PRINCIPLES.
Elon talks about this all of the time. Here he is during a recent interview talking about the idea of a first principles approach:
Now, I’m not building rockets, but I did build (along with my partner) a physical product in the video space and we used a first principles approach, and a lot of research, to come up with a design that worked, and a business that launched quite well back in February 2019.
Here’s how it went down.
Problem: Holding a camera for vlogging and Being able to put it down for resting or filming on a table. This wasn’t easy to do.
The solution that most vloggers were using when we were tackling this problem was a popular flexible tripod, which was originally made flexible to wrap around trees and poles and get some really amazing shots with from angles you couldn’t get with anything else. Everyone had this for vlogging, so it just became the way things were.
So, we used first principles to see what the fundamental truths were behind the solution, and then build back up from there.
In reality, we needed it to, at the fundamental level, hold a camera up on a table. Did it have to be a tripod? There were other solutions potentially, like a monopod, or a snake looking thing, however tripods are tripods for a reason, they’re stable and strong in configuration, and they need to be because cameras are not small anymore. Ok, so we have the tripod configuration.
At the fundamental level, again, what did it need to do? It needs to hold the camera. Of course. However, we saw that all of these other solutions had a ball mount with a plate adapter, which added a ton of weight and for vloggers who were traveling and on the go, we questioned whether or not those things were needed. And so, we designed our solution without them. We just wanted this thing to be able to hold the camera steady and strong, that was the requirement.
At the fundamental level, we questions – do the legs need to bend? Is the flexibility of the legs a requirement for the end user, and in our research, we actually found out that the answer was, well – no. So we designed them rigid, so we could add strength and stability, because a big issue that was happening with the flexible tripods was that they were falling over, a lot, and over time the strength would decrease.
And then once again, at the fundamental first principle level, a vlogger would need to hold this in a way that feels good and sturdy and comfortable. The current solution didn’t even do that, it was bulky in the hands, and heavy and the jointed balls didn’t provide a great feel. So, we made grips, and allowed the rigid, strong legs to fold together to create that grip, and thus, the SwitchPod was born.
It’s not anything crazy, it's a device that does exactly what it needs to do, and that’s exactly why it did so well.
In February of 2019, our Kickstarter campaign launched, and we raised over $418,000 dollars with over 4000 backers supporting the project, and because it was simple, and had fewer moving pieces, we were actually able to manufacture it and ship it to our backers by end of October the same year. And now, it’s selling on Amazon, B&H Photo and other online retailers, and we’re in conversation with other big box retailers right now, too. And recently, we added a second product, a ball-head, for those who wanted the additional flexibility, which, as we knew in our research, not everyone needed, and that’s been doing well for us, too.
When you can break things down into first principles, you actually make things so much easier. As Elon Says:
This is how Elon had brought down the cost of what he’s doing, and how he has sped up the manufacturing process for his Teslas, and his rockets, and soon, his Starships, too. Rockets used to cost $300-400 million, and Space X's Falcon 9 may cost below $60 million.
Keep it simple.
And finally, this brings us to our 3rd and final principle, the one that helps us go from concept, to reality, and that’s the idea of first results execution.
Before Tesla, Electric Vehicles were considered dead on arrival. Any attempt in the past to make EVs were not well received at all – they were all slow, they were ugly, and the range wasn’t even worth talking about. The hybrids, like the Toyota Prius’s, were the answer to high gas prices, and environmentally safe.
Elon, however, had a plan, and it was a multi-stage plan that was going to take some time. Building a solid business takes time, but you can speed up the process if you have a plan, and you follow the same principle. Here’s What Elon wrote on Tesla’s website on August 2, 2006 in an article titled The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan:
So, in short, the master plan is:
- Build sports car
- Use that money to build an affordable car
- Use that money to build an even more affordable car
- While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options
The sports car was the Tesla Roadster, the money for that would then be used to later build the Model S and the Model X luxury sedan and crossover, and that money would then be used for the more affordable Model 3 and Model Y.
That first step though, is really important.
The big dream was to build the affordable car (because that would get into more people’s homes and help with sustainable energy) however he couldn’t start there. He needed to provide a first result, and something that proved that this was a plan that would work (and provide a learning process, too) right from the start. If he couldn’t build a fast car that looked great with decent range, it would have all been a wash.
So he built the Tesla Roadster (on a Lotus body to start, hehe) but it was all-electric, and it was FAST, and it blew people away. Never before had anyone seen anything like that in an electric vehicle. And so, the plan began.
If you’re starting a business, I’d recommend that after you create your plan, after you come up with a potential solution to a problem you’re trying to solve, get one person, or one client, one result, first.
Prove that it can be done. It’s not scalable. It’s going to take more time and it’s going to take more work, but through that process of getting to the first result, you’re going to:
- #1 – prove that the solution works (or if it doesn’t, then you can see what went wrong and you will have limited the failure possibilities)
- #2 – understand how the process works (which could even validate if you want to do this in the first place)
- #3 – get you some funds initially to start with
- #4 – offer you a testimonial, a proven case study of success, that you provided, before you go on and sell this thing to more people
- #5 – you will prove to YOURSELF that you can do this, that this thing, is NO LONGER IMPOSSIBLE, which, and trust me on this one, will change your mindset, and all stories you tell yourself in the future about what’s possible for you, and that confidence will shine and your future customers will trust you more.
All great things happen after you get that first result.
So, let’s recap the 3 principles really quick:
- Nothing is impossible
- First Principles Thinking
- First Results Execution
So how might you take this and turn it into a business? It’s actually quite simple:
- Step #1: Find a problem.
- Step #2: Use first principle thinking to determine the fundamental truths about the problem and come up with a better solution than what exists.
- Step #3: Work hard to get one client one result.
If you reach any point of failure, go back to the previous successful step, and try again.
Rinse and repeat.
If you'd like to learn more about my process, which parallel's Elon's thinking quite a bit here in regards to starting a business, check out my book, Will It Fly.
Cheers, and you're amazing. Thank you for reading this all the way through.