Elon Musk says he didn't become an entrepreneur in order to be financially successful. He wanted to radically change the world for the better.
In a video recorded on October 2, 2013 at the 36th annual ENCORE Award reception at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, an event honoring Tesla Motors, Musk explains, "When I was in college, I was trying to think what would most affect the future in a positive way."
Musk, whom Inc. named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1997, realized early on that there were five areas he could focus on: sustainable energy, the Internet, "making life multi-planetary," and perhaps artificial intelligence (AI) and rewriting genetics. With the latter two though, he says, "I knew things could go wrong," so he decided not to pursue them.
In 1996, at the age of 24, Musk started his first Internet company with his brother and another partner, Greg Curry. The company, Zip2 Corporation, was an online city guide that provided content to online newspapers such as the The New York Times. Of those lean startup years, Musk recalls, "It wasn't about being wealthy, it was just from the standpoint of wanting to be part of the Internet. I figured if we could make enough just to get by, that'd be OK."
The trio rented a small office in Palo Alto, California--back when rent was affordable--for $450 a month and "we just slept in the office and showered at the YMCA," Musk says. "It was not from the standpoint of what's the best risk and rate of return. It was just, 'These things need to happen; I can try to make them happen.'"