Elon Musk is revered for his extraordinary genius and vision. Some refer to him as 'Iron Man.' Not only are there rumors that Stark was modeled after him, but Musk even had a cameo in Iron Man 2.
Unlike Tony Stark, however, Musk is much more grounded in reality.
It's no secret that SpaceX and Tesla are part of Musk's vision for a better world. Despite his many successes and his influence over our future, he remains humble.
Preparing for a Crash Landing
Musk didn't think Tesla or SpaceX would succeed. "At the beginning, I thought Tesla and SpaceX maybe had a 10 percent chance at success," he confessed in a BBC interview.
"I just accepted that actually, probably, I would just lose everything, but that maybe we could make some progress, if maybe we could just move the ball forward. Even if we died, maybe another company could pick up the baton and keep moving it forward, so that we could still do some good" he shared.
Musk accompanies his advice with warnings, because start-ups aren't easy. When asked to give advice to young entrepreneurs who want to be like him, he responded, "It's not as fun being me as you'd think...I'm not sure I want to be me."
To achieve success, he follows these principles:
1. Ignore the Haters.
According to his dad, Elon was relentlessly bullied at a young age, and was once even beaten beyond recognition. Regardless of the social difficulties, Musk always focused on soaking up as much knowledge as possible and creating ideas to change the world. He didn't let the haters and cynics discourage him.
2. Pinch Every Penny.
In the second half of an interview at Wharton, Musk told of the difficulties as a young entrepreneur. "My brother and I rented a small office. We slept on a couch and showered at the YMCA."
Musk emphasized the importance of pinching pennies when first starting out. "When you are first starting out you really need to make your burn-rate ridiculously tiny. Don't spend more than you are sure you have," he said. He lived on $1 a day for food at one point.
3. Avoid Denial and Correct Mistakes Quickly.
In an interview for Chinese television, Musk said, "When you're building something new, there are going to be mistakes and it's important to recognize those mistakes, acknowledge them, and take corrective action. The success of a company is very much more about, 'how quick are you to fix the mistakes?' Not, 'Will you make mistakes?'"
He continued, "If you see the difference between a start-up that is successful and one that is not, it is because the successful one recognized the mistakes and fixed them very quickly, and the unsuccessful one tried to deny that the mistakes exist."
4. Have a High Pain Threshold.
"[When] starting a company, I would advise people to have a very high pain tolerance," says Musk.
To illustrate this point, Musk has repeatedly quoted a friend of his, who he agrees with, saying, "starting a company is like staring into the abyss and eating glass."
The fact that you have to focus on the problems the company needs you to work on, not the problems you want to focus on, can be like eating glass, Musk says. He relates staring into the abyss to the fact that most start-ups inevitably fail. "It can be very, very painful for many years."
The knowledge that the odds are against you can be anxiety-inducing, but "if you accept the probabilities, then that diminishes the fear," says Musk.
5. Self-Evaluate Regularly.
"Be focused on something that you're confident will have high value to someone else, and just [be] really rigorous in making that assessment. Because...a natural human tendency is wishful thinking, so a challenge for entrepreneurs is to say what's the difference between really believing in your ideals and sticking to them, versus pursuing some unrealistic dream that doesn't actually have merit.
That is a really difficult thing - can you tell the difference between those two things? So you have to be very rigorous in your self-analysis," said Musk in his commencement speech at USC Marshall School of Business.
6. Enlist a Great Team and Celebrate Them.
When talking about saving Tesla from death, Musk said, "There's certain things that I really believe need to happen, and I was able to convince a lot of great people to join me in trying to solve those problems. And a lot of the time people ascribe to me things where the credit is really due to a much bigger team."
He continues, "If you can get a group of really talented people together and unite them around a challenge, and have them work together to the best of their abilities, then a company will achieve great things," advises Musk.
In addition to these lessons, we must remember that difficult beginnings don't define us. Every day presents an opportunity to evolve. If we are to successfully execute our vision, we must always believe that the best is yet to come.