Who made electric cars sexy and wants to die on Mars? It's the easiest of pub quiz questions: Elon Musk, is who. But the man famous for building Teslas and recycling rockets is a man of many more interests, and trades – as shown by this graph, a map of where he's put his money over the years. Welcome to Muskworld.
With a fortune in excess of $20 billion and as a pioneer in various fields, Musk is consistently ranked as one of the world's richest and most influential people. Both the money and the influence are self-made.
Born in South Africa in 1971, Musk moved to North America in 1988. He studied in Canada and the U.S., eventually acquiring U.S. citizenship in 2002. By that time, he had already founded his first companies and become a multimillionaire.
As the map shows, SpaceX and Tesla – in that order – are his main investments. But Musk is about more than aerospace and (electric) transport ; as the map legend indicates, his interests include artificial intelligence (AI), e-commerce, software, energy and medical/biotech. For more on each company, see the timeline below the map.
- In 1995, Elon, then 24, dropped out of Stanford University's graduate school for physics to start Zip2 with his brother Kimbal. Zip2 was an internet 'city guide' for newspapers. By linking business directories to online maps, Zip2 created the first online Yellow Pages. The company had contracts with the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, among others. In 1999, Zip2 was acquired by Compaq for $307 million, the highest amount paid for an internet company until then. Musk had invested $28,000 in Zip2. For his 7% share of the company, he got $22 million.
- In 1999, with $10 million from the Zip2 sale, Musk co-founded X.com, an online payment processing platform that grew into PayPal. eBay acquired PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion in stock, of which $165 million went to Musk, who owned 11.7% of the company's shares.
- In 2002, Musk poured $1 million into Everdream, founded three years earlier by his cousin Lyndon Rive. Everdream was a provider of 'Software as a Service' (SaaS) that enabled its customers and partners to easily and affordably manage PCs from anywhere in the world. In 2007, Everdream was acquired by Dell for an undisclosed sum.
- In that same year, Musk spent $100 million on founding aerospace company Space Exploration Technologies – SpaceX for short. One of the goals of SpaceX is to making space launch rockets re-usable, which would reduce the cost of launches by a factor 10. By 2016, SpaceX had re-landed its first rocket. Another goal is to take humans to Mars, by 2024. Musk has stated that he wants to establish a colony with a population of 80,000 on the Red Planet by 2040. SpaceX is now worth around $21 billion.
- Tesla was founded in 2003, but Musk came on board only a year later, investing $70 million. He became the company's CEO in 2008. Tesla not only sells its own electric cars, but also supplies electric powertrains for electric models by Smart, Mercedes and Toyota.
- In 2005, Musk invested $1 million in Game Trust, an online gaming app developer founded by his former roommate Adeo Ressi. In 2006, Musk was voted off the company's board of directors. Ressi sold Game Trust to RealNetworks in 2007.
- And in 2006, he invested $35 million in SolarCity, co-founded by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive. By 2013, it was the second-largest provider of solar power systems in the U.S. Tesla acquired the company in 2016.
- Launched in 2007, Mahalo (Hawaiian for 'thank you') was a web directory and knowledge exchange that distinguished itself from Google by tracking and building handcrafted result sets. Elon Musk was one of the lead investors, spending $2 million. By 2014, the company's focus shifted to an app called 'Inside', which highlights and summarises the top news stories, and Mahalo has since shut down.
- Also in 2007, Musk forked out $2.5 million in funding for mobile and social ad targeting startup OneRiot, a company founded a year earlier and headed by his brother Kimbal, who remained its CEO until 2011, when the company was purchased by Walmart-Labs for an undisclosed sum.
- In 2010, Musk poured $10 million into Halcyon Molecular. The whole-genome sequencing startup was founded by brothers William and Michael Andregg in 2008. Its aim to develop 'technology that could sequence 100% complete human genome in less than 10 minutes for less than $100' proved too ambitious. The company folded in 2014.
- Founded in 2010, British AI company DeepMind was funded by various venture capitalists, including Elon Musk (to the tune of $1.65 million). It was acquired by Google in 2014 for $500 million. DeepMind creates neural networks that learn how to play games in a way similar to humans. In 2015, its AlphaGo programme was the first to beat a human professional player at the game of go.
- Stripe, founded in 2010 by Irish entrepreneurs John and Patrick Collison, is an online payment company that allows web developers to integrate payment processing into their websites without a merchant account. In 2011, Musk invested $10.2 million into the company.
- AI company Vicarious, launched in 2011 by D. Scott Phoenix and Dileep George, aims to build software that can think and learn like a human. Musk was one of the participants in the company's Series B round of funding in 2013, providing $2 million.
- In 2013, Musk revealed his plans for a 'hyperloop': a system of intercity transport by shooting passenger capsules at speeds of up to 760 mph (1,200 km/h) through low-pressure tubes. Later that year, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (Hyperloop TT) was set up with the aim of developing an actual transportation system based on the hyperloop concept. Musk invested just $15,000 of his money in Hyperloop TT, which was funded mainly via crowd collaboration (a mix of crowdsourcing and team collaboration).
- NeuroVigil has been around since 2007, but Musk invested $500,000 in the neurodiagnostics company only in 2015. NeuroVigil focuses on automating the analysis of EEG (i.e. brain signal) data. Its products (including the iBrain, the world's first mobile brain monitor) help pharma companies conduct outpatient clinical trials, allows ALS patients to communicate better and aids NASA in tracking the astronauts on the International Space Station.
Although this map gives an interesting insight into Muskworld, it is by no means complete. It doesn't list smaller investments, such as Musk's stake in Surrey Satellite Technology, nor later ones, such as in brain-computer interface producer Neuralink in 2016, nor his financial investment in (admittedly non-profit) organisations such as the Tesla Science Center, the Future of Life Institute, the X Prize Foundation, OpenAI, and his own Musk Foundation.
Strange Maps #882
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.