From Tesla to Twitter: A Look at Elon Musk’s Diverse Business Empire and Debates

A-Look-at-Elon-Musk's-Diverse-Business-Empire-and-Debates

In the annals of tech lore, few figures loom as large or as paradoxically as Elon Musk. His portfolio reads like a futurist’s fantasy: rockets, electric cars, brain implants and even a venture into social media. Musk is famous not just for his successes, like co-founding PayPal or driving the rise of SpaceX and Tesla, but also for his knack for creating controversies, especially on platforms such as X—previously known as Twitter. Delve into the labyrinth of Musk’s world, where success stories often intertwine with allegations of discrimination and whispers of turbulent business journeys. Let’s embark on a journey through Musk’s storied ventures—the groundbreaking, the revolutionary and the contentious.

Tesla

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While many assume that Tesla is Musk’s creation, the electric car giant was actually founded in July 2003 by a team of Silicon Valley engineers. However, a year later, Musk played a crucial role in propelling Tesla off the ground with his significant initial investment of US$6.3 million. His vision aligned with the company’s ambitious business goal—to popularize electric vehicles (EVs) with the creation of a high-end, high-performance sports car.

In 2008, Musk steered the ship as Tesla’s CEO, ushering in an age of relentless innovation. From the pioneering Roadster to the latest marvels like the Model S, Model 3, Model X and Model Y, Tesla consistently pushed boundaries. In 2017, they took it a notch higher, unveiling a revamped Roadster, touted as the world’s fastest car. This marvel, according to Musk, boasted a staggering 630-mile range on a single charge with its 200 kWh battery, tailored for highway drives.

Musk’s influence and forward-thinking approach have shaped Tesla’s trajectory, turning it into a trailblazing force within the electric vehicle market. A testament to this was in October 2021 when its market value soared past US$1 trillion. Astonishingly, this eclipsed the combined worth of automotive giants like Toyota, Volkswagen, Daimler, Ford and General Motors.

SpaceX

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Musk’s ambitions didn’t stop at terra firma. Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, stands as a beacon in the aerospace and space transportation arena. The company has made significant strides in the global launch industry, offering cost-effective launch services that outperform many competitors. With a commendable 648 orbital launches in Q2 of 2023 alone, SpaceX’s achievements in space technology are undeniable. 

As a testament to its prowess, in 2012, this company achieved a major milestone by becoming the first private entity to deliver cargo to the ISS with its Dragon spacecraft. The years that followed saw a series of unprecedented achievements: the Falcon 9 rocket’s self-landing ability, the unveiling of the powerhouse Falcon Heavy and the 2020 launch of Crew Dragon—making history as the first private crewed spacecraft to rendezvous with the ISS.

SpaceX has also become one of the world’s most valuable private companies, with a remarkable valuation of almost US$150 billion as of July 2023. The company’s ultimate aspirations encompass reaching Mars and extending beyond, with the vision of establishing a city on the red planet and enabling human transportation between celestial bodies.

Neuralink

Image courtesy of Neuralink on X

Emerging from the minds of Elon Musk and a group of innovative engineers in 2016, Neuralink is no ordinary startup. Venturing into the realm of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), the company, which was valued at US$5 billion as of June 2023, has been working on a chip, about the size of a coin, with the potential to be a game-changer for people with disabilities. This chip, intended to be embedded within the skull, could help patients recover lost mobility and communication skills and might even bridge the gap between the brain and computers, restoring vision.

Neuralink’s approach is not only about the chip; it’s reimagining the implantation process. A specially designed robot, often likened to a “neural sewing machine”, is in the works to ensure the implantation is precise and efficient.

Yet, for all its promise, Neuralink hasn’t been without controversy. Allegations about their research methods have cast a shadow over the startup’s advancements. A report by Reuters suggests that, since 2018, Neuralink’s testing has been linked to the unfortunate deaths of roughly 1,500 animals, including a sizable number of sheep, pigs and monkeys. Inside sources claim that Musk’s push for faster results may have accelerated animal testing, sometimes with tragic outcomes. These revelations have sparked outrage among animal rights advocates and ethical researchers, leading to calls for official probes into potential animal maltreatment.

The Boring Company

The Las Vegas Convention Center Loop
Image courtesy of The Boring Company

Frustration from hours lost in traffic jams led Elon Musk to conceive The Boring Company, an infrastructure and tunnel construction company, in 2016. Rather than a mere vent of aggravation, this idea morphed into an innovative enterprise focusing on next-gen tunneling technologies. Musk envisaged a multi-layered urban network of tunnels, with an aim to reshape city travel. Picture this: Underground highways, facilitating swift, autonomous journeys and bypassing those snail-paced surface roads.

Flash forward to 2019, and we find The Boring Company digging its first major tunnel right under the Las Vegas Convention Center. This was Musk’s answer to the notorious city traffic—a subterranean transportation solution utilizing Teslas. And by 2021, the tunnel was operational. Yet, things weren’t all rosy. 

During the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), arguably the world’s premier tech event, the company faced unexpected challenges. A tunnel designed for 70 cars was packed with 90. Thanks to a single driver’s mistake, what was meant to be a fluid system faced a standstill. The scenario got tense, with some on Twitter expressing fears of being trapped underground and concerns over air circulation. 

A problematic episode for sure, but not enough to curb the company’s momentum. By April 2022, investors were still on board, pouring in US$675 million and catapulting The Boring Company to a valuation of a whopping US$5.7 billion.

Twitter to X

The logo of Twitter before rebranded as X
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Elon Musk’s foray into Twitter is a tale of audacity and unexpected turns. When he acquired the microblogging titan in October 2022 for an eye-watering US$44 billion, the tech world waited with bated breath. Briefly donning the CEO hat, Musk reimagined Twitter, introducing longer tweet character limits (i.e. 25,000 characters) and, much to users’ delight, an edit button. 

Yet, his tenure was not without controversy. Features like monetizing the coveted blue checkmark and imposing limitations on tweet consumption raised eyebrows. An even more jolting decision was the sudden termination of nearly half the Twitter staff through emails two weeks after he bought the platform. But in a surprising reversal, Musk soon extended offers to many of the dismissed employees, inviting them to return.

Despite Musk’s Midas touch in sectors ranging from automotive to space exploration, his efforts at Twitter faced significant headwinds. Advertisers retreated, resulting in a sharp 40% revenue drop during his leadership.

The logo of X, formerly known as Twitter
Image courtesy of Unsplash

However, Twitter was more than just a buy for Musk; it was a stepping stone towards sculpting an “everything app” named X. Picture China’s WeChat with its multifunctional capabilities—like sending texts, making payments, booking flights, playing games and even requesting a ride—and you’re on the right track.

xAI

Image courtesy of xAI

In July 2023, the tech world was abuzz again with Musk’s announcement of xAI. With ambitions soaring as high as deciphering the universe’s enigma, xAI might be Musk’s challenger to AI giants like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard

While Musk’s involvement with AI, especially with OpenAI, is well-documented, the relationship hasn’t been without its wrinkles. Since stepping back from OpenAI’s board in 2018, Musk hasn’t shied away from voicing his critiques, especially after the institute embraced a more profit-driven approach. As with everything Musk touches, his next AI chapter promises a mix of disruption and anticipation.

Musk complex’s legacy

For all of Elon Musk’s meteoric rises in various sectors, the underbelly of his journey often raises eyebrows. Business ethics connoisseur J.S. Nelson notes that the magnate’s questionable practices are catching up, casting shadows of doubt across his myriad enterprises.

Post-November 2021, the business titan experienced a financial quake, recording a staggering loss of personal wealth of US$182 billion. Such setbacks have dimmed his once-radiant aura, making collaborations with him a more contemplative decision for many. Yet, with the dynamism Musk brings, the world remains on the edge of its seat, curious about the next frontier he’ll chart. However, as he ventures moves forward, there’s an underlying hope that ethics will be a compass guiding his decisions. One thing’s clear: the world will be watching, magnifying glass in hand.

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