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Elon Reeve Musk is a South-Africa–born, Canadian-American entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and investor. He is the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and chief product architect of Tesla Motors, and chairman of SolarCity.

He spoke to graduates recently at the University of Southern California. Here are his 5 secrets of success.


“I think the first is you need to work, depending upon how well you want to do and particularly if you’re starting a company, you need to work super hard. So what does super hard mean? Well when my brother and I were starting our first company, instead of getting an apartment we just rented a small office and we slept on the couch. We showered at the YMCA and we were so hard up we had just one computer so the website was up during the day and I was coding at night; Seven days a week, all the time.”


“If you’re creating a company or if you’re joining a company, the most important thing is to attract great people. Either join a group that’s amazing that you really respect, or if you’re building a company – gather great people.”


“Focus on signal over noise. A lot of companies get confused, they spend money on things that don’t actually make the product better. For any given company just keep asking yourself “are the efforts that people are expending resulting in a better product or service? If they’re not – stop those efforts.”


“Don’t just follow the trend. You may have heard me say that it’s good to think in terms of the physics approach of first principles. Which is, rather than reasoning by analogy, you boil things down to the most fundamental truths you can imagine and you reason up from there.”


“The final thing I think I would encourage you to do is, now is the time to take risks. As you get older your obligations increase, so once you have a family you start taking risks not just for yourself but for your family as well. It gets much harder to do things that might not work out. Now is the time to do that, before you have those obligations. So I would encourage you to take risks now, to do something bold, you won’t regret it.”

Full version: http://www.simplethingcalledlife.com/2015/elon-musk-usc-success-speech/



  • Thanks, Elon. People who have been there and done that in startups should speak out more about how hard they had to work.

  • Elindor

    Tip #6 : never trust anything related to AI :p

    Thanks for the tips 🙂

  • Charlie Jackson

    Yes, to do a startup, you have to be willing and able to work all hours. For my first startup, I worked pretty much every waking hour, for about two years. (Once the company solidified, I could work more ‘normal’ hours.) There were a few times when I could feel the physical burnout hitting me, and then I would take Sunday afternoon off. It’s not really as bad as it sounds, because it’s a time of high energy, of exciting stuff happening. For me, even though it was ‘hard’, it was one of the best experiences of my life. It probably helped that I had done hard things before – like rowing at UCLA and Marine Corps officers’ boot camp. I’ll add something to Elon’s tips: never take shortcuts. Do the hard stuff; your competitors will often take shortcuts, and you will then win. Do you think Elon lets engineers at Tesla take shortcuts, take the easy way out? Not a chance.