Denis Granjou publishes “Elon Musk, changing the world” at City editions.
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Denis Granjou publishes “Elon Musk, changing the world” at City editions. SpaceX, Tesla, PayPal… All these successes are the work of one man: Elon Musk. He is the most visionary entrepreneur of the century. The one who disrupts habits, anticipates changes in society, constantly innovates and who embarked on the conquest of space simply dreaming of colonizing Mars! Extract 1/2.
What to do with 180 million dollars? In 2002, Elon Musk did not ask the question for long. As always, he has already prepared his future. In the year 2000, he discreetly founded Space Exploration Technology Corp in commercial premises in the town of El Segundo, located along Santa Monica Bay, California, not far from the Los Angeles airport. He aims to develop a space launcher that would enable him to divide the cost of putting it into orbit by ten. Initially, he seeks to buy ballistic missiles and goes directly to the Russian space industry. He goes to Moscow to meet engineers and explain his idea to them, but he leaves empty-handed with the impression that no one really believes in his vision of things. A Russian company offers him a missile for 20 million dollars. Elon Musk categorically refuses this offer. Since no one wants to sell him what he asks for at a price he considers reasonable, he will make it himself!
The jackpot won thanks to the sale of Paypal allows him to launch his incredible project: to manufacture a launcher that is not only cheaper but also reusable! When the space community is informed of the young investor’s project, it comes up against general skepticism. It must be said that the domain has been reserved for two major powers since the end of the Second World War: the USA and Russia. We can add to this duo France, the real spearhead of the European Community in the conquest of space. No one among the luminaries of the space industry imagines for a second that this singular entrepreneur, sure of himself and loudmouth, will indeed revolutionize this landscape. It must be said that the first photo of the staff of the new start-up can make you smile. It was taken in a dining room at La Fiesta Mexican restaurant in Cape Canaveral, Florida, right next to NASA’s famous launch base. We can make out a bunch of men in their thirties in jeans and T-shirts. In the middle of them, four mariachis in traditional Mexican dress, black pants, white shirts, large guitars and sombreros on their heads; on their left, Elon Musk holding maracas in his hands which he waves frantically while bursting out laughing. In short. Who can imagine that this team is the one that, a few years later, will make SpaceX the new world number 1 in space?
It must be said that if we look closer at this shot, we understand very quickly that Elon Musk left nothing to chance to constitute this skewer of talents. First, Tom Mueller. He is one of the world’s leading experts in spacecraft propulsion. This gifted engineer, eight years older than Elon Musk, will very quickly become his right arm and the essential craftsman in the creation of future SpaceX launchers. Among the other participants, we can note the presence of Phil Kassouf, specialist in research and development, or Hans Koenigsmann, holder of a doctorate in engineering. The latter retired after more than twenty years of good and loyal service in the course of the year 2021 and he told in an interview with an American television channel what he had felt when meeting Elon Musk at the beginning of the 2000s: “When I arrived at SpaceX, I inherited number 7! Indeed, I was the seventh employee hired by Elon. At the start, I quickly realized that he didn’t know much about rockets but I was amazed at how quickly he managed to get up to speed. It was truly amazing to experience. He also had a global vision and he dragged us into his frenetic pace of work where weekends off were extremely rare! “Last character in the big photo: Chris Thompson, also a brilliant engineer, who will participate in the outbreak of SpaceX even if, fifteen years later, his name will fuel a controversy on social networks without him being responsible for it however. Indeed, a journalist would have attached the mention of co-founder of SpaceX to him in a report. Elon Musk’s response was immediate and unadorned: “Being one of SpaceX’s first employees does not absolutely make him a co-founder of the company I founded on May 6, 2002.”
During this period, as if this new company were not enough for him, Elon Musk decided to take a very close interest in a start-up in which he firmly believed: Tesla. It was created at the beginning of 2003 and you have to open the door of Buck’s restaurant again, in Woodside, to immerse yourself in this particular birth. Indeed, it is here that Martin Eberhard told us about the genesis of Tesla with a smile in his voice. After his divorce and to restore his morale a little, Martin Eberhard decides to buy a sports car. He then goes to a dealership of a famous German car brand but when he sees the prices, he turns around and changes his mind. He then considered an alternative: an electric car. Because this trained engineer is also an imaginative entrepreneur. Notices that no American manufacturer is interested in the electric car, he says to himself that he is going to engage in this non-competitive sector which is reaching out to him: “You are completely crazy! retorts his best friend and partner, Marc Tarpenning, who, however, agrees to embark on the adventure with him.
The Tesla start-up is officially launched from the restaurant of Jamis MacNiven who, running his fingers through his long white beard in front of the television crew of an American channel, remembers this precise moment: “It happened around the table 40! Tesla was literally founded in my home because I say a foundation is real when the money hits the table! This is exactly what happened with Martin and Marc. Elon likes to say he’s a founder but in this case it’s not him, he wasn’t there. He took Tesla to the top but he didn’t find it! I talked about it at Buck’s, where he comes back from time to time. He is truly an industry titan who will be long remembered. »
Martin Eberhard returns to the concept that the duo launched in 2003 in an interview given to the information site Temps.com in 2020: “We started from the principle that a new technology is neither economical nor accessible. It was the same with flat screen TVs. New technologies are born in the premium segment, and only then impose themselves in mass production. As an electrical engineer, I knew how to build a car that shuts out all the others.
That’s why the first Tesla was an expensive sports car. And it worked. The Tesla Roadster has changed the perception of the electric car around the world. In addition, we used technologies that had never been used for cars. No one had chosen lithium-ion batteries in this area. We launched something sustainable. »
Elon Musk is certainly not the founder of Tesla but he has been interested in the electric car for a few years. In 2000, he discovered the amazing Tzero, developed by the American company AC Propulsion, as he recalls verbally in a podcast that recounts his beginnings in the world of electric cars. It is a bright yellow colored vehicle, with a scarlet red dashboard and a red bucket seat as well. The prototype does not leave Elon Musk indifferent but the sports car, certainly electric, is not at all ready to be marketed. It has too many imperfections and safety on board is far from guaranteed. Elon Musk hesitates to invest in this manufacturer when he hears about the existence of Tesla.
He immediately saw the potential of this start-up. He asks its founders to clearly explain their project to him. That day, in the spartan offices of SpaceX, they are accompanied by Ian Wright, engineer in charge of making a detailed technical overview of the electric car as imagined by the start-up. As with rockets, Elon Musk wants to learn about this subject that fascinates him. Since he already runs SpaceX and the company, although in its infancy, largely occupies his days, he “simply” offers them to invest in the engineering of the car during his free time, i.e. twenty to thirty hours a week. . Surprised but seduced, the creators of Tesla accept this original deal. After all, they know that they have in front of them Elon Musk and that with him, nothing is really done like with the others. But very quickly a leadership problem arises to run the company, and Elon Musk offers himself to the position of chairman of the board of directors. Martin Eberhard runs the company he co-created. As for Ian Wright, he understood that there was no place for him and he left the company in 2004. That same year, Elon Musk decided to invest 6.3 million dollars in the capital of Tesla and became definitely the big boss, with a major project: to build GigaFactory 1 from scratch, which will manufacture lithium-ion batteries on 180,000 m2. The site chosen for this plant, which will be in the shape of a gigantic L, with white walls surmounted by a spectacular red band, is 35 kilometers from Reno, Nevada, almost in the middle of the desert.
Tesla and SpaceX. Elon Musk is ready to lead two industrial adventures that will definitely make him a legend even if everything is not going to go as he had planned, whether on the asphalt or in space. On a personal level, he is also preparing for major changes. Since his marriage to Justine Wilson in 2000, Elon has lived the perfect love in his big and beautiful house. The two thirty-somethings who figure in the elite of rich and famous couples in Silicon Valley regularly make the front page of people magazines that tell the dream life of this couple to whom everything seems to succeed. In 2002, Justine and Elon Musk, however, live a terrible drama. Ten weeks after the birth of their first child, Nevada Alexander, the baby died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Excerpt from Denis Granjou’s book, “Elon Musk, changing the world”, published by City editions
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