187. Who is Elon Musk? (English Vocabulary Lesson)



He is probably the most famous person in the world right now. One of the world’s richest people, the CEO of the world’s most valuable car manufacturer, and now the new owner of Twitter! But who is Elon Musk?



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Vocabulary List

Estranged (adj) – If you are estranged from your family or friends, you are no longer friendly with them

It’s sad to see someone estranged from their parents

Booming (adj) – increasing or becoming successful and producing a lot of money very quickly

Business is booming at the moment.

To pocket (v) – take or receive (money or other valuables) for oneself

The politician pocketed around $10,000 for a 20-minute speech

To found (v) – to bring something into existence

She left a large sum of money in her will to found a wildlife sanctuary

Board (n) – the group of people who are responsible for controlling and organizing a company or organization

Every decision has to be approved by the board

Bot (n) – a computer program that works automatically, especially one that searches for and finds information on the internet

Criminals create networks of bots that roam the internet infecting PCs with viruses

Hardcore (adj) – denoting an extreme or intense example of something

We performed 60 concerts in 60 days – it was hardcore

Town square (n) – An open area commonly found in the heart of a traditional town, used for community gatherings

Elon Musk wants Twitter to become the internet’s town square

 

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Introduction

Elon Musk has a lot of influence. He is a successful billionaire who owns a number of major companies. He can cause a stock price to rise or crash with a simple tweet. He delivers cargo to space through his SpaceX company. His Tesla cars are leading the world in electric vehicles. Millions of people will tune in to watch his interviews on YouTube and TV. And he recently completed the purchase of Twitter – and promised to transform the social media company into a place for free speech.

In popular culture, Elon Musk is considered to be some kind of genius. In fact, he has almost a mythology about him. He sold most of his possessions and lives in a rented apartment. He 18 to 20 hours a day. He can go from talking about battery technology in electric vehicles to rocket science to social media politics in a matter of minutes.

Elon is also a highly controversial person. As I’m writing this episode, Twitter seems to have lost almost all of its employees due to Musk’s ownership. He has become involved in the right wing, Democrat party hating, part of American culture. And his private life is often mysterious and confusing.

Considering his current and future importance and influence, today I want to answer the question “Who is Elon Musk?” And, at the same time, let’s practice and learn some new English vocabulary!


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Elon Musk’s Background

Elon Musk was born in 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa. His father was a South African engineer and his mother a Canadian nutritionist and model. Musk spent much of his childhood living with his father after his parents divorced – but he described his father as a “terrible human being” and has been estranged from his father for most of his adult life.

He attended English-speaking private schools in South Africa but reportedly struggled socially. Musk has described his childhood as difficult – his parents divorced, he was bullied at school, and he had problems with social interactions due to Asperger’s Syndrome.

Elon Musk

 At the age of 17, Musk moved from South Africa to his mother’s home country of Canada – he would go on to gain Canadian citizenship. Musk enrolled in Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, but after two years he decided to transfer to a college in the US. He chose the University of Pennsylvania, an elite ivy league school, and studied for two majors at the same time.

He graduated the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor of science degree in physics and a bachelor of arts degree in economics. After graduating, he moved out to California with the intention of completing a PhD in physics at Stanford university.

Where did Elon Musk Get His Money From?

Throughout his childhood, Musk had demonstrated a skill with computers and an entrepreneurial spirit. He designed and sold computer games before he was a teenager, and as a student turned a fraternity house into a makeshift nightclub.

After moving out to study at Stanford university, Musk decided after just two days that he was no longer interested in pursuing a PhD. Instead, he attempted to enter the booming and new internet-based industry of the 1990s. Alongside his brother he set up an online business directory called Zip2 in 1995, which was sold for $307 million in 1999 – of which Elon received around $20 million.

After selling his first company, Elon saw an opportunity in online payments and banking. With the controversial businessman and investor Peter Thiel, Elon was part of the team to found a payments platform which developed into PayPal – one of the largest and most important payment gateways in the world. eBay purchased PayPal in 2002 and Musk pocketed around $180 million from the deal.

One of the rumours or puzzles surrounding Elon is where he got the money from to start these businesses and enterprises. Perhaps the best-known rumour is that Musk started his businesses off the back of his father’s money – and that his father once owned an emerald mine.

In contrast to this rumour, Musk has described himself as a self-made businessperson. He funded his own way through university, and graduated with over $100,000 in student debt, before starting his first company with just $2,500 of his own money. Snopes, the online fact checker, reports that there is no evidence Elon used family money to start his companies in the US.

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Elon Musk’s Companies

After the sale of PayPal in 2002, Elon decided to invest his fortune into a number of different, new, and futuristic businesses. Unlike most successful billionaires, Musk has become successful off the back of a number of different companies.

If we were to credit one company, out of all of his investments, to be the main reason behind Elon’s financial success it would have to be Tesla.

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Tesla

Tesla is the reason Musk is known across the world. He is the CEO of the electric vehicle maker – a car company that is currently the most valuable in the entire world. In fact, Tesla is one of the few companies valued at over $1 trillion and is worth more than the next nine carmakers combined. It is thanks to his ownership of Tesla that he is the world’s richest man!

Tesla
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Musk did not found Tesla – that is a common misconception. Tesla was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in 2003. Elon Musk became involved in the company as the lead investor during the first fundraising rounds in 2004. After investing $6.5 million and becoming the majority shareholder, Elon joined the board as chairman and took a very active role in the company.

He became the CEO in 2008 after ousting founder Eberhard from the company and was given the title co-founder during a legal case in 2009. In 2021, he changed his title again to “Technoking.”

Tesla has produced a number of different models of car including the Model 3 – the best-selling electric vehicle of all time. The company has also constructed battery and electric car factories across the world.

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SpaceX

While Musk is best known for his involvement with Tesla, he actually invested in SpaceX before the car manufacturer. SpaceX is a private space exploration company – it manufactures rockets, transports cargo for NASA, sends satellites into space, and has ambitions to send people to the planet Mars.

After becoming involved in the space exploration community in early 2001 and used $100 million of his own money to found SpaceX in 2002 – with Musk assuming the roles of Chief Engineer and CEO. After a number of failures, the company successfully launched their Falcon 1 rocket into orbit in 2008 and was awarded a large contract from NASA to transport cargo to space.

In 2020, SpaceX became the first private company to send astronauts to orbit and send crew to the International Space Station.

Another branch of SpaceX is Starlink – a satellite internet company aiming to create a network of communication satellites across the whole world. Starlink gained prominence in 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Musk sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine to allow the Ukrainians to keep internet access even if Russia destroyed infrastructure.

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Neuralink

While Tesla and SpaceX are two of Musk’s most high-profile companies… he has been involved in two other companies.

Musk cofounded Neuralink in 2016. Neuralink is a neurotechnology start-up aiming to study and create technology that would combine the human brain with artificial intelligence. The hope is that their technology will enhance memory and help to treat brain diseases and injuries.

The company has not yet released any products, but it is reported that human testing will begin soon!

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The Boring Company

The fourth company Musk currently owns is The Boring Company. The Boring Company was founded by Musk in 2017 with the idea of constructing specialized tunnels to allow high-speed travel underground.

A test tunnel was revealed in 2018, and while a number of projects have been cancelled there are currently projects in Las Vega and Florida.

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Twitter

So that was a brief introduction to Elon Musk’s background and the four companies he currently owns and operates. Actually… that is incorrect – Musk now has five companies. He recently bought Twitter.

How did Elon Musk buy twitter?

Early this year, Elon decided to invest in Twitter, becoming the company’s largest shareholder and announcing his intention to join the company’s board. In April, Musk initially seemed happy to join the exisiting company board and would regularly tweet about his plans to improve the company.

At some point, and after meetings with then CEO Parag Agrawal, Musk’s attitude changed. The two men didn’t get along, and on 14 April Musk announced he now wanted to buy Twitter completely. His offer of $44 billion was initially rejected, but eventually accepted by the board on the 25th of April 2022.

Was that the end of the deal? No… nothing is ever simple with Elon Musk! As with many tech companies, Twitter’s stock price has fallen significantly in 2022 and there were suggestions that Musk was paying too much for the company.

Elon also repeatedly asked Twitter for details on the number of real users they had – Musk was concerned about the number of bot accounts run by computer programmes. The deal to buy Twitter quickly collapsed after Musk disagreed with the figure that just 5% of daily Twitter users were “bots.”

A court date was set for the end of October this year to decide whether Musk would have to buy the company or not. But before this could happen, Musk had a change of mind and decided to buy the company anyway (it is likely he had been advised that he would lose the court case as he had signed the contracts already). And at the end of October, Musk officially took over the company.

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What is Elon Musk doing to twitter?

Musk has been in control of Twitter for less than a month… but so far it has been an unpredictable and rough time. What is he doing with Twitter?

First, he has fired a lot of employees. Almost all of the senior leadership and executives were immediately fired, and around 50% of the company’s global workforce was let go. I’m writing this on episode on Friday November 18th… and right now it seems like even more Twitter staff are quitting. Musk had sent an email to all remaining staff a few days ago asking staff to commit to a “hardcore” work schedule or leave – and it seems a lot of staff have left.

Twitter’s offices are currently closed for unknown reasons and RIPTwitter was the number 1 trending topic around the world.

Musk has also made changes in the service provided by Twitter. The company has opened up the verification, or blue tick, system. This has allowed people to purchase verification for $8 a month, rather than have Twitter employees decide whether you deserve to be verified or not.

Good idea? Well not for a number of companies or celebrities who have had their accounts impersonated. One such fake account impersonated a major US drug manufacturer and lost them billions of dollars after tweeting that they were going to change the price of the drug insulin.

Musk has repeatedly stated that he wants to make twitter a digital town square and to help humanity by creating a place for free discussion. He has discussed reducing the level of moderation on the site and bringing back some banned accounts – such as Donald Trump.

Elon has also said he aims to tackle the problem of spam on Twitter. Twitter is full of bots and fake accounts posting automated responses to tweets – he could change this.

And he has also suggested creating a super app – in the style of China’s WeChat. This would be an app incorporating a number of different things – messaging, banking, payments, food orders, taxi services, and more.

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Final Thought

Today, I’ve talked about the background and biography of Elon Musk, one of the most influential people in the world. His five companies, and in particular his ownership of Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter, have given Musk a high profile, large fortune, and high amount of power.

The world will be watching his ownership of Twitter over the next days, weeks, and months – some people hope to see him succeed and others want him to fail.

I may make another episode on Elon Musk in a few weeks’ time. There is a lot more I wanted to discuss but I ran out of space. I wanted to talk about his controversies: the stock manipulation scandal from a few years ago, smoking drugs on the Joe Rogan podcast, his association with right wing ideas, cryptocurrencies, and the overvaluation of his companies.  

Perhaps I’ll be able to do another episode soon. One of the issues with Musk’s companies is that they are so reliant on having Elon Musk as the CEO and leader – can you imagine Tesla succeeding without Musk? I can’t…

What do you think about Elon Musk? Do you use Twitter? What do you want Musk to do with Twitter?

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