In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, the Bautis Financial team discusses the third book assignment in their monthly Book Club, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance. A biography telling the story of Elon Musk’s life and his two businesses, this story paints the portrait of a complex man who has sparked new levels of innovation — overcoming hardship, earning billions and making plenty of enemies along the way.
In this episode, we discuss:
- What our team liked most about the book.
- What our team learned from and took away from the book.
- How our team is/isn’t inspired by Elon Musk’s life.
- And more!
This is the third episode in the Bautis Financial Book Club series. Listen to the other episodes:
- Episode 76 – Bautis Financial Book Club: The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
- Episode 75 – Bautis Financial Book Club: Atomic Habits by James Clear
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future | Bautis Financial: 7 N Mountain Ave Montclair, New Jersey 07042 (862) 205-5000
Disclosure: The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity and content. It is not a direct transcription of the full conversation, which can be listened to above.
Welcome back to the Agent of Wealth. On today’s episode, I brought back my colleagues John Williams and Kyra Mackesy for the third installment of our book club. Today we’ll be talking about Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. John and Kira, how are you?
Good, Marc. How are you?
Good. Kayla’s off on assignment today, studying for her CFP. She’ll be back on the next book club episode. John, I’m looking forward to talking about your book selection. Elon Musk is definitely an eccentric character. Since this was your selection, I’ll turn things over to you.
Yeah, it was a good assignment to give Kayla off because the first piece of feedback I got from you guys was the length of the book and the amount of information. I think the size of the book lends to how interesting and involved Elon Musk is. Interestingly enough, the book was published years ago and he’s gone on to do so much more, so a re-write could probably be twice as long.
I picked this book just because Musk has been in the news so much — and not even just him, but some of his companies. I’m down in Florida now, so I actually get to see the SpaceX launches from my backyard.
And with Tesla — aside from how great you might think their cars are — their stock is in a space of its own right now. I really just didn’t know a lot about him, so I just thought that it’d be cool to take a deeper dive.
I was actually surprised to learn certain things. I knew he was involved with Tesla and SpaceX, but he’s involved in so much more than that. He’s had a crazy interesting life.
With that said, there’s so much in the book. I didn’t have any specific questions for you guys, but I thought I would just let you tell us a little bit about what you thought was the most interesting. What are some of the things about him and the book that stood out to you? If you don’t mind, Kyra, I’ll start with you.
Yeah, sure. I think a good place to start also is talking about the story of how the book came to fruition. The author, Ashlee Vance, did a good job of convincing you that this is an important story to read right off the bat. He said that he didn’t ask Elon for permission to write the book, he was going to do so regardless of if Elon was willing to sit down for an interview with him or not. Vance was just so compelled by Elon’s drive. I think, ultimately, that’s what won over Elon’s respect for the author. In giving his permission to collaborate with him on the book, it was a foreshadow into how Elon operates — he’s relentless. I thought that that was really compelling.
The book is a biography, which is not something that I usually go for. I haven’t read a biography in a while… But as a whole, I liked how it covered topics of business and life. I thought it was crazy that the author interviewed over 300 people — current employees, ex-employees, family members, etc. It revealed a lot of Elon’s ideas, models, systems and habits. The book also dove into his childhood. In all, I was surprised by how much I liked it because I did not know much about Elon going into it.
Biographies actually used to be my favorite type of book to read when I was beginning my career. I found it fascinating to see stories of where someone came from to where they got to. One of my favorite biographies is Mike Tyson’s. You really get a feel for someone and what makes them.
This one was a great one too, because Elon is definitely an interesting character. It obviously was not in the book, but now that he became the richest person in the world yesterday, he sent Jeff Bezos an image through Twitter of a second place trophy. You can tell they’re competitive.
Kyra, you mentioned his drive. I think that’s one thing I pulled from this book. If you look at successful people, passion isn’t even the right word… It’s a relentless pursuit. That’s what Musk has.
People are quoted in the book saying that they’ve never seen him outside his office. It just goes back to that relentless pursuit.
I thought of another book I’ve read, called Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. In that book, Hill talks about something similar: If you want to reach your goals, you have to have that relentless pursuit, but you also have to give something up to get there. This probably true for Musk, too. He’s had to give up a lot of things along the way. But he has that vision and he really walks the walk.
Yeah, I 100% agree. I also have a fascination with successful people’s mindsets. Marc, we’ve talked about David Goggins before. He came from this terrible upbringing — being beaten by his father. It reminds me of Rocky — the comeback story. It just makes you feel good.
You hear a lot of people talk about how you have to work hard to be successful. Yeah, sure you do. But I think that at a certain level, sometimes you just don’t know what hard work really means. It’s way more extreme in this case than I ever imagined.
It’s not just the idea of you’re working hard, but being able to block out the noise around him. There were people making jokes about Tesla and how it was a sinking ship. The media was even coming down on him. He was broke, but he still found a way to continue. When most people would’ve given up and said, “Alright, this is over. We can’t make the payroll.” He persisted. I thought that drive and ability to block out the noise was crazy.
I think this happened after the book was written, but Tesla went from about a month from bankruptcy to now being the fifth most valuable company in the US. It’s a crazy transition story of how someone just wouldn’t quit. I think nowadays, we all love instant gratification and search for instant success, and sometimes it’s just not possible. Things do take time.
There was also his personal life, which overlapped a lot with that. You forget that he has kids. I thought the book did a really great job of helping you understand that he works 18 hours. There’s this part in the book when the author was interviewing him and Elon is thinking about dating. He asked the author, “Do you think a girlfriend is a time commitment of 10 hours a week? What do you think?” He’s so calculating. He says, “Am I going to have that 10 hours?” It really puts a lot of color around the way his mind works. I mean, it’s almost bizarre, but I guess that’s just how things are when you’re running two companies.
Yeah… that part wasn’t super relatable. It’s worth mentioning that he’s not very relatable. I’m 25-years-old, so I’m only a few years into the workforce. I hear a lot of conflicting advice when it comes to working. On one hand, people say you’re never going to remember how much you worked. On the other hand, people — like the Elon Musks of the world — say to never take a day off and always be the hardest worker in the room. I think what makes his drive and his need to always work so meaningful is the fact that there’s a greater purpose. He wants to change the world and make the world something better. Talk about having a why. To me, that’s what makes his work ethic so impressive.
Yeah, he wants to colonize Mars, he wants to build autonomous self-driving electric cars, he wants to build between cities. It’s one thing having a vision, but there’s so many doubters around him. He basically just says, “Screw it. This is what my vision is and I’m just going to plow through until I realize my vision.” I think that was one of the most impressive things.
I like that he practices what he preaches. He doesn’t ask the people working for him to do things that he wouldn’t do himself. I think that’s a great quality to have as a leader.
Yeah, after he sold PayPal and made his first big chunk of money, Musk took every penny and dumped it right into his next project. At the time, I’m sure people were just cringing, like, “Oh my God.” When you think about going to space, you think about NASA. Obviously hindsight is 2020, but Elon is seeing some success. But 10 to 15 years ago, I remember thinking, “Who does this guy think he is? This is never going to happen.” There was just so much doubt from every level, but he figured it out in the end.
I also want to just add to what Kyra said — he clearly is a flawed character. I didn’t know whether to love him or hate him while I was reading the book. It seemed like he was terrible to a lot of his employees… His first marriage… His assistant… As you read, you start to realize that he has some flawed characteristics. I was a little conflicted when it came to that, for sure.
Yeah, I agree. There were stories about him firing people on the spot, being so loud in the conference room the whole office could hear him yelling, etc. I think it would’ve been interesting to see some self-reflection in the dialogue between the author and Elon about that. That would’ve been an interesting added element of this book, and maybe something that was missed out on.
We learned a lot about his upbringing and that he went through some negative treatment when he was a child. At one point, the author mentioned that there was something he couldn’t even discuss in the book. There were themes of bullying… But it would’ve been nice to see that come full circle with some self-reflection.
That reminds me, he was recently on Saturday Night Live where he mentioned he was the first host of SNL that has Asperger’s. It’s clear in the book that there’s a separation between the way he thinks, and the way somebody who doesn’t have Asperger’s thinks. I think that separation is embedded in the confusion and little understanding we have about Asperger’s. But I also wonder if that’s part of what drives him more, because he’s able to block out these things that normal people would let bother them.
That’s a very good point.
Kyra, you mentioned bullying. It was interesting to me to hear how he was so calculating at the time of that bullying experience. He thought through the processes of it and discovered how he could avoid it happening. I think whether you’re the world’s richest person — Elon Musk — or you’re an entrepreneur on any level, there’s value in bulldozing over everyone and everything in the way.
Something else that stood out was his perfectionism. If you’re creating autonomous cars, you would hope they’re perfect, right? But I think that’s another topic where you hear opposing advice. Some people say perfection is the enemy and when you try to be perfect, you get nothing done. Whereas, he takes the opposite approach. He wants perfection and he won’t stop until there is perfection.
There’s always two sides of everything, but that character trait was interesting,
Yeah, he was shutting some people down in his work meetings. Some of the meetings would be five minutes long — he would make a critique and leave.
Funny enough, I found this book selection ironic when compared to the second book we read, The Infinite Game. The messages are basically the opposite, in my opinion.
But at the same time, there is a specific type of person that’s drawn towards working with Elon because, like Kyra said, they want to change the world. Those people hung in there because of that why. This book was almost like its own chapter in The Infinite Game.
We could talk about this book forever. The biggest takeaway for me is discovering the characteristics Elon poses and comparing those to other successful people, like Jeff Bezos. We’re always trying to grow our business and implement new ideas. But, hey, you don’t necessarily have to be as cutthroat as Musk.
Our next installment is going to be up to our colleague Kayla, who couldn’t join us today because she’s been studying for the CFP exam. Definitely keep an ear open if you want to continue to join us for the Bautis Financial Book Club.
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