A timeline of Elon Musk’s business efforts
OWith Elon Musk set to claim a new role as owner of Twitter after a winning bid to buy it for $44 billion this week, the billionaire entrepreneur can add the social media app to a long list of business ventures he has led, invested in and supported throughout his long career. Here’s a timeline of Musk’s most notable business efforts, successful and unsuccessful, over the past three decades.
Along with his brother, Musk founded Zip2, an online business directory, as an online alternative to the standard paper yellow pages. (Google wouldn’t launch until 1998.) He sold it for over $300 million in 1999 to Compaq Computer Corporation. However, Musk was ousted as CEO in 1996 when the board decided to install a more experienced executive in his place.
Musk invested some of his windfall from the Zip2 sale in his next venture: X.com, an online bank, launched with three other co-founders. X.com’s business model was innovative for its time, in that it encouraged registrations and facilitated the process of transferring funds digitally, without the need for mail or traditional banking infrastructure. In an interview with CBS MarketWatch at the time of the launch, Musk explained his company: “There is no minimum balance. You can open an account and receive a promotional offer of $20 in your checking account. You can transfer $8 into your S&P fund, $3 each into your money market and bond fund, and you have $6 left in your check.
He went on to develop the new society more philosophically: “In my opinion, the Internet had gone through a few stages and was ready for another stage,” he said. “The first stage was where people could trust the internet for information. Maybe it was ’95 or ’96. The second was to trust the internet for purchases and start using credit cards online to buy books, toys, pet food and that kind of stuff. I think we are now at the third stage where people are ready to use the Internet as their main financial depository.
PayPal CEO Peter Thiel, left, and founder Elon Musk, right, pose with the PayPal logo at the headquarters in Palo Alto, California October 20, 2000.
X.com merged with software company Confinity a year later, forming PayPal, a secure online payments platform based on payments made for PalmPilots. PayPal was to become one of his most successful companies; Musk and his partners, including Confinity co-founder Peter Thiel, sold it to eBay in 2002 for a $1.5 billion stock deal. However, it was a difficult start. PayPal was at one point named one of the “worst business ideas” of 1999, and Musk himself was again stripped as CEO during his honeymoon in 2000, replaced by the board of administration with Thiel.
After going public on the NASDAQ in 2002, eBay took over PayPal. They would keep PayPal until 2015, turning it into a separate entity.
2002: Space X
SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk talks to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine while viewing the OctaWeb, part of the Merlin Engine used for Falcon rockets, at SpaceX Headquarters, in Hawthorne, Calif. on Oct. 10, 2019.
Aubrey Gemignani—NASA/Getty Images
Musk then set his sights on a noble goal: space exploration and the future colonization of Mars. Over the past 20 years, SpaceX has had to deal with a series of failed rocket launches and spacecraft explosions. But it has also become a heavyweight in the space industry with a number of records to its credit, including being the first private company to send a craft to the International Space Station and sending astronauts into orbit. He is known for his reusable rockets.
SpaceX is also behind the development of Starlink, a constellation of satellites intended to provide commercial internet service around the world.
2002: The Musk Foundation
Founded as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Musk Foundation is one of the least talked about companies. Its stated goals include support for renewable energy and pediatric research and education, as well as the development of “safe artificial intelligence for the benefit of humanity”. Between 2002 and 2018, he distributed about $25 million, about half of which went to OpenAI, a company owned by Musk himself. (Since 2012, Musk has also been a signatory to The Giving Pledge, in which many of the world’s wealthiest people have pledged to give away the majority of their wealth at some point.)
These days, Musk is perhaps best known for his leadership at Tesla, the electric car company named after famed inventor Nikola Tesla. Valued at over $1 trillion at some point in 2021, Tesla was founded in 2003 by two other men; Musk entered a Series A funding round with a $6.5 million investment and eventually took an increasingly active role in the company. He has been CEO since 2008. The Model 3 is the most popular electric car in production today, with over one million units sold worldwide.
However, Tesla has had its fair share of controversy, from dealing with lengthy production and fulfillment delays to safety issues with its vehicles and employee complaints about working conditions and management practices.
2006: Solar City
Founded by his cousins in 2006, SolarCity received Musk’s patronage from the start; he was their main funder. A solar energy company that became the first residential solar installer in the United States in the mid-2010s, SolarCity installed solar energy systems that were rented out to residential users. Musk, through Tesla, acquired SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion in stock and integrated it into his operations as Tesla Energy.
2015: Open AI
Musk co-founded OpenAI as a nonprofit in 2015, with a for-profit artificial intelligence research lab component; it was launched with a collective $1 billion pledge from its founders. Musk was open about his interest in developing “friendly” AI that supports humanity, but he ended up resigning from the board in 2018 over conflicts with Tesla’s AI projects.
2016: Neural Link
In another research effort, Musk co-founded Neuralink in 2016 with the goal of working on “brain-machine interfaces,” or BMIs, that can be implanted directly into the body. Neuroscientists have been skeptical of Neuralink’s research and claims. While they are currently conducting animal experiments, they have postponed their plans to start working on human subjects until 2022.
2016: The Boring Company
Founded with the intention of helping dissipate city traffic via underground tunnels as a subsidiary of SpaceX, the Boring Company is one of Musk’s side projects. His goal: to build tunnels. They first experimented with the tunnel under the SpaceX factory in California. The Boring Company became an independent entity in 2018, and in 2021 completed a tunnel project in Las Vegas to transport visitors under the Las Vegas Convention Center. He is currently working on other tunnel projects in Las Vegas for underground transportation. Other projects are essentially speculative.
Musk once boldly spoke of an ambitious “Hyperloop” system, creating tunnels across the country to revolutionize and speed up underground mass transportation between cities. However, the Hyperloop mentions have been removed from the Boring Company website.
After buying enough shares to make it a controlling shareholder by April 1, Musk decided to buy Twitter for $44 billion in late April. His plans include making Twitter “better than ever” by “enhancing the product with new features, making algorithms open source to increase trust, beating spambots, and authenticating all humans.”
More Must-Try Stories from TIME