How Elon Musk became the richest man in the world

As the man behind innovative headline-grabbing firms including Tesla, SpaceX, and the Boring Company, Elon Musk has become one the most famous faces of the modern age.

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Friday, 12th February 2021, 10:25 am
Elon Musk has worked hard to make himself the richest man in the world - who would have thought that it all started with creating a video game at the age of 12?

Recently, he did what seemed to be the impossible, when he was able to overtake Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and become the richest man in the world. At the time of writing Elon Musk’s net worth was said to be approximately $185 billion.

The ‘King of Amazon’ himself is not that far behind. Bezos’ estimated net worth is around $182 billion. While Bezos and Musk will be the only two standing on top of the mountain, there can only be one ‘King’ of that mountain.

But how did this South African born mogul get there in the first place? He might be known for taking a gamble,, but he didn’t get his wealth through playing online casino games – so just how did he become the world’s richest man?

Early years of business

Elon Musk sold his first product at the age of 12. It was a video game that he coded himself. He managed to net $500 in cash after selling it to a PC publication.

As the Internet began to take shape, Musk created Zip2 with his brother Kimbal. The purpose of Zip2 was to create city guides that were available for online newspapers. About five years later, in 1999, Compaq acquired the software and Musk made off with a cool $300 million.

But Musk was not going to just sit on a pile of money and let it collect dust. He decided to put it to good use and co-founded online bank that same year. That merged with Confinity in 2000 to form PayPal and was subsequently bought by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.

After the sale of Zip2 one of Musk’s first major purchases was a McLaren sports car. It was one of just more than 60 models made in the world. However, the following year, Musk had wrecked the vehicle while hanging out with business partner and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.


In 2001 Musk turned his attention to space exploration. He started a creation known as Mars Oasis. His intent was to see whether or not a miniature greenhouse situated on Mars would allow for the growth of food crops.

This project was to make space exploration one of the top interests of the general public. He attempted to start this project with the help of the Russian aerospace experts and designers. After failing to convince them for their assistance, Musk took it upon himself to launch SpaceX.

The company would be tasked to build affordable rockets. Thus, the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was born in 2002. In its near two decade history, Musk has achieved what seemed to be the impossible for a private company.

Four years after being established, SpaceX began a long-term collaboration with NASA. In 2012, the SpaceX Dragon became the first ever commercially built spacecraft to launch and berth vehicles to the International Space Station (ISS). Then, the company decided to create rockets that could be reusable over and over again.


In 2003, Tesla was a car company incorporated by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. The following year, the company was in search of Series A funding. Musk himself decided to take on the challenge and put up money for Tesla (along with joining the company’s board of directors as its chairman).

Since his initial funding, Musk took on a much active role in the company. Though he was not involved with many of the day-to-day operations, he did oversee the development of the Roadster and other vehicles. In 2008, Musk took over as the CEO of the company after Eberhard’s departure.

That same year the first ever model of the Tesla Roadster made its debut. Over the years Tesla began creating various models of their electric vehicles. Soon, Gigafactories were being constructed both inside and outside of the United States to support production.

Backing an electric car was long seen as a gamble – but over the last year, as the planet became ever more focussed on the need to cut emissions and slow climate change, it is one that has paid off.

Through 2020 until the present day, Musk’s estimated net worth shot up to an unprecedented $120 billion (from roughly $20 billion in the previous year). This was largely due to Tesla’s stock price rising in an upward trajectory. In March 2020, the stock price was $85 - compared to its current price of just south of $850 at the time of writing.

As Elon Musk continues to dominate the headlines, it’s unclear what his next move will be.

What’s Elon Up To These Days

Aside from running Tesla and SpaceX, Elon has become something of a celebrity thanks in no small part to social media. When he’s not sharing memes or promoting his business, he tends to be generating controversy – and headlines.

In 2018 he got the attention of the SEC over a tweet claiming funding had been secured for potentially taking Tesla private, which affected the stock price. That tweet was a violation of the US securities laws and both Musk and Tesla were fined $20m.

Final Thoughts

Elon Musk may be a hero to some and a villain to others, but there is no doubt that he’s worked hard to make himself the richest man in the world. Who would have thought that it all started with creating a video game at the age of 12?

Musk may have Bezos nipping at his heels. But he is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. Whether we’ll see life on Mars or more electric cars on the roads, Elon Musk proves that it pays to be a man with a plan.