Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is out today and filled with more rock-star moments and Silicon Valley cowboy stories than even the craziest Hollywood scriptwriter could imagine.
Here, 10 of the best moments from author and Bloomberg Businessweek writer Ashlee Vance’s book on Musk:
Wrecking his $1 million McLaren F1 sports car: “While driving down Sand Hill Road to meet with an investor, Musk turned to a friend in the car and said, ‘Watch this.’ He floored the car, did a lane change, spun out, and hit an embankment, which started the car spinning in midair like a Frisbee. The windows and wheels were blown to smithereens, and the body of the car damaged. Musk again turned to his companion and said, ‘The funny part is it wasn’t insured.’ The two of them then thumbed a ride to the venture capitalist’s office.”
The SpaceX team tries to buy a rocket from the Russians, in which the meeting included doing shots of vodka and toasting “To space!” The Russians said no, and the team headed home. From the plane: ” ‘[Mike] Griffin and I got drinks and clinked our glasses,’ said Jim Cantrell, part of Musk’s team. Musk sat in the row in front of them typing on his computer. ‘We’re thinking, Fucking nerd. What can he be doing now?’ At which point Musk wheeled around and flashed a spreadhseet he’d created. ‘Hey, guys,’ he said. ‘I think we can build this rocket ourselves.’ ”
The Tesla engineers discovered the batteries were highly flammable at a 4th of July party: “It went up like a cluster of bottle rockets,” Tesla mechanical engineer David Lyons said of the taped together battery pack. “It was really one of those ‘oh, shit’ moments. That is when we really sobered up.”
Justine, Musk’s first wife, “wrote about meeting Leonardo DiCaprio at a club and having him beg for a free Tesla Roadster, only to be turned down.”
While seeking investors to help save his companies, Musk called up Tesla investor VantagePoint Capital Partners’ Alan Salzman to ask why the group hadn’t signed off on the paperwork for additional funding. Salzman “balked and told Musk to come in the following week at 7 a.m. to present.” Musk asked to come in the next day, which Salzman refused. “The only reason he wanted the meeting at his office was for me to come on bended knee begging for money so he could say, ‘No,’ Musk theorized. ‘What a fuckhead.’ ”
Musk “has a tradition of visiting Dairy Queen” in Texas before test flights.
Employees applying for SpaceX gigs face a rigorous interview and screening process, but perhaps coders have it the worst: “Companies will typically challenge software developers on the spot by asking them to solve problems that require a couple of dozen lines of code. The standard SpaceX problems requires five hundred or more lines of code.”
Musk on Amazon/Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos and poaching talent from SpaceX for his rocket company: “I do think Bezos has an insatiable desire to be King Bezos,” Musk said. “He has a relentless work ethic and wants to kill everything in e-commerce. But he’s not the most fun guy, honestly.”
On the ASS, or “Acronyms Seriously Suck” rule, an infamous email Musk sent employees, telling them to stop making up acronyms: “That needs to stop immediately or I will take drastic action — I have given enough warnings over the years. Unless an acronym is approved by me, it should not enter the SpaceX glossary.”
Musk and the Google guys hang out at a “secret apartment” Google owns in Palo Alto, discussing all manner of things “absurd and fantastic,” like “an electric jet plane that takes off and lands vertically” and “a commuter plane that was always circling the Earth.” “I thought everyone was kidding,” said George Zachary, Musk’s friend and VC. “But at the end I asked Elon, ‘Are you really going to do that?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance is out today from HarperCollins/Ecco.GeekWire Picks is a regular feature linking to our favorite products and deals. GeekWire or its partners may receive a share of the revenue from your purchase through affiliate referral fees.