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Step by Step: How Elon Musk Built His Empire

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This graphic was created by information designer Anna Vital, read her full article here.

Step by Step: How Elon Musk Built His Empire
Copyright Funders and Founders.

Step by Step: How Elon Musk Built His Empire

“The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.”

– Peter Thiel in “Zero to One”

In the book Zero to One, prominent entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shares his vision on what it takes to create an extraordinary company.

Specifically, Thiel believes that instead of making incremental upgrades to an existing product or service, a company must aim to do something completely new to avoid ruthless competition. While Thiel has worked with many impressive people over the years, Thiel points to Elon Musk as a particularly successful member of the Paypal Mafia that has gone “zero to one” many times.

The Résumé

At only the age of 44, just “some” of Musk’s successes include building the world’s first global online payments company (Paypal) and landing re-usable rockets on ocean platforms (SpaceX). He also co-founded SolarCity, which just closed a $338 million round for providing commercial solar and energy storage, and his electric car company Tesla now has 325,000 pre-orders for the Tesla Model 3, which is good for $14 billion in future revenues.

Meanwhile, in his spare time, Musk draws up plans for revolutionary transport systems, such as the Hyperloop and VTOL supersonic jet aircraft known as the Musk electric jet.

That’s going from zero to one at least a few separate times, with many years in his career left to come. How does Elon do it?

The Life of Elon Musk

In the infographic and article from Funders and Founders, Vital highlights key circumstances, decisions, and results in Elon Musk’s life. Here are some of the key inflection points that helped him to build his massive empire.

  • Elon was born in South Africa to an engineer father and model mother on June 28, 1971.
  • Elon read 10 hours a day as a kid, and even read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • At age 12, Elon sold his first video game that he coded for $500.
  • After being inspired by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Elon decided that his new life mission would be to save humanity.
  • Leaves Stanford PhD program after two days to help found Zip2, which he started with a $28,000 loan from his father.
  • He later received proceeds of $22 million from the sale of Zip2 to Compaq, which he used to start X.com.
  • X.com merges with another online bank (Confinity) to form Paypal.
  • Elon gets ousted as CEO from Paypal while on his honeymoon, yet still invests more money in the company regardless.
  • He discovers that space rockets are artificially overpriced, and starts SpaceX to build his own rockets.
  • Elon gets $250 million from the sale of Paypal to Ebay.
  • Meets Tesla founders Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard, and introduces them to JB Straubel. Elon invests in Tesla.
  • After having three SpaceX rockets explode while approaching bankruptcy with Tesla, Elon takes action. He takes over as CEO of Tesla and raises an emergency fifth round of financing. Meanwhile, his fourth rocket launch with SpaceX succeeds and a $1.6B contract with NASA is signed.
  • Tesla goes public at $17 per share (it trades for ~$250/share today)
  • Elon announces reusable rockets that could make space flight 100x cheaper, and promises to also send humans to Mars by 2021-2031.
  • Elon publishes the Hyperloop design, starts building the Gigafactory, unveils the Powerwall, and eventually lands a rocket on an ocean platform.

What’s next?

Launching the Falcon Heavy rocket, starting Gigafactory production, selling the Model 3 electric car, and potentially landing on Mars are just some of the things on his future laundry list.

What Musk can actually accomplish in the future is anybody’s guess. We certainly won’t be betting against him.

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Energy

Visualizing the World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

Hydroelectric dams generate 40% of the world’s renewable energy, the largest of any type. View this infographic to learn more.

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Visualizing the World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Did you know that hydroelectricity is the world’s biggest source of renewable energy? According to recent figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), it represents 40% of total capacity, ahead of solar (28%) and wind (27%).

This type of energy is generated by hydroelectric power stations, which are essentially large dams that use the water flow to spin a turbine. They can also serve secondary functions such as flow monitoring and flood control.

To help you learn more about hydropower, we’ve visualized the five largest hydroelectric dams in the world, ranked by their maximum output.

Overview of the Data

The following table lists key information about the five dams shown in this graphic, as of 2021. Installed capacity is the maximum amount of power that a plant can generate under full load.

CountryDamRiverInstalled Capacity
(gigawatts)
Dimensions
(meters)
🇨🇳 ChinaThree Gorges DamYangtze River22.5181 x 2,335
🇧🇷 Brazil / 🇵🇾 ParaguayItaipu DamParana River14.0196 x 7,919
🇨🇳 ChinaXiluodu DamJinsha River13.9286 x 700
🇧🇷 BrazilBelo Monte DamXingu River11.290 X 3,545
🇻🇪 VenezuelaGuri DamCaroni River10.2162 x 7,426

At the top of the list is China’s Three Gorges Dam, which opened in 2003. It has an installed capacity of 22.5 gigawatts (GW), which is close to double the second-place Itaipu Dam.

In terms of annual output, the Itaipu Dam actually produces about the same amount of electricity. This is because the Parana River has a low seasonal variance, meaning the flow rate changes very little throughout the year. On the other hand, the Yangtze River has a significant drop in flow for several months of the year.

For a point of comparison, here is the installed capacity of the world’s three largest solar power plants, also as of 2021:

  • Bhadla Solar Park, India: 2.2 GW
  • Hainan Solar Park, China: 2.2 GW
  • Pavagada Solar Park, India: 2.1 GW

Compared to our largest dams, solar plants have a much lower installed capacity. However, in terms of cost (cents per kilowatt-hour), the two are actually quite even.

Closer Look: Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam is an engineering marvel, costing over $32 billion to construct. To wrap your head around its massive scale, consider the following facts:

  • The Three Gorges Reservoir (which feeds the dam) contains 39 trillion kg of water (42 billion tons)
  • In terms of area, the reservoir spans 400 square miles (1,045 square km)
  • The mass of this reservoir is large enough to slow the Earth’s rotation by 0.06 microseconds

Of course, any man-made structure this large is bound to have a profound impact on the environment. In a 2010 study, it was found that the dam has triggered over 3,000 earthquakes and landslides since 2003.

The Consequences of Hydroelectric Dams

While hydropower can be cost-effective, there are some legitimate concerns about its long-term sustainability.

For starters, hydroelectric dams require large upstream reservoirs to ensure a consistent supply of water. Flooding new areas of land can disrupt wildlife, degrade water quality, and even cause natural disasters like earthquakes.

Dams can also disrupt the natural flow of rivers. Other studies have found that millions of people living downstream from large dams suffer from food insecurity and flooding.

Whereas the benefits have generally been delivered to urban centers or industrial-scale agricultural developments, river-dependent populations located downstream of dams have experienced a difficult upheaval of their livelihoods.
– Richter, B.D. et al. (2010)

Perhaps the greatest risk to hydropower is climate change itself. For example, due to the rising frequency of droughts, hydroelectric dams in places like California are becoming significantly less economical.

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Energy

What are the Benefits of Fusion Energy?

One of the most promising technologies, fusion, has attracted the attention of governments and private companies.

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General-Fusion_Benefits-of-Fusion
The following content is sponsored by General Fusion

What are The Benefits of Fusion Energy?

As the world moves towards net-zero emissions, sustainable and affordable power sources are urgently needed by humanity.

One of the most promising technologies, fusion, has attracted the attention of governments and private companies like Chevron and Google. In fact, Bloomberg Intelligence has estimated that the fusion market may eventually be valued at $40 trillion.

In this infographic sponsored by General Fusion, we discuss the benefits of fusion as a clean energy source.

The Ultimate Source of Energy 

Fusion powers the sun and the stars, where the immense force of gravity compresses and heats hydrogen plasma, fusing it into helium and releasing enormous amounts of energy. Here on Earth, scientists use isotopes of hydrogen—deuterium and tritium—to power fusion plants.

Fusion energy offers a wide range of benefits, such as:

1. Ample resources:

Both atoms necessary for nuclear fusion are abundant on Earth: deuterium is found in seawater, while tritium can be produced from lithium.

2. Sustainable

Energy-dense generation like fusion minimizes land use needs and can replace aging infrastructure like old power plants. 

3. Clean

There are no CO₂ or other harmful atmospheric emissions from the fusion process.

4. Scalable

With limited expected regulatory burden or export controls, fusion scales effectively with a small land footprint that can be located close to cities.

5. Safety advantage

Unlike atomic fission, fusion does not create any long-lived radioactive nuclear waste. Its radiation profile is similar to widely used medical and industrial applications like cyclotrons for cancer treatment.

6. Reliable

Fusion energy is on-demand and independent from the weather, making it an excellent option in a dependable portfolio for power generation.

Commercializing Fusion Energy

More than 130 countries have now set or are considering a target of reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050. Meanwhile, global energy demand is expected to increase by 47% in the next 30 years.

While renewables like wind and solar are intermittent and need a baseload source of clean energy to supplement them, fusion, when commercially implemented, could deliver clean, abundant, reliable, and cost-competitive energy. 

General Fusion seeks to transform the world’s energy supply with the most practical path to commercial fusion energy. Click here to learn more.

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