Lifestyle & Entertainment

Elon Musk’s first wife explains what it takes to become a billionaire

Elon Musk

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Elon Musk.

Justine Musk, first wife of billionaire Elon Musk, knows a thing or two about wealth and hard work — her ex-husband is a founder of PayPal, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and has an estimated net worth of $12.1 billion. 

She recently posted a response to a Quora thread asking the question “Will I become a billionaire if I am determined to be one and put in all the necessary work required?”

Her answer is “no,” though she says that the Quora reader is asking the wrong question altogether. 

“You’re determined. So what? You haven’t been racing naked through shark-infested waters yet,” she writes. “Will you be just as determined when you wash up on some deserted island, disoriented and bloody and ragged and beaten and staring into the horizon with no sign of rescue?”

She then offers some advice: 

“Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you, no one could outsource you, no one could steal your product and make it better and then club you into oblivion (not literally). Then develop that potential. Choose one thing and become a master of it.  Choose a second thing and become a master of that.  When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before and b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.

The world doesn’t throw a billion dollars at a person because the person wants it or works so hard they feel they deserve it. (The world does not care what you want or deserve.)  The world gives you money in exchange for something it perceives to be of equal or greater value: something that transforms an aspect of the culture, reworks a familiar story or introduces a new one, alters the way people think about the category and make use of it in daily life. There is no roadmap, no blueprint for this; a lot of people will give you a lot of advice, and most of it will be bad, and a lot of it will be good and sound but you’ll have to figure out how it doesn’t apply to you because you’re coming from an unexpected angle. And you’ll be doing it alone, until you develop the charisma and credibility to attract the talent you need to come with you.

Have courage. (You will need it.)

And good luck.  (You’ll need that too.)”


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  • Steve Bickel

    Nice summary, idea sex for two worlds, biz and engineering that can’t easily be stolen and is driven my real market demand because it solves a significant problem people actually experience regularly and would pay for a solution. Email me if you are in southern California and are a electrical or mechanical engineer and want to be part of a sustainable green engineering bootstrapped startup revolution (you work for equity mostly for a year) … we have three products in the pipeline .. .. sbickel29@gmail

    • Wiggin

      You forgot to include the requirement of being able to work for free for a year (since that’s what working for equity really means).

      • Steve Bickel

        3 months in this case :)

  • Business Insider: since you’ve built an article around free content Justine Musk provided, would it kill you to include a picture of her, and a link to her website?

    • Mr Good Taste

      Matthew, this is 2015. GOOGLE the information you seek!!! GONE are the days for sittin’ around WAITING for someone to GIVE you information! It’s right at your FINGERTIPS!

      • You miss my point, Mr. Good Taste. It’s considered proper web etiquette to link to a person’s website, minimum, when quoting them so extensively. Business Insider could have linked from her name (which they only used once).

        • Mr Good Taste

          True. True.

          • lasersmiles

            I disagree. Good etiquette is linking to the article referenced in question. Which is. Four times. At which her personal profile on Quora is linked. Which includes a picture.

            The poor etiquette, or more pointedly, the laziness inherent in this article, lies in the reproduction of not just a portion of what she wrote, but rather the whole of her contribution in its entirety.

            i.e. she basically wrote an article for the Business Insider for free.

    • I agree! We all know him but she’s got great brains too. I love this article. For all those get-rich-quick schemes and schemers out there – IT DOES NOT HAPPEN!

      “Have fun and make money” is my motto and if you’re not having fun, then who cares about the money!

      • dan

        i agree with you

  • eham06

    Great article.

  • Sensual A

    Or just marry a billionaire.

    • Roval

      They first married in 2000, when he was far from a billionaire. He was still toiling around PayPal before eBay bought them out.

  • Eddie Terzisky

    And now we’re going to listen to somebody about what it takes to be a billionaire since they were married to a billionaire. Wow, are you people really that naive?

    • Melissa Moore

      Her reply is still valid. If you’d rather hear it from “experts”, check out this great piece on Y-Combinator
      ( Although it’s from 2005, it’s just as relevant today. The bottom line is curiosity.

    • Drakan

      have you been married ?
      And if you did or are, is it to a extremely talented person ?

      Wifes and husbands know a LOT about each other, unless you are total shit partner…

      Experiences are not only shared from 1 point of view… Is not about listening completely to what she say, but her point is extremely valid and true. I do recommend reading from Zero To One for anybody who’s interested in getting a more “popular” or “valuable” reference of what she wrote there.

  • Stephanie Cook Clark

    When she conceptualizes, creates, and runs a company like SpaceX and Tesla, perhaps she will be qualified to give advice on what it takes. Focus on your own achievements. This is just tacky.

  • disqus_Ekrq7a2rvN

    How do you explain hedge funds then?

  • tav rocky

    Great read. But how many ideas don’t really solve such big problems? They are just making a different twist on reality. Uber we don’t need it because we have taxi cabs, buses etc. But it’s a different experience. We don’t need Facebook but it makes life easier to stay connected. I’m just saying you can’t start a Tesla without being a serial entrepreneur.

    • Alvarez Adrian Adrian Alvarez

      Uber is cheaper and easier to use and lot cleaner and safer then a bus. It was a great idea that really worked

  • Michael John Soekawa

    Interesting read. Very cool to hear the perspective of someone who was right there and also instrumental in the process.

  • She’s brilliant!!!

  • Josh McNattin

    The secret to becoming a billionaire is being more concerned with the work that gets you there than the money, so when you ask the question, you identify yourself as an unfavorable candidate to begin with.

    • Shaun Horlock

      I absolutely love this Josh!

  • Oh, and make sure you make political friends in high places, so they throw billions your way as part of the “clean energy/renewable energy” scams that are bamboozling American taxpayers.

    • Toni Roman

      Scam? If you like dirty energy so much, then you should lock yourself in a garage with no ventilation. Make sure no one is at home and they are all out of town and that your neighbors are not nosey. Leave your cellphone in your locker or desk at work. That way, no one will find you. Turn on an internal combustion engined vehicle and breathe deeply. In the next world, as you burn in hell, breathe those sulfurous fumes. Wow! Just like the atmosphere you anti-clean energy, pro-pollution types have forced us to breathe on Earth. Next, jump into the fiery lake and dive deep into the magma. Be sure to insult Satan so that he will instruct his demons to make Hades especially hellish for you.

      Please think about what I have said on either a religious level or a political science level. If you cannot escape from the whole liberal versus conservative dogfight long enough to see that you are fighting a fight to the death with another pit bull and that your owner will throw away your corpse when your fighting days are over (you should see the pathetic animals at rescue shelters); then God help you. Of all those people (The Koch Brothers) standing around watching you bleed and betting on the other dog, do any of them care what happens to you? No. They don’t. They actually got outraged at the idea of storm relief for the victims of Superstorm Sandy even though the storm battered the very building that one of the Koch Brothers lives in. Humans could not possibly have any effect on the environment. Not even if they used all the nukes in the arsenals of the USA, Russia, China, UK and France. Yeh, right.

      Ever worked on a computer model of an ecosystem? I have and I have seen one almost shut down a university computer system because it was drawing so much computing power to handle all the calculations. And what I was working on was a baby compared to the monster programs they use at the supercomputing centers to answer those questions that climate change deniers keep asking. The answer keeps coming back: It is humans causing the problems.

      I will concede that Mr. Musk has friends in high places. The White House and heaven being two of them. The polluters like the Koch Brothers have friends in low places. I speak of Senator Jim Inhofe. When you meet him in the nether regions, he may stick a pitchfork in your tender parts and ask if you are done.

      Bamboozling? New industries like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, piezo and a host of other new energies that even green energy people have scarcely heard of have a hard time while oil, coal and fracking industries have oil depletion allowances, tax breaks for the most profitable of all industries (oil), and laws that allow these polluters to not have to comply with anti-pollution laws that other companies have to obey. They are seldom prosecuted for oil spills and poisoning of rivers, oceans, lakes, land, groundwater, and air. If they had to pay for all the health insurance, hospitalization, wrongful deaths, orphans created who need child support, clean up costc bourne by cities, counties, states, and nations (the US Coast Guard has a small budget as it is); if the fossil and fission industries had to pay all the real accounting costs they cause, they would not be the most profitable companies (like ExxonMobil) but bankrupt instead. We all (including you) prop up the fossil and fission industries. That is why Germany is walking away from those forms of power. Other countries are wising up too. Norway makes most of the money in its sovereign wealth fund from oil and it is betting on a post-oil future. So are the biggest oil-pumping countries in OPEC and in the Gulf. Yes, everyone has been fooled except you. Since my words will not sway. I doubt if any logic would. I doubt if any emotion would. I doubt if even an act of will on your part could make you change. So at least have a hollow laugh over this. Consider that bit above about suicide and the infernal regions as my weak attempt at humor and have a laugh. Think Homer Simpson in hell from one of those Halloween Bart’s Treehouse of Horror episodes.

      • Hopefully you realize that everyone reading your response was asleep a third of the way into your second paragraph. In addition to being tragically misinformed, liberals are also the most boring and obtuse windbags in the universe. Stop using a computer, which was created by destruction of the earth to mine for the resources used in its manufacture and delivered to the reseller by truck. Idiot.

  • academianut

    All she knows is watching one guy. From the outside You can’t draw principles and generalizations from one person.

  • Jack

    That Tesla thinks its so smart..

  • jamboman

    I do believe capitalism is the best way but teaching kids and others should be mandatory. This is an old article but still an ongoing debate regarding super rich entrepeneurs. Easy to say dont be greedy and help people especially kids and old people! How about an acct. that is tax free and helps homeless people at least rent a room. Accountability must be paramount and make this person self reliant again for their own good and society.

  • Rico Ventura

    The lesson here: don’t earn the billion dollars, marry it – and then divorce it (but get a good attorney).

  • John Hancock

    HTF would she know what it takes. She had nothing to the Elon Musk’s achievements and success. Nothing.

  • John Hancock

    Ms. Musk has absolutely no clue what she’s talking about or “what it takes”. She’s a gold digger.

  • Rion Cheech Morrissey

    Nice words, but most billionaires don’t care about people or the world they live in. Regular folks like me and you are just a number to them. They can’t comprehend the basic struggles that we go through.

  • tonybot3

    well put