In an age during which it seems startups are looking to base their success on the world's thirst for revolutionary ideas, entrepreneurs searching for a role model need not look any further than 42-year-old Elon Musk.
A graduate of the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Musk first made a name for himself as the cofounder of Zip2, a web software company that sold to Compaq in 1999 at a price tag of over $300 million.
Musk netted $22 million of that fee before going on to join the PayPal mafia, a group of highly successful entrepreneurs behind the e-commerce service of the same name, a site that has become virtually omnipresent for online shoppers. When PayPal sold to eBay in 2002, Musk, as the largest shareholder in the company, landed $165 million.
These large successes, however, aren't the reigning reasons why Musk deserves to be regarded as a champion of revolutionary ideas. Sure, Zip2 and PayPal did make the serial entrepreneur a boat load of money, but it's Musk's latest ventures that set him apart as a true visionary -- the the most notable of which was the talk of the auto industry in 2013.
Shortly after eBay's $1.5 billion acquisition of PayPal, Musk founded Tesla Motors, which manufactures, designs and sells cars with a twist: Every single car the company produces runs on electricity. The automotive company was an immovable force on the stock market during the past year, with its value quadrupling (the price of shares opened today at $150 as opposed to about $34 around the same time last January).
SolarCity, another one of Musk's companies for which he serves as chairman of the board, has also caught the eye of many over the past 12 months, a period during which the amount of solar panels installed in the US more than doubled.
Both Tesla Motors and SolarCity have been founded on outside-of-the-box ideas, valuing the use of sustainable energy. While both startup companies were in danger of folding around the 2008 financial crisis, they rebounded with immense success on Wall Street in 2013, with the value of each company growing by over 300 percent.
Despite his successes, when Musk has the opportunity to speak about his entrepreneurial career, he neither talks about money or percentages. Instead, he delves right into the questions that led him to think up his ideas:
"It goes back to when I was in university," he told TED Talks curator Chris Anderson. "I thought about what are the problems that are most likely to affect the future of the world and the future of humanity."
It's not surprising, then, that one of Musk's companies seeks to provide an alternative to the perpetually polluting, carbon-emitting vehicles, while another aims to aid others in cutting down dependency on non-solar sources of energy. It's Musk's third venture, however, which truly cements him as an out-of-this-world thinker, almost literally.
Space X, a space transport company that seeks to make space travel more efficient, is the South African entrepreneur's third current venture. With the technology being developed at Space X, Musk says he envisions a future in which humans will be able to travel between Earth and other planets with such ease that he believes a colony on Mars is within the realms of reality.
While it may sound ludicrous at face value, the mere fact that Space X ran a test launch of one of its rockets at NASA's headquarters recently is a testament to its progress, which would not be possible if Musk didn't ask himself another question he deems important in the creation of new ventures:
"What are the things that need to happen in order for the future to be an exciting and inspiring one?" he asks.
If actions speak louder than words, Elon Musk has been extremely vocal in providing answers to those questions, which have manifested in the form of his three revolutionary companies. If other entrepreneurs aspire to follow in Musk's innovative footsteps, they would be wise to follow his example and ask, of themselves, the same.
Photo credit: Getty Images