In 20 years, a majority of new cars will be electric and the world’s single-largest source of energy will be solar power, Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said today.
Speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, the 40-year-old billionaire co-founder of PayPal shared his vision of the future, and also gave the room full of would-be entrepreneurs some sobering advice about what they should expect when trying to get companies off the ground.
“Expect it to be difficult,” Musk said “A friend phrased it well: ‘Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.’”
Those are no doubt harrowing words, but in speaking them in the closing talk at Disrupt it would seem Musk wasn’t trying to discourage those in the room from seeking their own innovations. Rather, he wanted entrepreneurs to have a decent sense of what’s in store.
Musk is someone who has in recent years tackled two major efforts: making exciting electric cars, and building a profitable private space industry. And though his perspective may be colored by his own experiences, he said that he feels the two biggest problems humankind must solve to have a bright future are clear.
“I think the biggest problem humanity faces in the 21st century,” Musk said, “is sustainable energy, terrestrially, and” achieving life beyond Earth.
This is a man, of course, who should be taken seriously when he poses problems or challenges. After all, SpaceX has already been chosen by NASA as the provider of the rockets that will replace the now-retired Space Shuttle program for getting cargo and astronauts (what he called “biological cargo”) to the International Space Station. And this isn’t a pipe dream: the first SpaceX missions could begin docking at the Space Station within a few months, and the first astronauts could start riding SpaceX rockets to the ISS within three years or so.
But most entrepreneurs will never be able to take on challenges like those. So Musk said that especially when it comes to first-time founders, building Internet companies may be the perfect way to go, given the relatively low costs of creating an online business. “Unless you’ve got a ton of capital,” he said, “you have to start a company that requires a small [investment]. It would have been impossible for me to have done electric cars or rockets right from the start.”
Even those that start companies will almost never find themselves doing what Musk does: run two high-profile outfits at once. And to hear him talk about it, it’s not something that most people would ever want to do. “I do it with great difficulty,” he told the Disrupt audience. “It’s quite hard…I don’t recommend it. I tried not to run two companies, but I didn’t have a choice: one of them would have failed” otherwise.
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