Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a serial entrepreneur who keeps on winning. The real-life inspiration for Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man, the South Africa native enjoyed his first big hit as a Zip2 co-founder.
The forward-thinking mogul launched X.com, which merged with Confinity to become PayPal, but he’s better known for co-founding electric automaker Tesla and launching SpaceX — a rocket company he hopes will one day allow people to live on other planets. Musk is also the chairman of solar panel design company SolarCity and a co-founder of nonprofit research company OpenAI.
Starting a business is a process of trial and error. During an August 2013 Google Hangout hosted by Google for Entrepreneurs, Musk emphasized the importance of asking for advice. “Take as much feedback from as many people as you can about whatever idea you have,” Musk said. “Seek critical feedback. Ask them what’s wrong. You often have to draw it out in a nuanced way to figure out what’s wrong.”
Accept constructive criticism
As Musk mentioned in the 2013 Google Hangout, the constructive criticism others give you is invaluable. Sometimes critiques are hard to hear, but it’s all part of the learning process. If you want to succeed in business, learn not to take feedback personally.This advice is useful even if you’re not trying to helm a startup. When you’re too close to a project, it’s often difficult to spot missteps, so input from others can prove invaluable.
Get your hands dirty
Musk didn’t build Tesla by sitting in a corner office watching employees work. During the Google Hangout, he explained that as company leaders, co-founders and CEOs have to pitch in where necessary to keep the company afloat. “You’ve got to do all sorts of jobs and tasks that you might not wish to do, that are not intrinsically interesting to you,” he said. “You’ve got to be prepared to do whatever it takes, work whatever hours. No task is too menial. I think that’s the right attitude for the CEO of a startup.”
Talk through differences
Although it’s important that new employees share your vision, team members can sometimes become misaligned. This is not ideal, but it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker or a reason to cut the person from your team. If a staffer starts behaving in a manner that doesn’t align with your company culture, Musk recommended talking to the person and explaining the problem. In most cases, he said the person will change their behavior, but if they don’t, you need to be prepared to let them go.
Hire for cultural fit
When hiring new employees, you have to make sure they mesh well with your team. In the Google Hangout, Musk emphasized the importance of teamwork and aligning expectations from the beginning.
Ask meaty interview questions
Job seekers looking for work at Tesla, SpaceX or any of Musk’s companies are put through the wringer. Not likely to be fooled by an expert interviewee, Musk believes tough interview questions show a candidate’s true fit for the position.
Don’t let naysayers get you down
When Musk was named to the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world in 2013, Richard Branson wrote a profile on him for the magazine, praising his ability to prove critics wrong.
Have a vision
For many entrepreneurs, such as the late Steve Jobs, the mark of success is their ability not only to inspire but also to have a clear vision.
Get rid of process
“The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking,” he said. “You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.”
Don’t focus on money
Already a successful entrepreneur in 2008, Musk explained to PBS at the time that he didn’t co-found Tesla to earn money. Instead, he recognized the environmental need to change the way vehicles are powered, so he created an electric automobile company.”So this is not about wealth accumulation for me personally,” he said. “It’s just that I think this is a very important problem and it’s got to get solved, and if we don’t solve it we’re in trouble.”
Be passionate about what you do
Whether starting a company or accepting a certain job, if you’re not passionate about it, you won’t succeed. Musk was already a wealthy man at the time of the PBS interview, which perhaps allowed him to become an electric automaker for all the right reasons.
Get started while you’re young
Although it might take a while for your business to achieve success, it’s better to start building your business as early as you can, according to Musk. During your youth, you’re empowered to take risks and focus your energy on growing your business without the yoke of so many life responsibilities. But that all changes the further along in life you are.
Only do it if it’s right for you
It’s no secret that starting a business is difficult, but not everyone truly understands the amount of hard work and self-perseverance it takes to get a business off the ground. In reality, the life of an entrepreneur is not for everyone, Musk said as part of his business advice.
Although it might seem glamorous to run your own business, Musk says you must be careful not to get caught up in the romanticized version of the life of an entrepreneur. Thanks to shows like Silicon Valley, which follows the journey of a man building a startup, and media displays of successful entrepreneurs, the hard life of the “working” entrepreneur is often downplayed. In reality, half of all businesses don’t exist after their first five years, according to a 2015-16 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report.
Distinguish your brand
The consumer space is already flooded with so many businesses that consumers, most likely, already have their go-to brands that they rely on for services. So, in order to encroach on that space and get people to venture out to your fledgling business, your business needs to stand out, Musk says.