Many of you will have heard of Elon Musk, a South African-born, Canadian-American entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and investor. He co-founded PayPal, Space X, SolarCity and Tesla Motors (among other ventures). As of January 2016 he had an estimated net worth of $US12.4 billion, making him the 39th wealthiest person in the US.
Elon is a huge thinker and risk taker who believes we should be asking kids “What problems would you love to solve?” rather than ”What do you want to be when you grow up?”.
It’s all too easy when reading about the super-successful to think they’ve had some sort of dream ride. However, it rarely is. In Peter Diamandis’ book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, Musk describes the trials and tribulations he went through to get some of his ventures to work. A time when he had already made his first $100 million, but it was all reinvested into his new ventures. He describes it as follows:
“Between 2007 and 2009 I was in a world of hurt. Everything was going wrong. In 2008 we had the third sequential failure of the Falcon 1 rocket, Tesla couldn’t raise financing because of the financial market meltdown and Morgan Stanley couldn’t honour the deal they had with SolarCity since they were running out of money as well. There was a time when it looked like all three companies could fail. Then, on top of all that, I was going through a divorce. That sucked. I spent my last dollar saving Tesla in 2008 and I actually went negative. I had to borrow money to pay rent.”
Happily things did turn around for Musk in late 2008. The fourth launch of Falcon 1 worked, the financial markets rebounded, and Space X won a $1.6 billion NASA contract.
What lessons can you learn and apply to your own business from someone as inspirational as Elon Musk?
I think there are a few obvious ones.
- When you start to think about what problem you might want to solve it leads you to a very specific and often niche area; your corner of the market in effect.
- When you focus on solving a problem for humanity, your local community, or your family and friends, it feels meaningful. Finding meaning in whatever it is we do is the key to living a fulfilled life.
- Clearly you can apply this thinking to world-changing ideas like solving the water crisis in Africa, or creating affordable energy. However, you can also apply it to your own business and your own clients. What problems are you solving for them? Are there recurring issues that come up all the time? Is there a better way to solve these issues than the approach you currently use?
As Mark Tibergien, CEO of Pershing said in a recent article, “a niche is defined by shared values, challenges, needs and objectives.” If you start thinking about problems you can solve for people, you may find you uncover a niche that excites and motivates you. This can be done at any stage of your business career (beginning, middle or end), it’s never too late.
Significance Over Success
How do you fall in love with your business again? How can you find your passionate pull?
Peter Diamandis provides some great questions to consider if you’re looking for more meaning and to make a bigger impact:
- Who do you want to positively impact?
- Which groups (people or causes) do you care most deeply about? Where do you want to leave a lasting legacy? Simply put, to whom do you want to be a hero?
- On the positive side, what are you unreasonably excited about? What can’t you go a whole day without talking to someone about? What opportunity (that nobody else seems to understand) makes your heart race?
- On the negative side, what aggravates you the most? What really, really pisses you off? Why shouldn’t this thing exist, and how could you envision a better world without it? Solving something you hate (despise) can be as powerful as doing something you love.
Once you pick a “who,” then focus on the “what.”
My wife, Deb, always reminds me of the old saying:
“Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
What do you love?
What problem of the world do you want to take on as yours?
By asking yourself some of these inspiring questions you open up a new level of possibility for you and your business.
So, get to it and fall in love with the business you create.