Many years ago, someone posted to an Extropian or Transhumanist mailing list something like "Check out our new online banking site, X.com!" I was suspicious. The domain name sounded like something you would use for a porn site and the homepage design looked a bit too simple to be legitimate. Was this a website created to steal personal financial information?
Later when I was at an Extropian or Foresight conference, I wandered over to a cluster of folks in the main hallway to introduce myself. I was turned away, however, as I was informed that this was a group of PayPal employees having an impromptu private meeting. If I recall correctly, PayPal was one of the conference sponsors.
Now that SpaceX.com has successfully launched a spacecraft that has docked with the International Space Station, I have finally connected the dots back to X.com, the website which eventually became PayPal.com. I had already known that the PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel was swimming in Transhumanist circles. More recently I have been intrigued by his Thiel Fellowship in which Peter offers students money to drop out of college to create a startup. Now my attention was directed to another PayPal co-founder, Elon Musk.
In this 2012 Caltech commencement speech video, Elon Musk describes how at an early age he decided to tackle some of the greatest problems facing the future of humanity and how he used his initial profits as a serial entrepreneur to fund those endeavors:
There are many gems in his speech. I have listened to it many times and I have shared it with family and friends for discussion. Here is the video timeline:
- 29:30 Mr. Elon Musk is introduced.
- 31:30 Elon starts his speech. He jokingly thanks the introducer for leaving "crazy person" out of the description of his career.
- 34:22 Elon talks about dropping out of graduate school in 1995 to jump on the Internet bandwagon. He jokes, "Fortunately, we're past graduation so I cannot be accused of recommending that to you."
- 47:00 Elon ends his commencement speech with "Go out there and create some magic."
- 48:00 The introducer thanks Elon and describes him as a "21st Century Magic Man".
- 48:30 The Caltech glee club sings.
- 52:35 The President of Caltech is called to confer the degrees upon the graduates. The President jokes, "Before we start, if any one of you wants to follow in the footsteps of the Magic Man and drop out, now is the time. It's the last time. It will be too late in five minutes. No takers?"
Seventeen years ago, I was on that same lawn to receive my first Masters degree. This was the same year that Elon Musk was dropping out to become an Internet startup co-founder. A year later, I was sucked up into the Internet whirlwind along with many other research-oriented individuals. While in Silicon Valley, I randomly bumped into of two of my former Caltech teaching assistants, one in a startup I was interviewing at and another at a restaurant while he was interviewing a candidate. They had earned their doctorates studying the visual system or neuronal networks and now they were building e-commerce websites.
Here are some other entrepreneurs I have noted, all of them based around Dallas where I live:
- James R. Von Ehr II: Used his early successes in the software business to fund the nanotechnology startup Zyvex.
- Anousheh Ansari: As the first female space tourist, she paid for her trip to the International Space Station with the proceeds from her successes as a serial entrepreneur in telecom. She and her family sponsored the Ansari X Prize.
- John D. Carmack II: Co-founder of id Software, maker of 3D games such as Doom. Launched the spacecraft company Armadillo Aerospace.
- Will Rosellini: Founded and sold Texas Onsite Dental. Launched MicroTransponder, a neurotechology company.
What do these entrepreneurs have in common? They did not just join a startup; they founded a startup. When the startups grew, their equity gave them the resources they needed to fund new startups targeting their loftier and financially riskier goals.
Additional links to the commencement speech by Elon Musk: