The Richest Person on Earth Breaks Every Rule, And You Should Too
Who is Elon Musk? Is he an entrepreneur? An immigrant success story? A Twitter troll? Labels are important, because they give us context for what to expect from a person.
Musk most recently earned the title of the richest person on earth, but I’d argue, “most influential person on Earth” might be more fitting. Musk’s influence is not a fluke. It’s a result of deliberately subverting norms and challenging expectations at every turn.
Though financial resources differ greatly among entrepreneurs, a calculated media strategy is something every entrepreneur can add to their toolkit. Let’s unpack Musk’s rise to fame, from his publicly celebrated business successes to his Twitter game, to see how any entrepreneur can take a note from Musk’s playbook.
Strategy 1: Pour gasoline on the fire
In the heat of the dotcom boom, Musk was sending sparks flying. In 1995 he founded Zip2, an internet company that provided city guides and business directories for newspapers, and four years later he became a dotcom millionaire. Zip2 sold for $307 million, and Musk took home $22 million.
As public fascination with Silicon Valley grew, Musk invited the cameras to get a first-hand look at his success. When his millions started pouring in, he welcomed CNN over at 7 a.m. to witness the delivery of his new $1 million McLaren F1 sports car.
Although it was difficult for the public to understand the inner workings of Silicon Valley and VC money, Musk created an instantly recognizable icon in his sports car. The media wanted a success story, and Musk gave them the ultimate interview.
If you’re an entrepreneur, especially in a complex industry, consider how you can drop in on a pop culture wave.
Strategy 2: Make your business personal
Although conventional wisdom suggests business is not personal, Musk’s persona has become inseparable from Tesla and SpaceX. This is no accident. In his early ventures, Musk lost control of his own companies, learning the hard way that in business, everyone is replaceable.
With Zip2, his investors appointed a more experienced leader, Richard Sorkin, to position the company for an acquisition. After his second company, X.com, became PayPal, he was again fired from his role as CEO while he was away from the office.
With SpaceX and Tesla, Musk combined his personal goals with his business goals, tying his public persona to the performance of both companies and securing his place at the top. He even went as far as changing his job title at Tesla from CEO to Technoking.
Everyone can be replaced. Think about how you can intertwine your public persona with your company objectives to keep your seat at the table.
Strategy 3: Set unrealistic goals
Rather than focusing on a clear path to profitability, Musk declares impossible feats to the world, such as getting humanity to Mars before he dies. People love rooting for success against all odds. As one of the richest and most powerful people in the world, Musk positions his companies as “Davids” by creating seemingly unbeatable “Goliaths.”
As an entrepreneur, your goals are more than financial and operational. Set goals with the power to motivate your workforce, attract an investor or engage your customers.
Strategy 4: Ignore your lane
Entrepreneurs know that the key to success is to stay laser-focused on their goals and objectives. Yet while Musk is so busy that he sleeps on an uncomfortable couch at the office, he always has time for the spotlight.
With the exception of Bill Nye, most scientists aren’t drawn to the big screen. Except Musk, who can be spotted in Iron Man 2 rubbing shoulders with Tony Stark, on South Park and The Simpsons, and hanging out with Howard on The Big Bang Theory. For someone focused on advancing mankind, Musk spends a calculated amount of time crafting his image.
As a company leader, your role is bigger than keeping operations in order. Pursue unexpected engagements that can propel your company into the spotlight, and they will pay you back with bigger opportunities.
Strategy 5: Say what’s on your mind
Musk’s stunts range from unusual to contrarian, such as naming his newborn son, X Æ A-12 in 2020 and his daughter Exa Dark Sideræl in 2022. He uses Twitter like a personal playground, influencing stock prices of his own businesses and others using less than 280 characters. From comparing Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to Hitler, to remembering Bernie Sanders is still alive, no one is off limits to Musk.
Musk’s Tweets range from random Baby Yoda memes, to conversing with world leaders, to announcing important news about Tesla and SpaceX, such as the decision to no longer accept bitcoin.
As an entrepreneur, remember that everything you post is a reflection of you and your business. When Musk posts nerdy memes, he’s affirming that he’s a part of a subculture that many of his customers associate with. When he offers emergency assistance to Ukraine, he’s demonstrating the viability of his business goals. When he posts updates about his business, he’s signaling to the world and his employees that he’s in charge.
What appears random is all a part of the bigger media strategy. Think about the image and signals you want to convey, and engage accordingly.
All entrepreneurs are rule-breakers
You are where you are because you challenged a convention, did something in an unexpected way or created something new. Know your end goal, and craft your image around it. From there, you can determine which rules were made to be broken, and how you will bend them in your favor.