Elon Musk's Failure Timeline Shows a History of Overcoming Setbacks

"If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

With the growth of SpaceX and Tesla in the past five years, Elon Musk has come further into the mainstream as a symbol of science, engineering, technology, capitalism, or hucksterism, depending if you talk to his supporters or critics. What’s inarguable about Musk is the fact that he’s failed a bunch in his life.

The 46-year-old fashions himself an engineer first, which is evident in his propensity to build stuff, start new projects, and aggressively set goals that seem a little crazy when compared to the status quo.

Anybody paying attention to technology executives in the age of the internet could divide them into two camps. Those who consider the stock value the product and iterate on successful products to make more money, and those are focused on building new things that may not totally work at first. Musk would firmly be in that second group, which means a lot of failing happens along the way.

The below graphic and the video above show how and when Musk experienced his biggest setbacks, and how they outweigh his successes in terms of numbers.

His oft-repeated quote — “If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough” — has plenty of historical evidence from his own life.

There were professional setbacks: He was ousted from Zip2 in 1996, the company he started to offer city guide data for newspapers and was pushed out of PayPal in 2000, the company of which he was CEO.

Then there were early troubles with SpaceX — from getting rockets to those rockets exploding — and then there are the challenges he’s currently facing at Tesla related to the delayed Model 3 production.

There were personal setbacks, too: He almost died from Malaria in 2000, and when he tried to buy old rockets from Russians in 2002, he was denied (and insulted). So he decided to build his own.

The graphic below tells the rest of the story.

Elon Musk failed infographic