On May 25th 2012, SpaceX became the first private company in history to dock with the International Space Station.
Since then, it has successfully sent 5 rockets into orbit, become a multi-billion dollar company, and is profitable — which is unheard of for a start-up with such high capital costs.
But they don’t plan on stopping there.
The motivation behind SpaceX is to colonize Mars and make multi-planetary life a reality. (Yes, this is serious.)
That’s a bold vision. And co-founder and CEO Elon Musk already has enough on his plate.
He’s also the co-founder and CEO of another revolutionary company — Tesla Motors — which is paving the way for fast, beautiful, high performance electric cars.
Tesla recently released the Model S, which has won every major accolade possible, including the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, the 2013 World Green Car of the Year, Automobile Magazine’s 2013 Car of the Year, and Time Magazine Best 25 Inventions of the Year 2012 award.
Not bad for someone who also created one of the most disruptive and technologically advanced internet companies — PayPal, which sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. (When a billion dollars actually meant something!)
But the most amazing aspect of this story, is that it almost never happened.
Going All In
Elon Musk netted about $180 million when PayPal sold to Ebay in 2002.
But in 2008, things were looking grim.
The economy was grinding to a halt, which left capital markets nervous and investors scared.
Elon’s grand vision for SpaceX was on the brink of disaster as the third rocket launch failed in spectacular fashion. His other company — Tesla — was having problems raising the capital it would need to produce his electronic cars on time.
And to top it all off, he was going through a divorce.
He sank his entire fortune — all $180 million — into his well-intentioned, but fledgling companies. (He even invested $10 million in SolarCity and became it’s Chairman. In his spare time.)
Instead of pulling back, closing them down and prioritizing one company, he jumped back into the CEO role at Tesla, invested everything he had in all of them, and worked around the clock.
He was literally broke — borrowing loans from friends to pay his rent.
But somehow, someway, he pulled through.
He got through these tumultuous times, and has created companies that have done more for humanity in the last decade than most countries.
How did he do it?
He’s obviously a genius. A literal rocket scientist, inventor and polymath in the same vein as Nicola Tesla and Benjamin Franklin.
But how did he succeed when so many others have failed, and continue to fail in the automotive and space industries?
How to Take Culture Seriously
HubSpot is like the online marketing equivalent to Salesforce.
They’re pioneers of online marketing, with 9,000 customers and have raised over $100 million in venture capital. They even coined the term “Inbound Marketing”.
So they’re obviously tackling big, important, difficult issues. But yet their management team and co-founders spent hundreds of hours the past few months working on improving their already stellar company culture. Their culture!
They forged ahead and created a 150 slide presentation called the Culture Code, which has been viewed over 679,500 times in only two months.
Don’t they have more important things to do? They must have bigger technological problems and sales issues to worry about. They’re trying to get big, fast, and go public!
Why waste so much time, energy and money on improving something that’s intangible, doesn’t add directly to the bottom line, and wasn’t even bad to begin with?
Why MailChimp is So Damn Witty (And Loved)
MailChimp is one the most popular email marketing services on the planet, with 3 million users spread out over 200 countries.
And it’s one of the best branded, most differentiated internet products with their amusing Chimp and witty copywriting.
If you read through their website and use their product, then you’ll quickly realize that their tone is friendly, clever, and sarcastic. Like this one, which links to a video of a short BBC segment depicting “alcoholic Vervet monkeys”:
When something is this well done and orchestrated across the company, it’s not by accident. The internal team created a public website dedicated to teaching how to write for MailChimp called Voice and Tone.
Nothing goes on the website, or in front of a customer, unless it adheres to those strict principles. Because they care deeply about communication, and what it says about their company.
They’re obsessed with the customer experience, because that’s what makes them so successful.
Why Do You Do What You Do?
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
So if we forget about money for a second… why do you do what you do?
Because the best marketing plan always starts from this deeper meaning. It’s what allows you to begin differentiating yourself, carving out a unique positioning, and defining a premium brand that’s more appreciated and better compensated.
And it’s only when you find this deeper meaning that you can start carrying that over into your content, your emails, and your social media updates.
People choose MailChimp because it’s easy and fun. The combination of their service, design, and messaging is friendly, inviting, and entertaining. Their commitment and passion to personifying their product is infectious. They make work fun.
HubSpot is one of the industry leaders and fastest growing companies in the world. And not by mistake. Their drive into creating the best culture — for both success and enjoyment — becomes it’s own marketing message and it takes on a life of its own. They want to create a company that thrives, and they’re going to need the best possible people to make that happen. They create a loved company.
This is how you create a mission that people — employees and customers — believe in and support.
And this is how you create a vision for the future that inspires people — employees and customers — to follow and become intrinsically motivated to succeed.
But there’s one last major step underneath all of this.
And if you don’t have it right, then it doesn’t matter how revolutionary or clever your mission and vision are.
Because it’s the key to making this all work…
What is Your Purpose?
Elon Musk has succeeded where others have failed for a number of reasons. He’s incredibly brilliant. And works endless hours.
But guess what. So does everybody else.
Everyone works long hours. “Hard work” doesn’t make you special. It merely gets you in the game.
And when the times get tough — as they always do for everyone — this one thing separates the ones who pull ahead from those that fold up and call it a day.
When you can’t sleep at night because you’re physically sick with stress, it’s what gets you out of bed and moves you forward (even though it’s the last thing you want to do).
What is your purpose?
The purpose of SpaceX is to make multi-planetary living a reality because let’s face it… we’re destroying our planet faster than we can enjoy it. And one day from now — maybe 5 years, maybe 50, maybe 500 — we’re going to need to come up with new solutions.
And Tesla was created to prove that sustainable energy is possible by making a car that’s high performance, aesthetically pleasing, good for the environment, and commercially successful (showing other companies that people will buy electronic vehicles when they’re good enough).
With the glowing success of both SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk is now worth a few billion dollars. However in recent interviews, he laughing acknowledged that he expected SpaceX to fail, and that a car company is a terrible way to get a good return on his investment.
It’s not just about the money. (But if you’re good enough, then that comes too.)
His ambitions are bigger and more important than that. He wants to impact humanity. Move the world forward. This purpose was the driving force that kept him moving forward when he was borrowing money to pay his rent.
We can’t all be that fortunate, or that smart, or that risk-averse.
But we can sure as hell try with that we’ve got.