Make It: Voices

Kimbal Musk: How to raise your children to become successful entrepreneurs

Elon and Kimbal Musk are iconic entrepreneurs. Was there something about the way they were raised that set them up for success?

That's a question the younger Musk brother, Kimbal, now 44, ponders as he juggles his responsibilities as a board member of Chipotle and Tesla, the requirements of expanding his new farm-to-table restaurant Next Door and the raising of his own children.

Elon (Left) and Kimbal (Right) flank their younger sister Tosca, now a filmmaker, in a childhood photo outside their home in South Africa.
Maye Musk |
Elon (Left) and Kimbal (Right) flank their younger sister Tosca, now a filmmaker, in a childhood photo outside their home in South Africa.

Still, time isn't the most significant challenge he faces as a father. He has a harder time trying to recreate the urgency he experienced as an immigrant and first generation American.

"If you can fight your way into this country, which is a very tough country to get into, I think you have a fighting energy and a fear of being sent home," Kimbal says.

"I'm trying to figure out how to give them a sense of urgency." -Kimbal Musk, co-founder of The Kitchen

"So I don't know how you'd raise kids in America the same way, but because I've got kids, I'm trying to figure out how to give them a sense of urgency. I think my kids are going to do fine; they've got a good sense of urgency to them."

Even before the Musks reached America, though, he acknowledges they were a little different. As enterprising children, Kimbal, Elon and their cousins roamed the wealthy parts of their Pretoria, South Africa neighborhood selling homemade chocolate Easter eggs door-to-door.

Three-year-old Elon Musk (Right) hugs his younger brother, Kimbal, in their childhood home in South Africa.
Maye Musk |
Three-year-old Elon Musk (Right) hugs his younger brother, Kimbal, in their childhood home in South Africa.

"I'd make them for 50 cents and charge $10 for an Easter egg and I'd always get this question like, 'Why are you charging $10 for this little Easter egg?'" Kimbal recalls. "And I was like, 'Well, you're supporting a young capitalist. And the reality is if you don't buy it from me, you're not going to get one — and I know you can afford $10.'"

"It was a funny sales pitch, but it worked."

To an extent, he's seen that same drive in his 13-year-old son, who spends some of his time after school as an administrator for the popular children's game Minecraft. Though the role is unpaid, Kimbal believes it could become a business.

"If you're a young kid … get curious and you'll be amazed at how many things you can do on the side while you are at school," he says.

Elon, by contrast, seems much more focused on improving and maximizing time spent inside the classroom. He created his own primary school in Southern California for his children called Ad Astra, Latin for "to the stars."

"I hated going to school when I was a kid," the entrepreneur says of his experience in an interview for Chinese television. "It was torture."

Elon advocates for catering to children as individuals with less structure and more emphasis on problem solving.

Kimbal, Tosca, and Elon Musk (Right) pose with their mother, Maye, before school in a childhood photo.
Maye Musk |
Kimbal, Tosca, and Elon Musk (Right) pose with their mother, Maye, before school in a childhood photo.

He describes the pitfalls of traditional education by highlighting how teachers might begin a lesson plan on engines by first discussing wrenches and screwdrivers. "A much better way to do it would be like, 'Here's the engine, now let's take it apart,'" Elon says. "Then a very important thing happens, which is that the relevance of the tools becomes apparent."

Kimbal also believes that the most direct way to teach your kids to be entrepreneurial is to be entrepreneurial yourself — to be excited by your work and ready to take the right risks.

He recommends "serving as a great role model, serving as someone that pursues their passion versus financials only."

Kimbal concedes that doesn't mean you should overlook giving your children a sound financial understanding, but when it comes to modeling this kind of success, "it's really about pursuing your passion and doing what you love."

—Video by Mary Stevens