Elon Musk's best tips for aspiring entrepreneurs

Laura Woods, GOBankingRates
Elon Musk
Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a serial entrepreneur who keeps on winning. The real-life inspiration for Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Iron Man, the South Africa native enjoyed his first big hit as a PayPal co-founder.

Rather than taking an early retirement, the forward-thinking mogul co-founded electric automaker Tesla motors and launched SpaceX — a rocket company Musk hopes will one day allow people to live on other planets. Also the chairman of solar panel design company SolarCity and a co-founder of nonprofit research company OpenAI, to say he's a busy man is a wild understatement.

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Innovative ideas combined with hard work have helped Musk build a colossal net worth of $15.3 billion, according to Forbes. If you're looking to succeed in business, it would be smart to borrow a few moves from Musk's playbook. Here's what he's learned over the course of the last decade.

1. Request feedback

Starting a business is a process of trial and error. During an August 2013 Google Hangout hosted by Google for Entrepreneurs, Musk emphasized the importance of asking for advice.

"Take as much feedback from as many people as you can about whatever idea you have," Musk said. "Seek critical feedback. Ask them what's wrong. You often have to draw it out in a nuanced way to figure out what's wrong."

Sometimes critiques are hard to hear, but it's all part of the learning process. If you want to succeed in business, learn not to take feedback personally.

This advice is useful even if you're not trying to helm a startup. When you're too close to a project, it's often difficult to spot missteps, so input from others can prove invaluable.

VCG | Getty Images

2. Get your hands dirty

Musk didn't build Tesla by sitting in a corner office watching employees work. During the Hangout, he explained that as company leaders, co-founders and CEOs have to pitch in where necessary to keep the company afloat.

"You've got to do all sorts of jobs and tasks that you might not wish to do, that are not intrinsically interesting to you," he said. "You've got to be prepared to do whatever it takes, work whatever hours. No task is too menial. I think, that's the right attitude for CEO of a startup."

Anything but glamorous, the job of the CEO can include anything from answering phones to cleaning the office kitchen when your company is just starting out. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

3. Hire for cultural fit

When hiring new employees, you have to make sure they mesh well with your team. In the Hangout, Musk emphasized the importance of teamwork and aligning expectations from the beginning.

"I think it's important that everyone understands exactly what the mission is, what the goal is and that when they join the company, they be brought into that overall goal," Musk said. "As long as that goal is clearly defined and understood and people are saying 'yes,' they agree with that goal when they join the company — so, they are not just joining for a salary but they believe in what the company is doing…"

If a staffer starts behaving in a manner that doesn't align with your company culture, Musk recommended talking to the person and explaining the problem. In most cases, he said the person will change their behavior, but if they don't, you need to be prepared to let them go.

4. Ask meaty interview questions

Job seekers looking for work at Tesla, SpaceX or any of Musk's companies are put through the ringer. Not likely to be fooled by an expert interviewer, Musk believes tough interview questions show a candidate's true fit for the position.

At the February 2017 World Government Summit in Dubai, Musk talked about the one interview question he believes reveals the most about a candidate's aptitude — though it's quite the multifaceted request.

"Tell me the story of your life and the decisions that you made along the way and why you made them. And also tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them," Musk said. "People that really solved the problem, they know exactly how they solved it — they know the little details."

Musk emphasized the importance of the question, noting that candidates trying to fake their way into the job can only elaborate to an extent until they're caught in the lie. Therefore, if you want to hire the best person for the job, you have to dig deep.

Elon Musk: Robots will take your jobs, government will have to pay your wage
Elon Musk: Robots will take your jobs, government will have to pay your wage

5. Don't let naysayers get you down

When Musk was named to the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world in 2013, Richard Branson wrote a profile on him for the magazine, praising his ability to prove critics wrong.

"Whatever skeptics have said can't be done, Elon has gone out and made real," Branson wrote. Powered by innovation, the Tesla motors CEO is unstoppable — even when skeptics believe his ideas won't make it off the ground.

Whether he's defending the price of Tesla stock or the need to colonize Mars, Musk doesn't flinch. "It's a paradox that Elon is working to improve our planet at the same time he's building spacecraft to help us leave it," Branson wrote. "But true vision is binocular — and Elon Musk is clearly a man who can see many things at once."

6. Get rid of process

"I don't believe in process," Musk said in a 2012 Wired interview. "In fact, when I interview a potential employee and he or she says that 'it's all about the process,' I see that as a bad sign."

Though shocking if said by most other CEOs, it's probably not too surprising that a man focused on innovation likes to switch things up. In fact, his reasoning will probably make you want to throw process out the window.

"The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking," he said. "You're encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren't that smart, who aren't that creative."

7. Don't focus on money

Already a successful entrepreneur in 2008, Musk explained to PBS at the time that he didn't co-found Tesla to earn money. Instead, he recognized the environmental need to change the way vehicles are powered, so he created an electric automobile company.

"So this is not about wealth accumulation for me personally," he said. "It's just that I think this is a very important problem and it's got to get solved, and if we don't solve it we're in trouble."

Whether starting a company or accepting a certain job, if you're not passionate about it, you won't succeed. Musk was already a wealthy man at the time of the PBS interview, which perhaps allowed him to become an electric automaker for all the right reasons.

"If I got a bunch of money tomorrow, it wouldn't change my life," he said. "There's nothing — I've bought everything I want."

Elon Musk's best tips for aspiring entrepreneurs originally appeared on GOBankingRates.

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