Entrepreneurs

Elon Musk hung out in the Netscape lobby in the '90s hoping to get a job, but was too afraid to talk to anyone

Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors, and chairman of SolarCity, attends the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 7, 2015 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
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Elon Musk hasn't always been a top dog in Silicon Valley.

In fact, when he first arrived in California in the '90s, the now billionaire tech titan tried and failed to get a job at Netscape Communications, the company that created the first web browser, Netscape Navigator.

Musk had moved to Silicon Valley to attend Stanford graduate school and was hoping to get involved in the Internet.

"I actually wasn't sure what I wanted to do growing up. ... I thought inventing stuff or creating things would be a cool thing to do. But I wasn't really sure if that meant starting a company or whether that meant working for a company that made cool stuff," he told entrepreneur and investor Kevin Rose published in 2012.

"In '95 I kinda thought the Internet would be something that would change the world in a major way and I wanted to be a part of it.

So Musk applied for a job at Netscape.

"I wouldn't actually try to start a company, I'd try to get a job at Netscape," he explained.

Musk, originally from South Africa, had a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and was working toward a graduate degree at Stanford. But that didn't seem to impress anyone at Netscape.

"I didn't get any reply," he told Rose.

"I mean I had a physics and economics degree, or physics and business degree from Wharton, and I was doing grad studies in applied physics and materials science. I guess that... I didn't have a computer science degree or several years working at a software company," he said.

But Musk didn't want to give up.

"I actually tried hanging out in the [Netscape] lobby, but I was too shy to talk to anyone. So I'm just like standing in the lobby," he recalled.

"It was pretty embarrassing. I was just sort of standing there trying to see if there's someone I could talk to and then I just couldn't, I couldn't… I was too scared to talk to anyone. So then I left."

Instead, in 1996 Musk went on to launch Zip2, which aimed to help bring media companies online. Compaq bought the company in 1999, though terms of the deal were not revealed, Altavista president and chief executive Rod Schrock told the New York Times at the time that $300 million as an approximation was ''a reasonable estimation.'' Musk then went on to co-found the online payments company PayPal, which eBay acquired for $1.5 billion in July, 2002.

But even after finding success, being ignored by Netscape hasn't been the entrepreneur's only professional hurdle.

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SpaceX, the rocket company Musk founded in 2002, nearly went bankrupt early on.

"A lot of people really only heard of SpaceX relatively recently, they may think Falcon 9 and Dragon just instantly appeared and that's how it always was. But it wasn't," Musk said at the at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) conference in Adelaide, Australia, in 2017.

"I messed up the first three launches. The first three launches failed. And fortunately, the fourth launch — which was, that was the last money that we had for Falcon 1 — that fourth launch worked. Or it would have been — that would have been it for SpaceX. But fate liked us that day. So, the fourth launch worked," recalled Musk.

And Tesla, the electric vehicle company Musk helped launch with an early investment in 2004 and of which Musk is the co-founder and CEO, also nearly went bankrupt in 2008, Musk has said.

And the electric car company still faces challenges, including production delays.

"I have to tell you, like the most excruciating, hellish several months I have maybe ever had — and a lot of other people at Tesla — but I think we are getting there," Musk said at Tesla's annual shareholder meeting in Mountain View, California in June.

But fundamentally, Musk says he is driven by a desire to build a better future. "The thing that drives me is that I want to be able to think about the future and feel good about that," says Musk, speaking to the National Governors Association in July 2017. "We are doing what we can to have the future be as good as possible, to be inspired by what is likely to happen and to look forward to the next day."

See also:

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