When Musk made his cold call, Cantrell was driving and could barely make out what Musk was saying, he said in Esquire. "I had the top down on my car, so all I could make out was that some guy named Ian Musk was saying that he was an Internet billionaire and needed to talk to me.'"
Musk's call, says Cantrell, was a tight, overly rehearsed elevator pitch. "It was almost staccato how quickly he spoke," Cantrell recalled in a recent feature for Wired. "Not, 'Hello, how are you?' – sales pitch, boom. Like listening to some televangelist or someone who called me on the phone."
Cantrell would later become an early SpaceX employee and help with the company's founding.
Cantrell said he heard Musk's elevator pitch so often he is still able to recite the speech from memory, more than a decade later:
"I'm Elon Musk, I'm an internet billionaire, I founded PayPal and X.com. I sold X.com to Compaq for 165 million dollars in cash and I could spend the rest of my life on a beach drinking Mai Tais, but I decided that humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species to survive and I want to do something with my money to show that humanity can do that and I need Russian rockets and that's why I'm calling you."
The call with Cantrell helped kick off a multi-year cramming session where Musk reportedly taught himself what he needed to know about rockets. Wrote Cantrell, once "he starts by defining a goal and he puts a lot of effort into understanding what that goal is and why it is a good and valid goal."
Musk borrowed Cantrell's college textbooks on rocketry and propulsion and got reading, eventually being able to recite from memory books like "Fundamentals of Astrodynamics," and the "International Reference Guide to Space Launch Systems."
"He devoured those books," Cantrell said in Esquire. "He knew everything."
Musk continued to pitch himself to experts, building a network of advisors. He would later hire many of Cantrell's colleagues in rockets and spacecraft to be consultants.
"He has a real applied mind. He literally sucks the knowledge and experience out of people that he is around," Cantrell wrote in Quora. "It was like a gigantic spaceapalooza."
While Musk's call with Cantrell went well, not all Musk's pitches were as successful. In fact, Musk gave his cold-call pitch to a Russian rocket designer when he was looking to buy repurposed rockets he had heard the Russians were selling. Cantrell traveled to Russia with Musk for this meeting and says the designer became visibly upset, explaining that the technology was intended as a weapon for war, not for capitalist billionaires to purchase. The designer reportedly even spat on their shoes, Cantrell recalled for Wired.