Power Players

Top Silicon Valley investor: This is what gives Elon Musk 'true superpowers' in business

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in Hawthorne, California on March 14, 2019.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images
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Tesla and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk is an undisputed titan in the worlds of technology and business.

Naval Ravikant, the founder and Chairman of start-up job and investment platform AngelList and an investor in dozens of companies, including Twitter and Uber, says that is because Musk is both a builder and a seller.

Often, a successful Silicon Valley start-up has two co-founders, one who is adept at building the product and another who is adept at selling it, Ravikant says on Sunday's "Naval Podcast."

Think Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs at Apple, and Bill Gates and Paul Allen at Microsoft, says Ravikant.

Naval Ravikant, co-founder of AngelList.
Source: Naval Ravikant

"Generally, you will see this pattern repeated over and over. There's a builder and there's a seller. There's a CEO and CTO combo. And venture and technology investors are almost trained to look for this combo whenever possible.

"It's the magic combination," says Ravikant.

But even more magical is one person who can do both.

"That's when you get true superpowers. That's when you get people who can create entire industries. The living example is Elon Musk," says Ravikant.

Musk "may not necessarily be building the rockets himself, but he understands enough that he actually makes technical contributions. He understands the technology well enough that no one's going to snow him on it," Ravikant says.

Indeed, when Tesla was trying to ramp up production of the Model 3 vehicle to, Musk said he was sleeping on the floor of the factory so he could be available to fix broken technology.

"I am personally on that line, in that machine, trying to solve problems personally where I can," Musk told to "CBS This Morning" host Gayle King in 2018. "We are working seven days a week to do it. And I have personally been here on zone 2 module line at 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, helping diagnose robot calibration issues. So I'm doing everything I can."

For anyone aspiring to be like Musk, Ravikant recommends learning to build first. Learning how to sell can, if necessary, be learned later.

"When you're trying to stand out from the noise, building is actually better because there are so many hustlers and sales people who have nothing to back them up. When you're starting out, when you're trying to be recognized, building is better," Ravikant says.

"[I]f you only had to pick up one, you can start with building and then transition to selling."

In addition to Musk, Ravikant says Larry Ellison of Oracle and Marc Andreessen, currently in venture capital but once the co-founder of Netscape, are each builders and sellers.

"[P]eople who understand the underlying product and how to build it and can sell it, these are catnip to investors, these people can break down walls if they have enough energy, and they can get almost anything done," he says.

See also:

Elon Musk is stressed, says he's sleeping on Tesla factory floor and has no time to go home and shower

Billionaire 'Shark Tank' star Mark Cuban: This is how to know if a business will be successful

CEO of $200 million tech company: Why everyone on your team should learn to sell

CEO of global company: Every employee should be a salesperson