At 39, entrepreneur Elon Musk is at the top of two very different companies that quite possibly could change the world.
On one end of the Paypal co-founder's business spectrum is SpaceX, a rocket and spacecraft company that stands poised to cash in on a billion-dollar cargo delivery contract to keep astronauts on the International Space Station stocked with clothes, vittles and any other supplies they might need.
At the other is Tesla Motors, the electric car manufacture which Musk has helped through a multimillion-dollar IPO.
BusinessNewsDaily recently spoke with Musk to learn the guiding principles behind his entrepreneurial success. [Related: Elon Musk on Weathering the CEO Storm]
1. Be Ready to Work
If you are motivated enough to start a company, you better be motivated enough to work hard to keep it going because helming any business is no small task, Musk explained.
"It's a super huge amount of work. I think sometimes people sort of have this idea that if they were the CEO of a company that they would just give themselves a whole lot of vacations and not work very hard," he said.
But actually the reverse is true.
"If you're the CEO of a company, you have to work your bloody ass off. And if you're the CEO of two companies you have to work two bloody asses off and you don’t have two asses."
And some factors beyond your control can make the job even harder. The dismal economy in recent years has made for grueling runs at both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, as well as for Musk. He's thankful th economy is improving.
"It really took a lot out of me," he said. "I have a lot of mental scar tissue."
2. Be Ready to Learn
One of the biggest lessons Musk learned after founding SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) was how much more there was still yet to learn.
Despite a background steeped in physics, Musk ended up with a tough self-teaching job in order to design SpaceX's first rocket (the Falcon 1) and the larger Falcon 9 booster that made its successful launch debut in June.
"It was a huge learning curve for me because I had never designed anything physical apart from building rockets as a kid or something," Musk said.
"Initially I didn't intend to be the chief designer of the rocket; I kept trying to hire someone to be chief designer of the rockets. But the people who were willing to join early on weren't up to the task and the people that were weren't willing to join. So I ended up by default becoming the chief rocket designer, which obviously has its plusses and minuses."
It took SpaceX four launches to reach orbit with Falcon 1 successfully and Musk said that with more experience on his part, the rocket would likely flown successfully sooner. But he did parlay the lessons from Falcon 1 into Falcon 9, which blasted off on a near-flawless maiden flight on June 4.
3. Pick the Right Team
One man or woman does not a company make and Musk firmly believes that choosing the right employees is a core ingredient for success. He looks for employees with a track record of work excellence in general, not necessarily business acumen.
"I think it's incredibly important to pick the right people. The right team can accomplish miracles. The wrong team, well….or if a team isn't working together well that can be a huge problem as well," Musk said. "It's just really like any sports game. Running a company…it's like if you're running a major league baseball or football team, or something like that. It's just how good are your players? How good are they working together? And that will define success. "
4. Know When to Grow
SpaceX has grown by leaps and bounds since 2002, but it didn't happen overnight. Musk founded the company with around 120 employees and now oversees a staff of 1,100. In 2007, SpaceX moved from its El Segundo, Calif., headquarters into a new, huge space in Hawthorne in order to build a new rocket factory that could handle its larger Falcon 9 rockets.
Choosing then the time is right to grow has been key, because most companies don't have the ability to sustain ill-timed growth, he said.
"It's difficult to prepare too far in advance because we just don't have the capital to go ahead and spend a ton of money on just sort of hoping that something will happen," Musk said. "So we kind of just have to grow really fast when it happens."
And there's always the danger of being too wieldy. Musk believes in keeping it lean. A company, he said, should not be any bigger than it needs to be to accomplish its goal.
"But as the range of tasks that we were doing grew, it required an increase in personnel. We'll continue to grow the company," Musk said. "It's going to be a function of what are we doing. How many launches are we doing? How many rockets do we have in development? How many spacecraft are being developed and launched. It's just a function of how much activity do we have, is everyone busy and productive."
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Tariq Malik is Managing Editor of Space.com, a sister site to BusinessNewsDaily.