How Musk Really Made his Billions – and How You Can Too

Jon Markman

It’s time to tell the truth. Billionaires are not like the rest of us. To their credit, They think and act differently.

Elon Musk saw his net worth soar to $70.5 billion Friday, and it’s up again today. The 49 year old Tesla ((TSLA) -Get Report) chief is now the seventh richest person in the world. It’s all due to betting everything in ideas he’s passionate about.

His focus and commitment is a great lesson for all investors.

It’s easy for the rest of us to lose focus. The odds are stacked against us. We are inundated by scary news cycles and a constant stream of foreboding from media talking heads. Many earn lucrative incomes skillfully shifting other people’s money in and out stocks and bonds.

That’s not the way Musk made his billions.

For that matter, it’s not the way Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison or Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the richest people in the world, made their fortunes, either. They had big ideas, like Amazon.com (AMZN), Microsoft ((MSFT) -Get Report), Facebook (FB), Berkshire Hathaway ((BRK.B) -Get Report), Oracle (ORCL) and Alphabet ((GOOGL) -Get Report). They focused on building game changing businesses. They committed to holding shares through good cycles and bad.

It was only a year ago when Tesla seemed doomed. The electric car company was struggling to ramp up production of its affordable Model 3 sedan, even as demand appeared to be softening. Shares, that had been as high as $310 as 2019 began, to cratered to $179.

In a secondary stock offering in May, Musk bought 102,880 new shares at $243. The $25 million investment pushed his personal stake in Tesla to 20%. A year later he added more shares at $767. Stock based compensation raised his stake to 25%.

Today that stake is worth $50.5 billion. The rest of Musk’s net worth is derived largely from SpaceX, the rocket company he founded in 2002 to advance his passion for space exploration.

Bearish investors argue Tesla’s valuation, at $286 billion, makes no sense. The company is currently more valuable than Toyota, an automaker that produced 8.8 million vehicles in the first half of 2020. Tesla factories, in comparison, have churned out only 185,000 cars and SUVs.

And although sales have grown to $24.6 billion in 2019, up from only $4 billion in 2015, the company has yet to turn a profit on an annual basis. Despite this, the company stock was up 635% since 2015. Shares have rallied 269% in 2020. Friday alone, Tesla stock gained 11%.

But valuation is not really the point. Billionaires become wealthy by finding ideas they believe in, and almost never selling.

Smaller investors often believe they don’t have this luxury. They are conditioned by the media to trade their investments based on stock market ebbs and flows.

Unfortunately, market timing is notoriously tough to do. Moreover, selling big winners creates wealth sucking capital gains taxes. Surrendering investment capital to Uncle Sam voluntarily is almost always a bad idea.

Private investors of every age and wealth level should be thinking like billionaires. They should look for entrepreneurial businesses with vested, visionary leadership. They should add positions when these businesses go on sale. And they should almost never sell.

Thankfully, there are a lot of these businesses. Many have even performed better than Tesla.

Jeff Bezos, with a net worth of $189 billion, is the richest man in the world. Amazon.com, the company he founded in 1994, is an digital juggernaut with leadership in cloud computing, eCommerce, media, and artificial intelligence. Shares are up 958% since 2015.

Jensen Huang co-founded Nvidia ((NVDA) -Get Report) in 1993. The business began as a graphics processor maker. A decade ago the firm morphed into a vertically integrated artificial intelligence specialist. Today big companies are using Nvidia AI gear for everything from seamlessly routing wireless phones calls, to finding cancer tumors faster, to building self-driving cars. Since 2015, Nvidia stock is up 958%.

There is a reason billionaires create so much personal wealth. It has little to do with unfairness. It’s about bigger visions and commitment. There is no reason smaller investors can’t do the same. 

Comments (1)
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LakeForce
LakeForce

Wow... 7th richest person! Where does the future promise of nueralink fit into this?

Do you think its cheating if Tesla and SpaceX employees get first access to this tech?


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