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Billionaires Mark Cuban and Elon Musk Play Defense

Cuban and Musk, two of the most influential business leaders, find themselves doing something unusual: defending their wealth.
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Mark Cuban and Elon Musk are two billionaires whose popularity transcends generations and often political affiliations. 

Cuban's detractors and fans hail his business acumen. The participants of the hit TV show "Shark Tank" all hope that he will agree to invest in their startup, which would be a sign that they have a good idea and it could attract other investors and increase the popularity of their products and their brand. 

Sports aficionados never forget that under Cuban's ownership the Dallas Mavericks won their first an only NBA championship in 2011. They believe that he foresees future superstars. This was the case of the German Dirk Nowitzki, crowned NBA Most Valuable Player award, or MVP, in 2007. Currently, the rise of Slovenian basketball player Luka Doncic, the face of the Dallas Mavericks, is cementing Cuban's notoriety among sports fans.

But Cuban's desire to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry by lowering drug prices is what has earned him the admiration of the masses for several months. Cost Plus Drugs, an online pharmacy that sells prescription drugs directly to consumers at low cost, is the vehicle through which Cuban is demonstrating that it is possible to have drugs at prices that do not ruin the most vulnerable and financially fragile households.

The Self-Made Billionaire Question

"This is crazy. My local pharmacy is charging $535 for my son's medication but @costplusdrugs is pennies on the dollar by comparison. My insurance is covering the price but holy s---. @mcuban, you're fixing a real problem here. I'd be happy to buy you a beer or 2, 3,20.. 😃," a Twitter user thanked the entrepreneur on Sept. 19.

As for Musk, he pushed the entire automotive industry to make a 360-degree turn to finally focus on the development of electric vehicles. Investors are increasingly pricing vehicle makers on their ability to steal market share from Tesla, which has a valuation of more than $965 billion. 

Toyota  (TM) , which produces several million vehicles per year against almost a million for Tesla, is valued at only $194 billion. GM  (GM) has a market capitalization of $57.4 billion and Ford  (F)  is worth $54.6 billion.

In addition to the automobile, Musk has also relaunched the conquest of space, reviving the dream in new generations that earthlings will soon be able to live on Mars with the innovations of his rocket company SpaceX. 

He also promises a humanoid robot this year to help with household chores and also a machine in which human beings can download their memory and personality. 

This visionary side seduces: Musk was worth $268 billion on Sept. 20, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which makes him the world's richest man. Cuban has a fortune estimated at $5.73 billion in the same ranking. 

The two billionaires believe that they built their respective fortunes themselves.

This is not what Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, thinks. The current U.C. Berkeley professor believes that there is no self-made billionaire. For him, today's billionaires whoever they are have all had financial help to get started. Therefore, one must stop with the myth or the legend.

"Elon Musk came from a family that owned an emerald mine in Apartheid South Africa," Reich wrote on Twitter on Sept. 20. "Bill Gates’ mom helped Microsoft get a deal with IBM. Jeff Bezos’ garage-based start was funded by a quarter-million dollar investment from his parents. 'Self-made billionaires' are a myth."

'Luck'

Reich also recorded a video, already viewed by more than a million people at the time of this writing. In this video which wants to denounce social inequalities and accuses the wealthy of not paying their "fair share of taxes", he deconstructs the myth according to him of self-made billionaires who have succeeded by their "courage", their "grit" and an "original idea."

He claims that most billionaires have received a financial boost or benefited from family connections. He also accuses billionaires of profiting from the labor of their employees who are underpaid and are subjected to "abusive" working conditions.

Reich's post and video prompted Musk and Cuban to react, putting themselves in an unusual position: defending themselves.

"It takes a lot of luck to be a billionaire," Cuban said. "Demonizing entrepreneurs is no way to make a difference. It only divides."

He went on to say that: "I made 2m on the sale of my first company. I gave 1m to our 80 emps. When we sold our next company, which made me a billionaire, 300 out of 330 emps became millionaires. If it's a company I started, and it sells, everyone gets bonuses."

How Cuban and Musk Became Rich

According to a 2007 Fortune magazine profile, Cuban's father worked at a leather shop for the automotive industry. In 1983, the entrepreneur and Martin Woodall, a former Texas Instruments executive, founded a company called MicroSolutions, which was sold in 1990 for $6 million. 

Five years later, he and lawyer Todd Wagner founded Broadcast.com, a platform for streaming radio broadcasts over the Internet. They will sell the company in 1999 to Yahoo! Inc for $5 billion. He made more than $1 billion from the deal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"I'm exceedingly proud of what I have done," Cuban said.

Musk called Reich an "idiot" and a "liar". He then insisted on explaining that he had grown up in modest conditions and had been the one who even supported his father financially.

"Errol ran out of money in the 90’s," the billionaire said referring to his father.  "My brother & I financially supported him & his extended family in South Africa since then on condition that he not do bad things. Unfortunately, he did do bad things :("

Musk has a younger brother, Kimbal, and a younger sister, Tosca. 

He was born in Pretoria, South Africa, to a South African father, Errol, and a Canadian mother, Maye. He showed early on a talent for IT and entrepreneurship.

At 12, he created a video game and sold it to a computer magazine. At age 17 after graduating high school, Musk left South Africa for Canada to avoid supporting apartheid through compulsory military service and also to try to seize economic opportunities in the United States.

Before SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla in 2003, Musk founded Zip2 in 1995, a company that provided maps and business directories to online newspapers. In 1999, Zip2 was acquired by computer maker Compaq for $307 million. The billionaire then co-founded an online financial services company, X.com, which later became PayPal after a merger with software company Confinity Inc. in 2000.