1. He Got Rich From Zip2 and PayPal
Musk had his first major payday in 1999, when he and his brother Kimbal Musk sold Zip2, a company they created to help newspapers develop online city guides, to Compaq. In a September 2010 tell-all in Marie Claire, Musk’s ex-wife Justine Musk (more on her later) described how life changed for the “struggling 20-something entrepreneur” after the Compaq acquisition:
Elon had sold Zip2… and was worth about $20 million overnight. He bought and renovated an 1,800-square-foot condo: We now had a place of our own. He also bought a million-dollar sports car — a McLaren F1 — and a small plane. Our day-to-day routine remained the same (except for the addition of flying lessons), and Elon’s wealth seemed abstract and unreal, a string of zeros that existed in some strange space of its own.
Musk put most of his Zip2 fortune towards a new venture: an online banking company called X.com. That company later turned into PayPal, which eBay acquired in 2002 for $1.5 billion in stock. Musk walked away from the deal with around $165 million.
Fast forward five years, and Musk was living a life most people can only dream of. In the same Marie Claire article, ex-wife Justine described their life of grandeur at the time:
The first crowded apartment we’d shared in Mountain View seemed like ancient history from our 6,000-square-foot house in the Bel Air hills. Married for seven years, we had a domestic staff of five; during the day our home transformed into a workplace. We went to black-tie fundraisers and got the best tables at elite Hollywood nightclubs, with Paris Hilton and Leonardo DiCaprio partying next to us. When Google cofounder Larry Page got married on Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island, we were there, hanging out in a villa with John Cusack and watching Bono pose with swarms of adoring women outside the reception tent. When we traveled, we drove onto the airfield up to Elon’s private jet, where a private flight attendant handed us champagne.