Do you have what it takes to lead the life of an entrepreneur? If you think you do, try living off only a dollar a day for a month. It’s a challenge Elon Musk once faced to see if he had what it took to be successful.
Before he became the billionaire he is today and before he became a millionaire at the age of 28, Elon Musk was once a starving college kid at Queen’s University in Ontario, but not because of circumstance — it was his choice.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO talked about his early days in college in detail to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on Tyson’s “StarTalk Radio” podcast. According to Business Insider, when Musk was a freshman and sophmore in college, he was fascinated with how he could help shape humanity through the internet, energy efficiency and space exploration.
Sure, Musk was also concerned with finding a job after graduation, but he also had a master plan in the works — he would move to the United States after college (which he did, eventually transferring to the University of Pennsylvania his junior year) but look to start his own tech company rather than finding a normal job. He knew that path would take sacrifice and discipline.
Musk explained to Tyson:
“I mean, in America it’s pretty easy to keep yourself alive … So my threshold for existing was pretty low. I figured I could be in some cheap apartment with my computer and be okay, and not starve.”
Musk decided to live on a $30-a-month food budget. He bought hot dogs and oranges in bulk and sometimes traded off with pasta and tomato sauce.
Musk was able to pull it off for at least a month, and he felt comfortable knowing he didn’t need a substantial salary to survive.
“So I was like, ‘Oh, okay. If I can live for a dollar a day — at least from a food cost standpoint — it’s pretty easy to earn $30 dollars in a month, so I’ll probably be ok.’ ”
Now, realistically, most starving entrepreneurs have to last more than a single month living as frugally as possible until their startup gains traction or they find some other income to survive off of. But knowing you could survive and learning to appreciate those circumstances gives you the exact perspective you need to be successful as an entrepreneur.
It makes you hungry (for food, but also success). You will discover whether you are really passionate in your work or if you are just in it for the money. You will gain a new perspective having experienced life at the bottom. You will learn to appreciate the true definition of struggle, hard work and the value of a dollar. Forget dreams of getting funded millions of dollars, driving Ferraris and being as famous as Mark Zuckerberg — real entrepreneurs experience struggle and failure along their journey.
Elon (left) and brother Kimbal (right)
Of course, Musk started Zip2, a web software company, in 1995 with his brother Kimbal. Four years later, Zip2 was acquired by Compaq for $307 million — Musk received $22 million from the sale and started his next company, X.com, which later merged into PayPal.
After Musk told him about the experience, Tyson said:
“Not to put words in your mouth, but that’s a starting point to launch anywhere you want to go.”