Tesla and SpaceX have become two of the most idealized and important companies operating today, but both have only made it there after very close calls with bankruptcy. The story isn't a secret — in 2008, both companies didn't quite have their products worked out and were very low on cash — but Bloomberg has some revealing new quotes from Elon Musk, excerpted from Ashlee Vance's upcoming book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, that underscore just how dire the situation had become.
"If I split the money, maybe both of them would die."
"I could either pick SpaceX or Tesla or split the money I had left between them," says Musk, founder of both companies. "That was a tough decision. If I split the money, maybe both of them would die. If I gave the money to just one company, the probability of it surviving was greater, but then it would mean certain death for the other company. I debated that over and over."
Musk began knocking on every door he could, trying to chase down extra money for his two companies, according to Bloomberg. The excerpt makes it sound as though funding really came down to the wire, with SpaceX landing a NASA contract, Musk selling off some investments, and Tesla investors agreeing to give the company enough to keep moving. A $1.6 billion contract from NASA put SpaceX in the clear, while a new round of $40 million in funding is said to have saved Tesla on Christmas Eve, hours from burning through its last few hundred thousand dollars.
During that time, Musk was also going through a very public divorce. Altogether, Musk says, "I was just getting pistol-whipped." A lot of that seems to be related to his ex-wife "torturing" him in the press, but the near-failures of Musk's two biggest ventures clearly made the situation much worse. "You have these huge doubts that your life is not working, your car is not working, you’re going through a divorce, and all of those things," he says. "I felt like a pile of shit. I didn't think we would overcome it. I thought things were probably fucking doomed."
Both companies' fortunes have obviously turned around dramatically since then, which is why this history has become so compelling. The entire excerpt over at Bloomberg is a good read if you want an overview of how Musk's two companies got their starts.