Stanford dropout to buy Twitter: How Elon Musk built his empire

Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet
Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter for about $44 billion and take the company private was approved by Twitter’s board Monday.
(Hannibal Hanschke / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, April 26. I’m Justin Ray.

News that the world’s wealthiest man was set to buy one of the biggest social media companies rocked the internet on Monday.

After days of uncertainty around the platform’s future, Twitter’s board approved Elon Musk’s approximately $44-billion offer. The company’s leadership initially tried to fend off the bid, adopting a “poison pill” measure that would make a hostile takeover difficult.

Musk is the world’s wealthiest person, according to Forbes, which puts his fortune at $279 billion. However, much of his money is tied up in Tesla stock — he owns about 17% of the company, which is valued at more than $1 trillion. It’s not clear how much cash Musk has.

His acquisition of San Francisco-based Twitter is big news; even if you aren’t active on the platform, it affects many areas of society: business, news, politics, criminal justice, entertainment and the collective sanity of its users.


Considering Twitter’s ubiquity, it is worth understanding how Musk became the businessman he is today.

How Elon Musk built his empire

While introducing him for a 2016 discussion, former Stanford University President John Hennessy explained that Musk dropped out of Stanford after two days to start a business called Zip2 (Disclosure: The Times used Zip2 technology). He made $22 million when he sold that business in 1999 to Compaq Computer. In 2002, he earned about $150 million in EBay Inc. shares when the auction site bought PayPal, the payment transfer service he co-founded in Silicon Valley.

That same year, he started one of the two companies most associated with his name: rocket company SpaceX in El Segundo (which also happens to be the same neighborhood where the Los Angeles Times resides). The firm has contracts with NASA to launch astronauts into space and deliver goods to the International Space Station.

The second company most linked to Musk has a more complicated history. Tesla was started in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. The pair soon after brought Musk in as an investor, according to The Times’ Russ Mitchell.

A feud ensued between Eberhard and Musk, and the billionaire “gradually took control of the company and Eberhard was fired in 2007.” (Speaking of the electric car company, I also should mention that yesterday many people on the platform Musk just bought shared a Times article about Black Tesla employees).

Now, Musk is set to take over Twitter. The billionaire has said he wants to make the platform a friendlier place for free expression (though his past calls into question his devotion to that concept). It is still unclear how Musk will overcome the hurdles complicating his path to ownership. Experts say his strategy incorporated sound negotiation principles — “with a twist of his distinctive, unpredictable style.”

Here are some of Musk’s other ventures.

Related reading:

Column: With Elon Musk in charge, it’s the beginning of the end for #BlackTwitter. “Elon Musk, the founder of a company that California is suing for allegedly silencing thousands of Black employees who complained about racism, is buying a company that has given millions of Black people a megaphone-like voice to complain about racism,” writes columnist Erika D. Smith.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


Documents released Monday by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office revealed new details about the day Alec Baldwin accidentally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a New Mexico set last October, as well as the events preceding and following the fatal shooting. Los Angeles Times

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on set
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of a short titled “Singularity Song.”
(Rachel Mason)

A company accused of handing out fake results for hundreds of coronavirus tests will pay more than $20 million in a settlement announced by Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer. Los Angeles Times

A nasal swab is put into a tube
A nasal swab is collected at a coronavirus testing site in December.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A dog attack in Pico Rivera late Sunday night left a mother and her 1-year-old daughter injured, and the woman stabbed to death one of the animals to save her child. Los Angeles Times


Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll love our daily podcast “The Times,” hosted every weekday by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Go beyond the headlines. Download and listen on our App, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.


Showdown between reform and tough-on-crime policies in California attorney general’s race. “The most contentious and closely watched California election in 2022 is likely to be the race for attorney general, where voters will choose in June from the liberal incumbent who was appointed to the job last year, three unheralded challengers and an openly gay career prosecutor whose campaign could hinge on the public’s new fears about crime,” writes Hannah Wiley. Los Angeles Times

California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks at a lectern
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta holds a news conference in December.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The head of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority tendered her resignation Monday over a disagreement with the organization’s board about the salaries of its lowest-paid staffers. Los Angeles Times


Authorities near San Francisco say they seized nearly 100 pounds of illicit fentanyl worth over $4 million. “This is a glimpse of the fentanyl epidemic,” the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet Saturday that showed a picture of the drugs. “That’s 42,000 grams that were headed for the streets of the Bay Area.” It wasn’t clear how many people were arrested in connection with the bust. KCRA

An Orange County man was arrested on suspicion of making anti-LGBTQ threats against Merriam-Webster Inc. and faces a federal charge in Massachusetts, authorities confirmed. Jeremy David Hanson, 34, is accused of using the website’s “Contact Us” page and comments sections to send disturbing messages to the dictionary company. Los Angeles Times

The suffix "ism" is photographed in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
A page in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. In October, the company received threatening messages and comments “demonstrating bias against specific gender identities,” federal prosecutors said.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


How Big Tobacco used George Floyd and Eric Garner to stoke fear among Black smokers. If California votes to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes in November, it would follow Massachusetts as the second state to do so. The Food and Drug Administration has drafted a national ban that could follow in the next few years, which estimates suggest could save more than 600,000 lives, including almost 250,000 Black lives. Since last summer, The Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have tracked strategic efforts across the country by tobacco maker Reynolds American to keep menthols in the hands of smokers. Los Angeles Times

People with signs that say "Exempt one exempt all" and "No ban on menthol"
Demonstrators rally in downtown Los Angeles in August 2020 in opposition to a state bill that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco — including menthol cigarettes. The bill briefly became law, but a successful petition drive will require voters to approve it in November.
(Ringo Chiu / Zuma Press)

How many California lives were saved by COVID-19 vaccines? Scientists have an answer. A new project from researchers at UC San Francisco in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health draws the clearest picture to date on what the state might have looked like had the vaccines never materialized. Los Angeles Times


Amy’s Kitchen faces a litany of complaints from employees over workplace abuses. A January NBC report revealed that factory workers felt like they were being pushed past the point of injury. In response to the report, the company’s founders released a statement that read, in part: “We want all Amy’s employees to feel they are being taken care of, and we are deeply saddened to hear about the experiences these five employees have described.” But since that report was published, “Amy’s has made a few changes, workers say — very few,” Larry Buhl reports. Capital and Main


‘People’s Convoy’ pelted with eggs in California. When the convoy entered Oakland, angry residents hurled eggs at the passing vehicles. “Get out of our town,” onlookers shouted, according to a video on YouTube. The “People’s Convoy,” one of several trucker convoys in the United States and Canada, demonstrated against COVID-19 restrictions in Washington D.C. in March. Sacramento Bee

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at


Los Angeles: Sunny, 80 San Diego: 71 San Francisco: Overcast, 62 San Jose: Cloudy, 69 Fresno: Sunny, 81 Sacramento: Overcast, 80


Today’s California memory is from David Holzman:

I turned 4 living on Perry Lane, in Menlo Park, the summer of 1957. It was a summer of wonder, including a live oak in the middle of the street that dwarfed the cottages. My senior year in high school was a parental sabbatical to Stanford. I visited our cottage. It was charming as I remembered. No wonder Perry Lane attracted artists and writers. In the early ’00s, I looked up our cottage on Zillow. To my shock, it was worth $1.2 million. Then I noticed the home was built in ’02. It was then I realized the cottage was gone, and I would never go back.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to